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THE ACTORS : fall sneaks

No telling where you might find him

Michael Pitt seems to be all over the screen at the moment. Not bad for a 26-year-old who passes a tip jar at his other gig.

September 09, 2007|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

Each Saturday night in August, while the rich people were away in the Hamptons, the rock band Pagoda played a short show at hipster hangout Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The back room can fit about 35 people uncomfortably; the four members of Pagoda could barely squeeze onto the stage. After the last song on the last night of this musical residency, the lead singer and guitarist, Michael Pitt, quietly stretched out his arms and casually scratched his neck.
"Thanks for coming out," he said. "Oh, we're going to pass around a tip jar; whatever you can give."
Pitt had already been to the Hamptons, with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. That was the previous fall, when they filmed exteriors for Michael Haneke's harrowing "Funny Games," a shot-for-shot, nearly line-for-line American remake of the 1997 German film about when comedy attacks tragedy in the form of hostage-taking. Pitt plays the cheeriest, cleanest, shiniest sadist ever in the film that will be released Oct. 26. "In a lot of ways I had the easiest role," Pitt said. "The straighter I played it, the sicker it'd be."

Surely, the working actor let his bandmates keep the tips.

Pitt lives on a dumpy Brooklyn street of two-story buildings with scraggly two-story trees, near an old elevated train. It is midway between the comfy celebrity Brooklyn of Heath Ledger's Boerum Hill and the literary Brooklyn of Jonathan Safran Foer and nowhere near either. For years he lived nearer to downtown, but that whole neighborhood, and the local family he made there, is being disappeared.

His two favorite drugs are "probably" caffeine and nicotine. Each morning he gets up, makes a pot of coffee and starts writing, in quiet, whatever he is moved to. He does not live alone. He has what looks like some old straight-line scarring on one arm and a cross on the inside of his left wrist and pale blue eyes so vivid they look fake. He has tattoos on his left hip too, what appears to be an old handcuff key on a chain around his neck over a not really dirty white T-shirt, and a mole near his sternum; in 10 years, when he's 36, he should probably get that looked at.

When he is not writing, his time is spent dealing with Pagoda, with gear, amps, vans; this is his real job, although he is considering a script. For the acting thing, he has an agent, a New York manager and a lawyer.

"I work all the time," he said. "It's hard on family and friends. My father and mother worked all the . . . time and the only difference is they never did what they wanted to be doing," he said, now in a dingy coffee shop under the el.

He has a starring role in "Silk," a historical grand romantic travel drama of utmost cinematography and stateliness that opens Friday. Director Fran├žois Girard, back nearly a decade after "The Red Violin," paired Pitt with Keira Knightley as a gorgeous French husband and wife separated by his travels to Japan. It's dreamy and different. With three films in three months -- there was also "Delirious" in August, in which he played a comically innocent homeless boy against a bitter Steve Buscemi -- he is making an announcement about what he will and can do in the future.

"When I was doing 'Silk,' I was out of the country for four months, and after, I went to Morocco, just backpacking around. I came back to New York; if I walk one block in New York, I know exactly what Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are doing. I think, especially foreigners, they get this opinion that Americans don't care or are stupid. I don't believe that at all. People just don't have the information. It's not accessible to them."

A bit later he went outside where a studio publicist was waiting by a car and driver, not for him, but for his visitor.

He smiled and said: "You're blowing my cover."

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