Movie Fanatic first meets Brad Pitt as we secure our coffee outside the press room at the Toronto Film Festival. As I turn around, there he is: The most famous actor in the world. “How you doing?” he asks in his cooler than cool drawl. As we enter the press conference for Moneyball, there is a sense from the film’s lead that he has truly hit it out of the park with his latest film. He would be spot on.
Once in the interview room we want to know what Pitt’s favorite sports-themed films are and he doesn’t hesitate in his answer. “As a kid I loved The Bad News Bears, we talked a lot about that one. Also North Dallas Forty with Nick Nolte, I think that was the first R-rated movie I snuck into, so it has a special place in my heart,” Pitt said and laughed. “Sports films traditionally work on some level of this idea of winning, overcoming adversity. I think it’s something in our DNA why we love our sports heroes and sports teams. My team (New Orleans Saints) lost the other night to the Green Bay Packers, very disappointing. But so be it, the loss you can take personally [laughs] -- it makes for a very interesting genre!”
Pitt portrays Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s. He is a man charged with fielding a winning team with a low payroll while teams such as the New York Yankees win championships with paying players over three times the amount the A's have to pay. Pitt took great solace in his meetings with Beane, face-to-face time that yielded one of Pitt’s greatest performances.
The actor also filled in his character’s holes by harking back to his childhood and the strict religious background that had him questioning everything. “I related it more to my upbringing. I grew up in a very Christian environment, a healthy environment and a loving family, but there were just parameters that I didn’t understand, that I always questioned,” Pitt said.
“It took me until my adult years, or leaving home until I could really try on something different for myself, new things. You’re really dealing with certain things as you grow up, figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. I just related to that time. It’s a very personal time, when you lose that comfort system. You cut the tether and you find yourself very on your own with nothing to hold on to.”
What else compelled Pitt into Beane’s world in Moneyball was how the film is not your usual Hollywood fare. “It’s complicated material. It’s not your conventional story or story line, with conventional character arcs,” he admitted. Bringing it to the screen took some effort, and time. But Pitt never quit in his effort -- he is also producer -- to get Moneyball to the big screen. “It took a lot of shots at it, and a lot of people getting their fingerprints on it, to try to hammer out what it would be. Ultimately I couldn’t let go of this story of these guys, who by necessity were trapped in an unfair game, an unfair situation. By necessity they had to think differently, they had to reinvent themselves. In doing so they ran up against great bias and a vitriolic wall, which really tested who they were. At the end of the day it’s a story about our values, about how we value people, what we value as success, what we value as failure, and how we understand our own value, that the value system is warped with bias and prejudice -- these kinds of questions. There are so many themes, but ultimately it’s about values. It took Bennett Miller to crack the story.”
Moneyball also goes beyond baseball, Pitt felt, and if done right would have the opportunity to inspire audiences outside simply baseball fanatics. “How these guys were able to survive and stay competitive, questioning the things we accept every single day. Because we are doing something the same way for so long, does that mean it’s right for today? We don’t stop and question the context of why those decisions were made. That speaks to me,” Pitt said. “Why, if we were inventing the automobile today, would it run on a finite resource that we’d have to go to war for -- that it’d take so much of our GDP? No, we’d probably make it run like our laptops. It’s this kind of questioning I find very inspiring.”