New Book Claims Brad Pitt Displayed ‘Volatile’ Behavior on Set of ’90s Film
Director Edward Zwick has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood over the course of his decades-long career, which he details in an upcoming memoir, Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood. In one excerpt released ahead of the book, he recalls directing a young Brad Pitt in the 1994 Western drama Legends of the Fall, and how the now 60-year-old actor could be “volatile” when pushed too far.
As Zwick explains in the excerpt, published this week by Vanity Fair, he pushed for hiring Pitt over Tom Cruise, who the studio wanted but who ultimately wasn’t interested in the role of Tristan, one of three brothers living in the Montana wilderness in the early 20th century with their father, played by Anthony Hopkins.
Trouble first began during the initial table read, which Zwick says didn’t play well and resulted in Pitt wanting to quit the movie until the producer talked him off the ledge.
“It was never mentioned again, but it was the first augury of the deeper springs of emotion roiling inside Brad,” Zwick wrote. “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.”
He said that as filming began, Pitt’s anxiety about the movie never fully went away. “You think the actor is being oppositional, while he finds you dictatorial,” he continued. “Some actors have problems with authority, but just as many directors are threatened when intelligent actors ask challenging questions that reveal their lack of preparation. Both are right and both are wrong.”
Zwick explained that Pitt would get “edgy” when he was preparing to shoot a scene that required deep emotion, and that the more he pushed him to reveal himself, the more he resisted.
However, things eventually came to a head between the two men when one afternoon, Zwick gave Pitt direction out loud in front of the crew—which he now admits was a “stupid, shaming provocation”—and Pitt held his ground, not about to give in without a fight.
“I don’t know who yelled first, who swore, or who threw the first chair,” Zwick recalled. “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.”
“Yet, after each blowup, we’d make up, and mean it. It was never personal,” he added. “Brad 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.”
When all was said and done, Zwick believes that the finished product “reflected the depth of our passion” and was ultimately worth it.
It’s rare that directors candidly open up about conflicts on-set, so it’s unclear whether Zwick’s experience working with Pitt was typical of the actor. Years later, Pitt’s temper would lead to the highly publicized end of his marriage to Angelia Jolie, whom he allegedly attacked along with one of the couple’s children on a private flight in 2016. Shortly after the incident, Pitt got sober and began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as he later revealed in a 2019 New York Times interview.
Men’s Journal has reached out to a rep for Pitt for comment on this story.