Brad Pitt attends the premiere of 20th Century Fox's "Ad Astra" at The Cinerama Dome.
In 1995, Pitt saw Gray's debut "Little Odessa" and decided to call up the young filmmaker behind the grim Brooklyn crime drama. They've been talking ever since - about films, life and working together. But it would take almost 25 years for the stars to finally align, fittingly, for an ambitious, original space odyssey called "Ad Astra" that opens in theaters nationwide Friday.
"It's a gutsy film," Pitt said last month. The 55-year-old both produced and stars in the story about an astronaut who ventures almost entirely alone into the outer reaches of space to investigate a disturbance that may be tied to his missing father. It's something Gray had been working on for years.
Pitt's choice of the word "gutsy" is appropriate, not just as a description of the film and its exploration of big themes like masculinity with the grand canvas of space as its backdrop, but in talking about the fact that it exists at all.
Not many studios and production companies are handing over $80 million for original ideas anymore. That Pitt's Plan B, New Regency and 20th Century Fox banded together to make "Ad Astra" happen is, Gray said, "Beyond rare...It's a big risk."
Pitt, sitting next to his director, chimed in: "It's why studios have veered away from them. They're a big gamble: The cost, the prints and advertising. It's why they have to take safer bets."
The business has changed so much that Gray doubts that "Ad Astra" would even be made today. But three years ago the two decided to take a leap on this big idea to make an epic set in the near future that Gray likes to call "science-fact-fiction."
Gray was fascinated by the type of personality that's required for space travel and that Neil Armstrong, upon returning to Earth from the Apollo 11 mission talked only about the logistics and facts - nothing metaphysical or contemplative.
"Deflection," Pitt said. "I do it all the time."
Not that Pitt isn't introspective about his work. He said he was drawn to the idea of the "dark night of the soul. When one is really forced to address their self and the things we carry and most likely bury, congenital griefs, regrets, those personal pains and to come out the other side, hopefully, embracing those is the way to becoming whole."
"It was something on my mind as well," Pitt said.
And his performance is a standout that critics and awards observers have taken note of, on top of his acclaimed work earlier this summer in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood."
"He is a fabulous actor," Gray said. "And there aren't that many fabulous actors with mucho charisma in the world."
Pitt disagrees with his friend, but he is happy to keep working.
"I so believe in being creative and want to be creative till it's all said and done, until someone pulls the plug on me," Pitt said.
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