Brad Pitt talks about playing a gritty professional gunman in his upcoming production Killing Them Softly
Brad Pitt’s upcoming film Killing Them Softly (releasing October 5), based on the 1973 novel Cogan's Trade, by George V. Higgins, centres around the effects of a mysterious poker game heist. Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a folk music-loving mob enforcer, who is called in to find the suspected culprits. Directed by Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly is a crime drama that illustrates gangster life in the wake of the recession. Set during the 2008 election, political commentary and presidential speeches are a major part of the film's narrative. In an email interaction, Brad Pitt talks about playing a gritty professional gunman with a cold heart and producing a film with universal appeal.
Your character appears as cool as ever in the middle of all the mayhem! How would you describe him?
Killing Them Softly is an adaptation of George V Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade, with the action moved from the 1970s to the 2008 financial crisis. My character’s name is Jackie Cogan, a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game. It was interesting to feel in charge and at ease with lowlife losers and pricey attorneys. It was fun getting that dominant element in terms of my body language. My life is defined by my job in the film.
There is a scene where I tell Frankie (Scott McNairy) how victims “get touchy-feely. Emotional, not fun, lot of fuss. They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they call for their mothers. It’s embarrassing. I like to kill them softly, from a distance, not close enough for feelings — don’t like feelings, don’t want to think about ‘em.” That scene, I think, sums up Cogan and his approach to his job.
Leaving aside the innumerable 'sexist man alive' tags that you hold, as a 'family man', how do you relate to Jackie Cogan?
First, I don’t take these media-created labels seriously. Jackie Cogan is a fictitious character. He is not inspired by any real life persona. If I were to relate to him as a family man, I would have to be part of a rather dysfunctional family for sure! On a serious note, Jackie is a lethal, lean mean fighting machine. His actions resonate with violence and cold blooded mayhem. And yet, he is not an evil character. His violence stems from circumstances that make him do wrong. I would like to see how people react to this quietly powerful sociopath and if they do so strongly.
Have you had the chance to read Higgins' book?
I believe George V. Higgins was a fantastic writer for his time. I was so spellbound after watching The Friends of Eddy Coyle that I ordered 10 novels written by him and Cogan's Trade was the third I received by mail. The moment I lay my hands on it, I realised it needed cinematic treatment: great characters, great dialogue and a very simple plot.
I had originally imagined the film as a drama but as I got into it, it struck me that this was a story of an economic crisis; a crisis in a criminal economy supported by gambling, and the problem was caused by a failure to regulate. I've always felt that crime drama is essentially about capitalism, since they show the capitalist idea functioning in its most base form. This is exactly what the situation was in 2008 post the recession and hence I decided to take an old plot and link it to one of the most recent economic events that manifested as the lack of governance and control.
How difficult is it to keep one action thriller different from the other?
I think with every film, there is a conscious effort to let the story lead the action to its limits. Once I hear a plot and it manages to convince me, I am up for all kinds of cracking bones and gunning around. It is challenging to play tough characters on screen and I love the thrill of playing this larger-than-life character who lets out his might to seek vengeance. What defines each character though in every action film I have played till date is his reason to express anguish. So every action thriller I have worked in has to have a deeper, internalised motivation which explains why my character is part of it. I make it a point to go for author-backed roles so I don’t end up repeating myself.
Killing Them Softly is getting a staggered release across the globe. How do you think it will affect the film?
The reviews of the film have been great so far. As an actor, I am happy people have found the characters memorable. As a producer though, I am looking forward to the release of the film in different centres (countries) and the reactions at the box office. I have full faith in the universally relatable theme of the film.
Have you decided to space out your work and hence are deliberately doing fewer films?
I have had one hell of a career in films so far, having tried both the mega budget studio backed blockbusters to the kind of films that appealed to me, irrespective of how much business they brought in. I have worked with some great filmmakers irrespective of the length of my role. I am greedy nevertheless but not so much about having the spotlight on me forever. Today, I feel I am in a safe place. I can take risks without feeling insecure about my career by only doing films that interest me. Because we're actors, we want to tell stories, we want to tell personal stories. And not just something you can plug any one of us in and basically get the same thing. Get into something that's really personal that means something to you, where you have something to say and is something really individualised. There was a time when I did things I was told would be good for me. And they weren't, because it left me empty, so I didn't do a good job anyways. I think that's what's key to what we do: It's got to be personal.
We are getting to read about how you wouldn't mind acting or even shaking a leg in Bollywood. Any concrete plans to get there?
Indian cinema seems to be growing very well. I would love to work in a Bollywood film as there is so much drama and colour in the films there. The filmmaking I hear has evolved a lot in India and of late we have witnessed some good films making a presence at the Oscars and the world stage. That tells you a lot about the quality of the actors and the films. You never know when I might decide to work in a Bollywood film and do one of those dance numbers with the whole crew in the backdrop!