By the Sea: Writer-Director Angelina Jolie on her Drama with Brad Pitt






Prior to her feature-length directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, and well before the beginning of photography on Universal’s World War II epic, Unbroken, Angelina Jolie Pitt wrote the screenplay for By the Sea as an exploration of grief and love.

Jolie Pitt reflects on her motivation: “I wrote By the Sea thinking that I wanted to explore grief—whether it was how some people haven’t been exposed to it, some have let it settle in, and others have found ways to overcome it.  Everybody in this film represents a different way of addressing that subject.”  That noted, initially she had no intention of portraying one of the leads.  “I wrote it before I actually started directing films, so it wasn’t something I thought Brad and I would ever do together.  When you write something, you’re often not even aware of why you write; it’s not until you’re caught up in it and have a reaction to it that you realize something bothers or affects you.  I never assumed we’d actually make it or act in it, so I wrote with a degree of freedom.”

Jolie Pitt admits that she is fascinated by the fluidity of human existence, and that that informed her script: “There is never just the tragedy or the humor of life or the pure joy of it.  It has extremes.  Relationships also have those extremes.  You can be weeping on the floor, then 20 minutes later you can be laughing about something bizarre.  This film is an extreme version of that.  What’s relatable to people is that you can be absolutely, madly in love with the same person that you sometimes feel like killing.  You can be giddy and silly, and also depressed and miserable with them.  It’s the waves of a relationship.  Things don’t perfectly make sense and wrap up, and that forces a freedom as a writer.”

As her focus as an artist turned toward work behind the camera, Jolie Pitt’s attention turned again to her screenplay.  She reveals: “By the Sea is not intended to be a commercial film.  It was an opportunity for all of us to experiment and explore as artists and to create something delicate and special.  There is a freedom in not making a commercial film.  You can be bolder and experiment.  It is emotionally more challenging and creative.  As an artist, you want to be able to try things and sometimes avoid safe choices.  We hope it will be enjoyed by people seeking a different, and perhaps more challenging, cinematic experience.”

Joining Jolie Pitt both in production duties and in front of the screen for By the Sea is husband Brad Pitt.  He reflects on the story and their experience: “In the sense that it is sparse and elegant in its telling, Angie has written a very European film.  Our job as actors is to make it more personal.  Suddenly, to make it that personal, it becomes blurred.  We have such history and mutual respect…as well as expectations of each other and our family.  It was one of the most challenging things I’ve taken on.  But at the same time, there’s been a great freedom in that, because we can experiment and play.  It was oddly a safer environment than any set I’ve been on before, and so we let loose.”

Six characters take center stage in this tale, and Pitt walks us through the key players: “It’s a story about multiple couples at different stages in their lives.  There are Lea and François, a couple who is just married and excited by the potential of the future;  Michel and Patrice, who, in the form of a friendship, have been hardened and calloused and softened and widened by their experiences.  Then there are our characters, Roland and Vanessa, who are at that stage where the newness has worn off and everything has come to the surface.  It’s that point where they can either break through this and grow stronger beyond that point, or go their separate ways.”

It was the final pairing whom Jolie Pitt and Pitt ultimately decided to portray on screen.  They would explore the travails of the second stage of love—and how couples cope with the unexpected blows that life brings to a relationship that started with endless promise and isn’t sure where to go next.

The director explains the attraction to developing these characters: “Most would probably divorce in Vanessa and Roland’s circumstances, but there is that central idea of commitment to someone to whom you have dedicated yourself.  Sometimes, marriage isn’t easy, but you know that you have made that commitment, you have history, and you know why you are with that person.  There is a comfort to it.  It’s often true that one person wants to give up more than the other, and that it takes one to keep it alive, as Roland does in our film.”

Both the producers admit that this production offered them the opportunity to rediscover their love of the craft of acting.  Reflects Jolie Pitt: “It’s been a long time as an actor since I felt like I was free to create and play, to be irreverent and inappropriate… and a little too loud and make bold choices.  I wanted something where I could be bold and explore and not have it fit into something that needed to be sold a certain way.”