At the press conference in Venice, Brad Pitt, who plays astronaut Roy McBride in the space epic from director James Gray, nimbly dodged questions about the potential of the film — and his lead performance — in the upcoming awards race.
Pitt is the focus of Ad Astra, playing a man tasked with traveling to the edge of the solar system to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and, in doing so, save humanity. Much of the film has Pitt alone in a space ship, far from home. As much personal drama as big-budget, effects-driven tentpole, Ad Astra is a big swing for director Gray, who has made his name in art house circles with such dramas as The Immigrant, Two Lovers and We Own the Night.
Ad Astra is being closely watched both for its awards-season potential — early buzz suggests Pitt could be a frontrunner for an actor nomination — and as a test case for how the Disney-Fox merger will work in practice. Ad Astra started with 20th Century Fox but was absorbed into the Disney marketing machine after the acquisition.
But Pitt wouldn’t be drawn — yet — into the Oscar debate.
“I just want to get this film out — it is a challenging film. It is subtle, it’s operating on many cylinders…. I’m just curious to see how it lands,” said Pitt, noting that when it comes to awards season, every year “I see amazing talent getting acknowledged and amazing talent getting ignored. When your number comes up, it’s fun. When someone else’s number comes up, it’s usually one of your friends, so it’s fun, too.”
He added: “How’s that for a dodge?”
The theme of an astronaut isolated and alone in space draws immediate comparisons to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, a film that premiered here in Venice in 2013 and went on to win seven Oscars and gross more than $723 million worldwide for Warner Bros.
But, as Gray acknowledged, Ad Astra references a whole swath of films, as well as painting and classical literature.
“It might be because I’m an old fogey, but I really believe in narrative and I like to steal from the best people,” said Gray, noting he ripped off lines directly from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for his space epic. “I have Tommy Lee Jones literally saying things taken directly from Moby Dick,” Gray said, “I think what’s old is new again…you have to move back in order to move forward.”
The films of the 1970s — always an obsession for Gray — also inform Ad Astra and Pitt’s character, which, as the actor says of characters in so many great films of that decade “weren’t all good and they weren’t all bad, they were human. These are the stories I am drawn to…to a more complicated view than just a black-and-white image of the world.”
Disney will see whether audiences, more accustomed to light sabers and caped superheros, are willing to embrace the complexity of Ad Astra when the studio bows the film, starting with its domestic release Sept. 20.
Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Kennedy, John Finn and Kimberly Elise co-star in Ad Astra. Ethan Gross co-wrote the script with Gray, who also produced.