Headed for a September 20 release following rave reviews after its Venice Film Festival world premiere, “Ad Astra” follows Brad Pitt as a lonely island of a man essentially on a dark night of the soul across the cosmos, journeying from Earth and into deep space to track down his father (Tommy Lee Jones), a scientist gone rogue on the outskirts of Neptune.
The film required Pitt to perform all manner of physical stunts and feats, as revealed during a recent 20th Century Fox panel on the studio lot promoting the film and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s involvement in creating its near-future verisimilitude.
However, according to James Gray, Pitt’s most impressive accomplishment was crying unprompted during a heavy, emotional scene toward the film’s finale. But as the scene takes place inside a space ship in zero-gravity, Pitt told Gray that the very-real tear should be edited in post to bubble off his face, rather than run down his cheek. (Think Sandra Bullock’s tearful, no-gravity soliloquy in “Gravity.”)
“‘You gotta replace my tear, that’s not how it works in zero-gravity,'” said Gray, recounting Pitt’s observation to the director that his tears technically wouldn’t fall that way. “I said sorry, I’m keeping it. The acting’s too good, buddy,” Gray responded.
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The various challenging stunts in the film — from an intense zero-gravity fistfight, coordinated like a ballet, to a startling encounter with a critter best left unspoiled — also include a harrowing free-fall that Pitt’s character, Major Roy McBride, takes from the lower atmosphere all the way down to the surface in the film’s close-your-eyes terrifying opening sequence. Pitt, apparently, wanted to do the stunt himself.
Gray said of his leading actor, “He has a lot of guts. He wanted to do a skydive for the opening. He said ‘I’m gonna do it,’ and I said ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea. Let me explain something to you: Let’s get somebody else to do that.”
Gray added, “There’s no movie that’s worth someone dying for it. So I always hate seeing the stuntmen and women doing their thing. I have to look at it through, like, a cloth.”