Brad Pitt has been celebrating winning the Best Supporting Actor award at this year’s Oscars. The superstar has also won a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award and a SAG Award for his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood. The film is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and follows television star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his long-time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they make their way around a changing industry that they hardly recognise anymore.
Margot Robbie plays real-life character Sharon Tate, the actress wife of director Roman Polanski who was killed while pregnant by followers of cult leader Charles Manson.
YOU’VE HAD AN AMAZING AWARDS SEASON WITH ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD. WHAT HAS THIS BEEN LIKE FOR YOU?
It’s really fun when your number comes up. I have a lot to be grateful for.
HOW MUCH DOES QUENTIN’S ENTHUSIASM AFFECT YOU AS AN ACTOR?
He’s a joy to be around. I think the film world would be more boring without him. I think we need him.
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING ON A TARANTINO SET?
He has such a verve for the film-making process. He knows he’s not going to be there, but for 10 films, so it’s not going to be indefinite. He has such reverence for filming and for film that he makes a party out of it.
WHY DO YOU THINK HE’S SO FEARLESS WHEN IT COMES TO REWRITING HISTORY, SUCH AS WITH HIS TREATMENT OF THE MANSON CULT?
[With Quentin] I see this kid who grew up on film and grew up on television, where the good guys won and things worked out alright. I really think he’s coming from a beautiful place of, ‘If only the world could be this way, or if only this horrible thing hadn’t happened.’
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH LEONARDO DICAPRIO?
He’s alright [laughs]. No, he is good as gold and what I love about him, is he really goes for each scene. He does not hold back, he goes big.
IT WAS 25 YEARS AGO WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST BEST SUPPORTING OSCAR NOMINATION, FOR 12 MONKEYS. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
It was a bit nerve-racking – very much so.
YOU MAJORED IN JOURNALISM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI. WHAT LED YOU TO STUDY THIS?
It was one of the best J-schools in the country, and I had loved All the President’s Men, and so the idea of investigative journalism appealedto me. And then, it didn’t [laughs].
WERE YOU A FILM BUFF GROWING UP?
Big time. Whatever made it to our neck of the woods. I grew up on ’70s films such as The French Connection, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men and Dog Day Afternoon. That was my jam.
DID YOU JUST DECIDE TO GO TO LA ONE DAY?
It was a week before graduation and I realised that all of my friends had jobs. They had applied for jobs, which I hadn’t done, and received jobs, which I had not. I had a friend, who was not even a close friend, who talked about going out to LA. Her dad had a place there. And it was just one of those things that hit me. I’d always lamented that there wasn’t an avenue for film in Southern Missouri, but then it just occurred to me that I could go to it, and I literally loaded up the car. I didn’t graduate. All I had to do was hand in a term paper, but in my head, I was done. I was going west. Within a week, I was doing extra work and I was really, really happy.
HOW DID YOU PROGRESS? DID YOU TAKE ACTING CLASSES?
I did. It took me a bit of time to find someone that really spoke to me and I found a brilliant guy named Roy London, who’s no longer with us. He shaped a lot of people’s careers, such as Hank Azaria, Geena Davis and Sharon Stone. I was really lucky to land there, and he really pointed me in a nice direction.
WHAT KIND OF THINGS DID HE OPEN YOUR EYES TO?
Learning to make it personal, and not to present, doing someone else’s idea. No mimicry. He was harsh. He’d call you out and embarrass you. I’m grateful for working with him.
WHEN DID YOU FEEL THAT YOU CROSSED THE THRESHOLD, THAT YOU WERE A PROFESSIONAL WORKING ACTOR?
A couple weeks ago [laughs]. I don’t know. Once Thelma & Louise hit, I tried some different things. One of the big pinnacles for me was meeting David Fincher, who was talking about films in a way that was much more articulate. He understood so much more than I did. That was a big moment. And then, around 2004, with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I started making things more and more personal. Around then I probably could have called myself somewhat professional.
THELMA & LOUISE WAS A BIG DEAL. WERE YOU AWARE OF THAT, AT THE TIME?
I was certainly aware. I’m more aware of how high my voice is in that [laughs]. That certainly was a precursor to where we are now. I’m really grateful to Ridley Scott and Geena Davis, who gave me that shot – because that was the big league. I had nothing to show for myself, except for my extra work, and they took a chance on me. The weird thing was that it had gone through a few actors and they were already shooting. I think they were desperate, to tell you the truth.
FIGHT CLUB WAS ALSO A BIG DEAL, BUT IN A DIFFERENT WAY. HOW DID YOU RESEARCH THAT CHARACTER?
We were having so much fun on that movie. I don’t remember research being the main component. It was just pretty good fun.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE DIRECTED BY ROBERT REDFORD in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT?
Redford was one of my heroes growing up. I certainly feel he’s a very underrated actor. So to work with him was really humbling. I’m sure I was trying to impress him. He was a great director. I was doing something in the scene, and he just came up and said, ‘You’re sighing.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Don’t do that. When you do that, you let the power out.’ That’s always stuck with me. That’s one of those little Redford-isms, like the double take, that he’s mastered and passed on to me.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I’m going to do something with Damien Chazelle called Babylon about the silent-movie era. I’m looking forward to it.