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Brad Pitt goes to extremes in 'Troy'

Actor sculpted body, lived spartan life to bring Achilles to life
/ Source: Reuters

Brad Pitt is a man of extremes and the Hollywood hunk is in extreme action mode in the epic film adventure “Troy” opening Friday across the United States.

Pitt is ending a nearly two-year absence from the screen by playing legendary warrior Achilles in the adaptation of Homer’s 3,000-year-old classic, the Iliad. Directed by German Wolfgang Petersen, the film has a cast of thousands in the tradition of period blockbusters like “Ben-Hur” and “Spartacus.”

During his creative lull, Pitt treated time like “lazy Sunday days, like a dog on the front porch,” he told reporters wistfully at a recent publicity event for the film.

Even during his hiatus, Pitt remained in the public eye, splashed across celebrity magazines with wife and actress Jennifer Aniston.

For “Troy” he plunged into physical training for eight months, adding 10 pounds of muscle and buffing his fitness to a degree that won’t go unappreciated by his legion of fans.

“Ever since De Niro put on 60 pounds for 'Raging Bull,’ that set the course. He screwed us all, really,” Pitt said about actors 'becoming’ a character. “I really hit it hard.

“Probably an impending mid-life crisis was a motivator as well,” added the 40-year-old actor, now in a furious work cycle having just finished “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” with Angelina Jolie and is now filming “Ocean’s Twelve,” the sequel to his 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven.”

The 2-hour, 43-minute extravaganza “Troy” shot in Malta, Mexico and in London studios for some $200 million features gritty combat with swords and spears, and provocative personal portraits of the pursuit of glory, honor, greed and love.

Gone are the godsGone are the gods who steered the action in Homer’s classic as the movie epic is left entirely in the hands of the humans.

“I really wanted to concentrate on the humans and everything changes when you have the gods in there,” said screenwriter David Benioff, who wanted to limit computer generated imaging (CGI) effects. “I had this fear of an actor in a toga on top of a CGI Mount Olympus throwing CGI thunderbolts.”

Pitt stars opposite last year’s “Hulk” star Eric Bana as the honorable Hector. The cast also includes young heartthrob Orlando Bloom of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the “Lord of the Rings,” and old favorite Peter O’Toole. German newcomer Diane Kruger is Helen, Queen of Sparta, the beauty whose face launched a thousand ships and the Trojan War.

The making of the chronicle of war between the unified Greeks and the walled city of Troy met with its own adversity, as Petersen’s six-month production was hit by a hurricane in Mexico that destroyed the set, and a two-month injury to Pitt, who ironically hurt his Achilles tendon during a fight scene.

Director Petersen said he was impressed by Pitt’s dedication to the physical aesthetic of Achilles, and surprised by his intellectual approach.

“His way of acting was very different than others I’ve worked with,” said Petersen, whose directing credits include “The Perfect Storm” (starring George Clooney), “In The Line of Fire” (Clint Eastwood), “Air Force One” (Harrison Ford) and “Outbreak” (Dustin Hoffman).

“He was very keen on getting the dialogue to a minimum. He liked to talk little and it helped for the magic of Achilles. He’s an actor who reduces himself in order to make himself be bigger than life.”

Pitt’s Achilles is an athletic killing machine who fights on the run, bounding high in the air to deliver a fatal blow.

“The physical is very visual and it’s obvious,” said Pitt, whose physique is on abundant display in skimpy period costumes and carefully shot nude scenes.

“But to me this is such an internal part, a very isolated character,” he said. “In Malta, I got an old stone house that was centuries old, no (air conditioning), and just kind of lived a monastic life there. It gives you that extra percentage, that mind-set, that tone, that loneliness.

“So much of acting is just merely tone. Not how the lines are read.”

Last scenes of the film
The makers of the film believe Homer’s fascinating story that has endured for centuries will resonate with audiences.

“I don’t think any writer in the last 3,000 years has more graphically and accurately described the horrors of war than Homer,” said Petersen.

“But there’s also a system of ethics. Even in a world at war people have a code, a morality, honor.”

Said Bana: “It’s relevant to every single regime, every single dictatorship, every single egotistical leader, every single warrior. It’s something that can be laid over every period of time. That’s why it’s lasted.”

At the heart of the film is an inevitable confrontation between Achilles and Hector, the Prince of Troy and its greatest warrior.

Pitt and Bana, who did not use doubles for the intricately choreographed battle, rehearsed their sword-swinging showdown daily for months until the moves became second nature. Then they took the fight — the last scene shot for the film — to the extreme.

“We made a deal with each that we’re just going to go for it,” said Pitt. “We decided that we would pay off for slight infractions 50 bucks and for major hits, if one of us clobbered the other, it would be 100 bucks.

Bana pointed to a faint line along the right side of his nose. “I’ve got a little Brad Pitt scar here,” he said. “It’s called a full-fledged backhand fist to the face. Luckily for us it was probably about 85 percent through that fight sequence because it does dull your confidence.”

Asked if he ended up owing money to Bana for “infractions” during the six days it took to shoot the fight, Pitt said: “750.”