Interview: Michael Pitt And Brady Corbet
Even though you know they’re actors, it’s just a part, blah blah blah, sitting in a room with two guys you’ve just seen play serial killers isn’t easy. Even when it’s a movie that’s all about how it’s a movie, a movie in which the killers talk to the camera and the whole idea is that it’s not real. Yeah, even in those circumstances, two pleasant young men can totally freak you out.
And that’s saying nothing against Michael Pitt or Brady Corbet, who play those men in Funny Games and are just as polite in real life—well, as polite as they were in the beginning of the movie, before the torture began. Corbet, who gained weight for the role, was all scruffy-faced and thin while eating a veggie burger, and Pitt looked the part of the aspiring rock star he is, in an oversized white shirt and necklaces. They talked about the experience of torturing Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, working with a director known to be difficult, and had to ask themselves, “Seriously, where can you smoke around here?”
Was it difficult working with Michael Haneke?
Michael Pitt: He was difficult. But, he’s really smart, so it wasn’t difficult—you didn’t feel like it was unjustified. I would have been in hell if I didn’t know that that was the way that he was going to work. I knew that going in, that it was going to be like that.
MP: I could tell. I did a work session with him, and I could tell. Some directors are very free, and some directors are very specific. It seemed like doing a play. That relationship with the director, when you do a play.
What did you guys read into your characters?
Brady Corbet: They’re characters without a past or a future. They have no back story—they are a device, at least for me. I think that it ultimately came down to not being true or organic. It was more about being successfully manipulative and charming and charismatic.
Was that hard for you?
BC: In a controlled environment like that, it’s very, very easy to be charismatic. If you’ve got the right dialogue and the right captain. It’s much more difficult to be in Tim, Devon and Naomi’s shoes. They were a wreck every day. Tim in particular had a pretty tough time. He’s got kids, and he had a tough time.
MP: What Brady said—I didn’t come up with a back story for him. I never analyzed why he was doing what he was doing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it that way, then I decided that, based on what Michael was telling me, that it might be better if I didn’t analyze what I was doing. In a weird way, it really freed me.
Did either of you think about one or the other as the leader?
BC: Absolutely. It’s Laurel and Hardy, it’s Tom and Jerry, it’s whatever. It is the motorcycle and the sidecar, in a way. I think that’s interesting. I did my best to convey in a very subtle way, hopefully, a sense of knowing. I never wanted to be genuinely clumsy, or a genuine goofball. I wanted it all to feel very exact.
How was Michael Haneke’s direction different from that of American directors?
MP: Every director is different, and they all have different styles.
What element stood out for you in particular?
MP: I’ve worked with directors who were very specific, their direction was very high—a lot of direction. The one thing about Michael, I think, is interesting—he really has a reason for everything he’s asking you to do. He always has a clear idea of what he wants, and reasons why. There are directors who, their direction is high, but then when you challenge it, it crumbles. They can’t back up what they’re asking.
How did he choose you for the role?
MP: I wasn’t looking for a project, and was not really interested in making a film at that time. But I had a good friend call me and say, ‘You should check this out.’ I made a phone call. Originally they said they didn’t want to do an audition.
BC: Because you were blond, right? They were originally looking for someone dark-haired.
MP: Yeah, for silly reasons, you know. But time passed and I guess they had trouble finding someone, and me and Michael had lunch. Then we did a work session.
How long did you rehearse?
MP: I rehearsed all the time. I never stopped rehearsing.
And Brady, how did you get the role?
BC: I met Haneke for the first time at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood when I was 13 years old, they were screening Code Unknown. That was six years ago. When I found out he was making a film in the States, I made a lot of phone calls saying, ‘Please, put me in a room with that guy again. I’ll do anything. I’ll be a busboy, whatever. Just put me in a room.’ They sent it to me, and they initially didn’t want to see me, because I was too young and I was too skinny. Then after two months of them having some trouble casting…
Did you gain some weight?
BC: I did gain some weight. I’m also wearing a little fat suit. I was taking bodybuilding supplements that make you retain water, so if you don’t work out, you just bloat. I had a face to match the little pad that I had.
Can you talk about working with Tim and Naomi?
MP: I was really, really impressed by Naomi. The way that she was able to—she was a producer on it, and there was a lot of things that she was doing I wasn’t really aware of. The way that she was able to handle problems, and then also shoot a really difficult scene I think is a testament to her ability.
Anything on Tim?
MP: Tim helped me a lot. Sometimes when I had a problem he would talk to me, because he’s also a director.
BC: Tim’s incredibly smart. He’s got a little pit bull in him, that sort of East End London thing. His first film, which I just saw recently, is kind of amazing. It’s called The War Zone. I think that Tim and Michael Haneke had a lot of problems because Tim-- Michael is intelligent, but so is Tim. He had very particular ideas.
MP: Tim was constantly very worried about making a film that would be perceived as just a violent film. He was very concerned about that, about people taking it the wrong way. I think that’s a lot of the battles that were happening.
BC: What’s interesting about The War Zone is, as aggressive as it is, it’s also very sentimental. He has that in him. It’s a great thing, the sensitivity that he has as an actor and as a father.
MP: Tim definitely had the hardest role, and a lot of people don’t realize it.
BC: It’s because he’s not attractive, and he’s not strong.
MP: As an actor, for me, that would be the most difficult, most challenging role. Even if you succeeded, very few people would even realize.
