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Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford talk about "The Devil's Own'

 
Published March 28, 1997|Updated Oct. 1, 2005

(ran GB edition)

Brad Pitt, as in pitter-patter go the hearts of a nation, is that rarity among young actors: intelligent, polite, articulate and reflective. There doesn't appear to be an ego within miles of him. He slips quietly into his chair, his unassuming manner extending to the ratty brown sweater and T-shirt he wears so anonymously.

On the other hand, there is Harrison Ford, whom I meet later in the day and who looks every inch the movie star. His face may be craggy, but he's impeccably dressed and his hair is cut with precision. The difference between them is 20 years of stardom, and it shows.

Ford wears his like a shield. Professional without being confessional, he's notorious for being a tough interview. Actually, he just seems picky about the questions he answers fully. But Pitt has the easy charm of a Midwesterner. Even when the conversation turns sticky _ as in talk of the Newsweek article in which Pitt trashed the movie he is now promoting _ Pitt never gets defensive.

In The Devil's Own, Pitt plays an IRA soldier who escapes to New York on a mission to buy missiles. He stays with Ford, an Irish-American cop named O'Meara who has no idea Pitt is a terrorist. They forge a friendship that can only lead to a conflict born of their mutual respect.

The film, directed by Alan Pakula (All the President's Men), is really two stories in one. And it's vastly different from the original screenplay Pitt agreed to do years ago. Producer Lawrence Gordon (Field of Dreams, Die Hard) waited and waited for Pitt to find room in his schedule, and as he waited, Pitt's star grew brighter. Then Ford was cast, and they all agreed on Pakula as their director.

Just before shooting began, Pitt spoke to Newsweek about his unhappiness with the rewrites of the script.

"The talk was as if films being rewritten . . . was a shocking occurrence rather than a daily occurrence," Pakula says. "We can go back to Gone With the Wind. Vivian Leigh said when she went to bed at night, they would slip new pages under her door. The basic story never changed. The telling of the story changed, but the goal, the conception of what this picture should be, never changed. It changed in the execution."

Pakula is clearly distressed that Pitt's remarks should become the focus of a movie on which he and many others lavished so much care. But the culprit seems contrite as he accepts full blame.

"Where I started getting nervous was . . ." Pitt hesitates. "I feel I have to explain," he says about his quotes in Newsweek. "That was my fault. I didn't clarify. Everything got muddled. I feel like I stuck to my words and I had to clarify them."

What really happened, says Pitt, is that he panicked too soon.

"It was getting close to shooting time and we still didn't have the script nailed down. It wasn't because of lack of script or loss of faith in anybody. It was because my particular character has the responsibility of speaking for people who have suffered from this insidious war for a lifetime, and there's a fear of it becoming movie-ized, trite, trivial. And that's just not right and that's where my fear set in. But we got it right."

The episode led to all kinds of speculation that the film was in trouble, that Pitt and Ford were clashing over the size of their roles, that it was going over-budget and over-schedule. None of which was true, according to everyone involved with the production.

"He forgot for a minute he was talking to somebody who is paid to write this (stuff) down. Excuse me," says Ford with a glint in his eye.

And how did Ford feel about the Newsweek incident?

"All I knew was that I was going to spend a good deal of time talking about it. That's all I regret. It was true. You can't object to something that's true. That's how he felt. That's how I felt at that time. But as I knew they weren't going to abandon this project, that we were too far into it, I knew we were going to have to work our way out of it."

Ford says he doesn't remember what changes he wanted in the screenplay.

"There were things that I didn't think were good enough yet, moments that were not as fully fleshed out as they might be. I think the film is better for having gone through the process. We all worked together to bring our concerns and ambitions and feelings and thoughts about it together into something that is a collaborative effort, and I'm pleased with the result."

So is Pitt, who jokes that maybe the film was haunted.

"It just didn't fall into place. There are so many elements that have to come together, and this one never came. But now I'm grateful it did. Now I'm very happy, and it would be a shame to hurt the movie because lots of people worked very hard."

The irony is that both actors were attracted to the project by the screenplay, and by the characters they wanted to play.

