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Brad Pitt's double play

He was both actor and producer in 'Moneyball.' That change-up worked well for director Bennett Miller.

January 03, 2012|By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

"I don't need to be more famous," Clooney recently told a Rolling Stone interviewer while explaining the reason he made the $12-million political drama "The Ides of March." That phrase could also be the career-strategy motto at this point for his friend Pitt (the pair have appeared in five movies together), who has taken a stand against his own glamour in movies such as "Burn After Reading," "Snatch" and "Kalifornia."

Pitt has never won an Oscar, but he did get a supporting actor nomination for his madhouse work in Terry Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys" (1996) and then a lead actor nod for his reverse-aging performance in David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008).

But for the small-town kid from Missouri, the only compass point is the work itself and finding, as he says, "the things that surprise me and things that challenge me and the things I haven't done before."

Pitt says he doesn't think his acting craft has changed much over the last decade: He still has the same approach, but, like the wily veteran players of "Moneyball," he knows the rhythms of his game better and rarely wastes energy the way he did as a young actor.

"Truthfully, I'm just more experienced. I can get to places — and I'm talking in actor-speak now — but I can get to where I need to get faster now. I can understand when it's off, and I know it quicker; I know the signals and I'm better at redirecting it. But my approach is still the same. I've always liked to mix it up a bit."

With "Moneyball," that strategy delivered a winning moment with critics as well as moviegoers (the movie has pulled in $103 million in worldwide box office). The story, based on the 2003 nonfiction book by Michael Lewis, follows the rebel path of Beane, a failed player who makes his mark in the sport by working with a shy Yale-schooled statistics guy (Jonah Hill) who doesn't know baseball traditions (or its haughty clubhouse mentality) but can find the truth hidden in the numbers.

To director Miller, there's a lot of Beane in Brad Pitt.

"He makes bold choices," Miller says. "When a movie is done and it comes out and it's accepted and it feels like a cohesive vision, it's hard to look back and really grasp what the risks felt like for the people involved. And for Brad, this movie was a big risk, not only as an actor but as a producer to hold on to it and be the motor and risk his reputation. That's especially true with the subject matter, which had a lot of skeptics."

For Miller, the "Moneyball" experience wasn't his first success — he was nominated for best director, in fact, for his first feature film, "Capote" (2005) — but "Moneyball" was a landmark moment in his creative life thanks to the presence of the two Pitts, and no trophy is needed to recognize that.

"We had a rare, fast and strong connection," Miller said. "Fast doesn't always mean lasting, but in this case it did. We shared common values, and we're after similar things and always compatible things. And somehow we were able to get to a sort of process where there were two distinctive relationships on the set. One was an actor and the other was able to be deliberative and thoughtful, a protective producer. And he was pretty great at both."

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