Ad Astra: Brad Pitt, Star and Producer of James Gray’s Sci-Fi Drama

James Gray’s new sci-fi drama Ad Astra world premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Fest in competition.

It is a personal film for Brad Pitt, the three-time Oscar nominee who is the star and producer (Plan B) of this film, arguably Gray’s most ambitious and large-scale project to date.

For Pitt, Ad Astra is a feature rich in ideas, dealing, among other issues, with the modern concept of “masculinity.

“In retrospect, what James and I were digging at was that definition of masculinity,” Pitt said at a news conference, alongside Gray and co-star Liv Tyler. “We’ve both grown up in an era where we were asked to be strong, and there is a value in that, but also a barrier because you’re hiding some of those things you feel ashamed of. We all hide and carry individual pain and wounds.”

Pitt plays Roy McBride, a proud, accomplished astronaut who has followed in the footsteps of his father, played by Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones . The complex, unresolved relationship between the two men is at the core of the film, which unfolds as a dramatic mystery, full of twists. turns, and revelations.

He elaborated: “We were asking questions, such as, is there a better definition of masculinity for us, a better relationship with loved ones, with your kids and with ourselves?”

The actor acknowledged that he and Gray didn’t have a “normal male relationship,” because both tried to be “open about sharing feelings, perceived failures or missteps” with each other.

Ad Astra was “one of the most challenging films I’ve ever worked on,” but not because the film takes place in outer space.

He admitted that he had shared some discomfort stories with colleague and friend George Clooney, who starred in Cuaron’s sci-fi Gravity.

“The story is so delicate and we knew that any clips or voiceovers could tip the film over, make it too obvious, so it was a constant effort to try to maintain a balance and keep this story unfolding in a very subtle and delicate way,” he said.

The whole film rests on the solid shoulders of Pitt, who gives a wonderfully multi-nuanced performance.  In the tale, he often appears alone, rather than together with other characters.

One of the most challenging tasks was to portray vividly, in great details, McBride’s lack of connection with his loved ones.  Ad Astra unfolds as a journey of self-discovery “as a man, as a father, and as a son,” who is forced, due to circumstances that cannot be revealed here, to “find” himself, with “new meanings” to his existence.

Pitt and Gray also shared a love for great films of the 1970s, in which the characters are not all good or bad but humans: “These are the stories I’m drawn to, more complex than a black-and-white image of the world.”

Pitt said he was eager to see the film “get out there” and “curious to see where it lands” because “it has something to say about who we are, what is the meaning of our lives, what is our purpose as human beings.”

Pitt, who this summer also stars, alongside DiCaprio, in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has not won a competitive Oscar yet.

Will this year, in which he renders not one but two Oscar-caliber performances, be the one in which he finally earns an Oscar nod?  Pitt is rather cool about it: “Every year, I see amazing talent getting acknowledged, and amazing talent not getting acknowledged.“

He summed up his attitude towards the Oscar: “When your name comes up it’s great, and when it doesn’t, it’s a usually a friend, so I’m happy, too.”

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