An excerpt from director Ed Zwick’s new memoir “Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood” (published by Vanity Fair) reveals the tensions that existed on the set of his 1994 Western epic “Legends of the Fall.” Zwick writes that he had a rocky relationship with leading man Brad Pitt, who was cast in the role of Tristan Ludlow after Tom Cruise dropped out. Pitt’s agent allegedly called Zwick after the first table read “to say Brad wanted to quit.”
“It fell to [producer] Marshall [Herskovitz] to talk Brad off the ledge,” Zwick writes. “It was the first augury of the deeper springs of emotion roiling inside Brad. He seems easygoing at first, but he can be volatile when riled, as I was to be reminded more than once as shooting began and we took each other’s measure.”
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“Sometimes, no matter how experienced or sensitive you are as a director, things just aren’t working,” Zwick continues, noting that Pitt “would get edgy whenever he was about to shoot a scene that required him to display deep emotion.”
“His ideas about Tristan differed from mine,” Zwick writes. “Brad had grown up with men who held their emotions in check; I believed the point of the [‘Legends of the Fall’] novel was that a man’s life was the sum of his griefs. […] Yet the more I pushed Brad to reveal himself, the more he resisted. So, I kept pushing and Brad pushed back.”
Zwick remembers one afternoon on set when he gave Pitt direction out loud in front of the crew, which the director admits was “a stupid, shaming provocation.”
“Brad came back at me, also out loud, telling me to back off,” Zwick writes. “The considered move would have been to tell the crew to take five and for the two of us to talk it out. But I was feeling bloody-minded, and not about to relent. I was angry at Brad for not trusting me to influence his performance. Also for the reluctance he’d shown after the first table read. Who knows, I might even have been acting out my own inability to be vulnerable. But Brad wasn’t about to give in without a fight. In his defense, I was pushing him to do something he felt was either wrong for the character, or more ’emo’ than he wanted to appear onscreen. I don’t know who yelled first, who swore, or who threw the first chair. Me, maybe? But when we looked up, the crew had disappeared. And this wasn’t the last time it happened. Eventually the crew grew accustomed to our dustups and would walk away and let us have it out. ‘We hate it when the parents fight,’ said one.”
Even when the director and the actor would “blowup” at each other, they would eventually “make up and mean it.” Zwick stresses that Pitt “is a forthright, straightforward person, fun to be with and capable of great joy. He was never anything less than fully committed to doing his best.”
“Legends of the Fall” was based on author Jim Harrison’s novella and cast Pitt opposite Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond and Henry Thomas. The sprawling epic centers on three brothers and their father living remotely on the plains of Montana in the early 20th century. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards and won for John Toll’s cinematography.
After the film was completed and Zwick showed his final cut to the star, he remembers Pitt “wasn’t pleased” with the movie because “he felt I’d underplayed his character’s madness.”
“I had in fact cut only a single shot from the scene where Tristan is raging with fever, screaming as the waves wash over him on the schooner,” Zwick writes. “But it was a shot he dearly loved, and it would have been little enough to leave it in, and I should have. Apologies, Brad. He was also unhappy when People named him ‘Sexiest Man of the Year’ — something for which I take neither credit nor blame.”
Variety has reached out to Pitt’s representative for further comment.
Read the full “Legends of the Fall” excerpt from Zwick’s book on Vanity Fair’s website. “Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood” is now available for pre-order and releases on Feb. 13.
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