Toronto—When Hollywood wants to cast an actor as a gum-chomping, geeky-looking, flamboyant moron, there’s one actor at the top of everyone’s wish list: Brad Pitt. Okay, so maybe he’s only on the top of that wish list for the Coen brothers.
The Coens’ new comedy, Burn After Reading, features Pitt as a personal trainer who gets into the blackmail business after a gym janitor discovers a mysterious CD full of apparently classified data on a locker-room floor. George Clooney, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand round out a cast of characters that the Coens’ gleefully refer to as “dolts and knuckleheads”.
Sitting at a news conference in a Toronto hotel ballroom, Pitt says he’d always wanted to work with the Coens, who won four Oscars for the last feature they cowrote and codirected, No Country for Old Men.
“I’ve been knocking on the brothers’ door for a few years, and I was really happy when they called,” Pitt says. “Until I read the piece, and I was a little upset with them.”
Pitt, who’s dressed in a leading man’s stylish slacks and silver vest, grins across the table at the Coens as they laugh.
“The leading-man role is the guy who’s got the answers, can figure things out, defuse the bomb within seconds, is all experienced, and although that’s pretty good for the ego sometimes, it’s much more fun to play the guys who make the wrong choices, who have limited experience, and make the wrong presumptions and have to deal with it from there. And I think that’s the fun we have with this one.”
Asked where he drew the inspiration for the role, he replies: “That was all me. It was all me in a former day. I really don’t know. It’s a mystery to me. I’m somewhat disturbed by it all. Including my other half [Angelina Jolie] is a bit disturbed by it as well.”
Malkovich also enjoyed the chance to play the fool, although he’s not willing to call his CIA mandarin an idiot. “I would never say a character is more or less intelligent than I am. I just don’t think of it that way,” Malkovich says, sounding impossibly erudite. “I never think, ”˜Is this man brighter or less bright than I am?’ We had the great misfortune to hear some excerpts from his book in the film. And, yes, I did say, ”˜Well, certainly that’s not a book I would rush out and buy.’ I feel like it’s something I could do without. But I haven’t written a book myself, so I really shouldn’t comment probably.”
The actors weren’t just happy to act like idiots, they were also delighted to look like them. “We had a competition going on-set about who had the most ridiculous hair,” Tilda Swinton says.