Pitt pushes the granny glasses back up his nose and shakes his bleached blond hair (he's playing an Austrian in Seven Years in Tibet at the moment).

"I think it was the aspect of good and bad, but it's not as clear as good guys and bad guys," he says about the screenplay. "That's something I've always been drawn to. It's so easy to point the finger, but if you hear someone's story you might find yourself in the same spot.

"When I first signed on it was a guy who was running away from something and got sucked back in. And that interested me at that time. But by the time it came to fruition after talks with Alan and Harrison, what became interesting to me was a guy who was moving forward with very strong beliefs who runs into another guy with very strong beliefs. They develop this love and respect, but eventually these beliefs cause the clash."

For Ford, the decision to become involved with The Devil's Own was quite simple.

"I read a script I was interested in and had a character I had not played lately and had the opportunity to work with an actor whose work I admire, Brad. I thought we'd be able to attract a quality director to it and make a good movie."

Cops are nothing new to Ford. He received an Oscar nomination for playing one in Witness. And it was a similar kind of character, although slightly more rakish, that launched his career in Star Wars. The reissue of that trilogy has stunned the movie industry with its high grosses, but Ford downplays the phenomenon.

"I'm not really interested in seeing it myself, but I'm glad it still has some appeal."

He laughs at the suggestion that he may be getting a cut of the millions the film is raking in. Not that he needs it, his salary being in the range of $20-million a movie.

"George (Lucas) did split a small percentage of the net with Carrie Fisher, Mark Hammil and myself. The merchandising? No, George does not give away much."

Starting out back then, where did he expect to be at this point in time?

"In the motion picture country home?" he suggests with a grin. "I never thought. I honestly went into this business without thinking about what it would be like down the road. I had an ambition to make a living as an actor, and I never thought it through beyond that."

He acknowledges, however, that Star Wars paved the way.

"It was a great advantage that the film was a big success. After Star Wars, I never had to go back to being a carpenter."

Pitt, who at 34 is 20 years younger than Ford, grew up being a fan of Star Wars as well as Indiana Jones.

"He's the man," he says of Ford, who has agreed to make another Indiana with Steven Spielberg if they can find the right material and the time.

"I've always looked up to Harrison for his acting because of his simplicity. He comes from a ground of common sense. It seems so hard for people to grasp _ common sense. But he never gets caught up in the over-dramatization, the tears. He's definitely inspired me a lot. I look up to him because of his integrity. That's why I was looking forward to this thing."

In the film, the actors have what amounts to a father-son relationship. But off-screen, Ford is far too considerate to relegate Pitt to that role.

"This guy is not somebody starting out. Brad Pitt has had enormous success in this business in a relatively short period of time. He's earned it. He's made wise and difficult choices and he's pursued his own path. I wouldn't compare him with me or anybody else."

Indeed, Pitt has not taken the obvious road. After making a splashy major-film debut as the hitchhiker in Thelma & Louise, he built a career by playing against type. By the time he was nominated for an Oscar last year for 12 Monkeys, he had graduated to playing weirdos, the true badge of courage in Hollywood.

Pitt says that all the fuss about his heartthrob status doesn't bother him or inform his choices.

"I understand it and I understand why. I just make my choices by what interests me at the time. I've got to stick to that. Otherwise, I'll make my choices for the wrong reasons."

His next project is Meet Joe Black, a remake of Death Takes a Holiday. Then comes Due West, an ensemble piece that will co-star Pitt's fiance, Gwyneth Paltrow, and be directed by her father, Bruce Paltrow. "That's another man I'd lie down on the tracks for," says Pitt, showing just a hint of his Oklahoma upbringing.

How did he pop the question to Paltrow?

"I would never tell you, but it was fantastic!"

Pitt and Paltrow are college educated, something that sets them apart from so many of their peers in the acting business. Pitt studied journalism and advertising at the University of Missouri and moved to Los Angeles to pursue that career. It didn't happen. Neither did he win an Oscar last year, but he's philosophical and diplomatic about this year's nominations.

"I was disappointed, I guess. I thought Gwyneth should be there (for Emma). But it's all right. She'll get her time. She's a great actress. It works that way."