What do you think about the movie being a remake of the original film, and what does it accomplish that the first film didn’t?
MP: I think it’s good—I think that we did a good job. We all worked really hard on it. I believe we did a good job. But I hope that this will broaden Michael’s audience. In America, if it’s not in English, there’s a very select few people who will watch this.
BC: I think the themes are clearer—not because it’s a better film, but simply because it’s the second time around. I think the first movie is a movie about movies. Then this film is a remake of a movie about movies. The first film asks the question ‘Why are you watching this?’ and the second film asks ‘Why are you watching this again?’ I think it’s the only film of his that could be remade successful. The original and this film are really on the nose in a way his other films are not. It’s his way of conforming to a genre in a smart way.
MP: I also think it’s good that Michael did it, and it’s not some American director stealing the idea and doing it in English, or make an English version. I think it’s interesting that he did it.
Why do you think he remade it?
MP: What he’s told me, and what I sensed when I watched the original—it seemed like it was making a comment on a very American topic. Then I found out that it was true, that he says he was. He’s even gone as far as to say he wanted to shoot it in English and he wanted to shoot it in America, but he didn’t have the money.
BC: The original film has an English title.
MP: He’s getting to finish what he started. And I do think that he is thinking that possibly it could broaden his audience. If a young kid in America sees this film and he likes it-- I would be worried about this—and he wanted to research the director, then hopefully he has the opportunity to see all of Michael’s films.
BC: I think it’s important to point out that there’s no real financial gain in this for Michael. It’s a bigger film, but it’s still an independent film. He doesn’t have anything to prove at this point. He wanted people to see it because he thought it was an important issue. It wasn’t that he wanted people to see him.
Do you worry about people seeing the film and not really getting it and thinking it’s cool?
BC: Yeah, but what about all the people who will get it?
MP: Yes. I worry about it.
BC: I don’t think the film is that hip though. The section in the middle of the film, with Naomi and Tim, the aftermath, the static shot—that’s not Tarantino. No one’s going to watch that over and over again. That’s what’s so smart about him.
MP: He makes a decision every time to make it not cool. Even when the woman is taking her clothes off, he makes a decision not to show it. Hopefully that will come through.
The syntax of the film has changed since the original. It is a movie about torture, and American movies have changed—torture porn movies are non-stop now.
BC: That’s just how ahead of his time that he is. It’s like he foresaw it.
MP: It would be great if this were coming out in ’97 in English. Out of all his movies, to me, it’s making a very obvious statement about that kind of that type of filmmaking.
BC: But I don’t think that we discussed it very much. It’s very practical making a movie. You find the art in it before and after you’re making it. But during, it’s just too practical.
Did you find it hard to break the fourth wall and look at the camera?
MP: I think I got better at it. The first time, I don’t think it’s as good as when I do it later in the film. It was a little difficult. When I watch the film now, I think that what I did later was, instead of making a decision to break the fourth wall, I just played it as though as it’s already been broken.
How easy was it to turn off these characters at the end of the day?
MP: It wasn’t a very long shoot, and we did it in Brooklyn, at the studios in Brooklyn. For me it was great, jut get I the car and go to work. I needed to sort of stay in the character. I told my girlfriend, ‘I’m not here.’ I just stayed in it for a month, month and a half, and then left it.
BC: I’m not a method actor, however, something interesting happens at a certain point when you’re making a movie, especially if you have gone out of your way to make some sort of physical change. While I never did gain enough weight, I did gain weight, and I was drinking these shakes every day that made me feel sick all the time. I felt very unattractive and small. I think that, in a strange way, if you spend 10 or 12 hours of your day devoted to whatever it is that you’re doing, you can’t help but take a little of it home with you even if you don’t intend to. I never did intend to. I wished I could just take off my glasses and shake my hair out.
What do you guys think about the suburbs, where the movie takes place.
BC: Do you mean do I think the movie is some sort of statement on class? Well, Michael Haneke is upper class, and has been most of his life. He goes to the opera every Friday night in Vienna. He makes films about what he knows. If you look at any of his films, he has tremendous respect for his characters. They’re all smart. In Cache, Maurice’s character—the poor Arab—is just as intelligent as the rich white man.
Did you guys have nightmares at all while you were shooting?
MP: No, it’s pretend. I really try to stay away from taking it too seriously. I think it’s important. I think it can be dangerous for an actor if you take it too seriously. It can damage you if you do that.
What’s the meaning of the rewind sequence?
BC: The whole movie is about manipulation, so of course he gives it to them and he takes it away. It’s about building up a bloodlust in an audience. It’s the only onscreen violence in the film, actually, when I get shot. So he gives it to you and then he takes it back.
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Do you ever find acting a little psychotic?
MP: It’s a job. I think that’s important not to take it too seriously. It’s pretend. It’s a strange job.
What are you guys working on right now?
BC: I directed a small film of a series of films with Darius Congee. Darius shot Funny Games, and then we did this smaller thing together. It’s the first of three. I did the first one last year, and now I’ve got the next two to do this year.
Michael are you continuing with your music?
MP: Yeah, I’m mostly working on music right now. I’m always writing, I’m always trying to work on scripts. I’m pretty selective-- maybe sometimes too much, because I’m broke.
If you were a journalist, what would you ask yourselves?
MP: I’d probably ask where I could smoke.
BC: I’d ask the same, actually.
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