On Monday, November 10, Brad Pitt and David Fincher came to the Mann Bruin theater in Westwood to discuss The Curious Case of Benjamin Button after a preview screening (click here for my review). Pitt, sporting brown hair and a mustache for his current role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds [sic], and Fincher are obviously old chums, poking fun, interjecting constantly and finishing each other’s sentences. The camaraderie is probably due to their having previously worked together on Se7en and Fight Club but on Monday, the focus remained on Button.
The moderator began by asking how each got involved with the project. “I first read it in ’82 and didn’t know it was a Fitzgerald story,” Fincher said. He liked the script but went on to direct other films. Over the years, he kept revisiting it, eventually finding a version he felt he could make. He liked it so much he didn’t feel it necessary to read the short story. Fincher then approached Pitt directly about playing the lead.
“He doesn’t want to talk to agents,” Pitt joked.
Pitt, who also hasn’t read the source story, had his reservations about getting involved. “I really didn’t want to do it. I’ve had my foray into romance and it didn’t go well for me. The script was beautiful but I didn’t think I was right for it.” What changed his mind? Fincher told him it wasn’t going to be a “ballad of co-dependency and that defined it for me,” Pitt said.
“It’s a love story but look at the body count!” Fincher said.
He continued to say that at first, he intended to have Benjamin be “a series of hand-offs, from actor to actor,” with several people playing the character at different stages, “but [Pitt] told me, ‘I’m not gonna do that.'”
Pitt added, “I originally wanted to play both guys in Fight Club.”
“He’s not kidding,” Fincher said.
The moderator next asked Fincher about the groundbreaking special effects used in the movie. “It’s an amalgam of lots of different processes that’s been used in video games and [the movie] Beowulf.”
Pitt interjected, “It was only finished a couple of weeks ago.”
Fincher went on to explain that they “mapped [Pitt’s] facial expressions onto actors at different ages.”
“It was amazing,” Pitt said.
Fincher added, “Amazing, but silly.”
Pitt continued, “It was all shot on digital, where you have a large monitor and you get to see right then and there how much is coming across. It’s much easier to control your decibel level.”
The moderator asked about Pitt’s time in the makeup chair and he said it usually took five hours. “When I first moved out here and read about Jeff Goldblum [and his makeup experience] on The Fly, I said, ‘That’s never gonna happen to me,'” Pitt said, smiling.
“You never cut your fee on prosthetic jobs,” Fincher advised.
Pitt continued, “There were two people on set to keep track of the math. [Benjamin] would be 17 but in 64-year-old makeup. I’d do this [he mimes getting up from a chair] and they’d say, ‘No, you’re older than that.'” Pitt then would pretend he knew it all along and say, “I was getting there. I was just warming up.”
The moderator asked about their favorite scenes. “The around-the-world trip,” Pitt said. Fincher talked about the scene where Caroline went through Benjamin’s postcards and discovered they were written to her. He praised screenwriter Eric Roth for condensing a whole life into those brief notes on the cards.
The moderator asked, “What would you like people to take away from this movie?” Fincher stammered while Pitt said, “Yes.”
Fincher explained that throughout the test screening process, there were scenes that people said he absolutely should cut and others that they thought should absolutely NEVER be cut. “If I had cut everything that people said should be cut, the movie would be an hour and a half. If I kept everything that people said I shouldn’t cut, the movie would be four and a half hours. The strength of Eric’s writing is that he finds things people relate to in an intimate way.”
The moderator concluded the evening by asking what was next for them.
“I’m filming in Berlin right now,” Pitt said.
“Sleeping,” Fincher said.
In the next couple weeks, I’ll be attending screenings and Q & A’s with Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann (for Australia); Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis and John Patrick Shanley (for Doubt), and Ron Howard (for Frost/Nixon) so check back regularly for those reports.