Brad Pitt plays WWII Sherman tank captain Wardaddy in David Training Day Ayer's harrowing and brutal behind enemy lines adventure Fury. As the film closed this year's London Film Festival (October 19) the actor talked about the psychological trauma of war, the warrior that lies in all of us and bonding with Shia LaBeouf and his crew co-stars during three months of boot camp training for a film that unequivocally shows, war is hell.
How did you begin to build your character, the tank captain Wardaddy?
"I got a lot of back-story from the director David Ayer. Talking to the veterans they painted a picture of the exhaustion, the mental fatigue, the cold, the hunger, the cumulative effect of seeing trauma and inflicting horror on a daily basis. We took that to heart and began to film in that mental state."
How important was it to you to bring the truth of traumatic stress disorder to the screen?
"Absolutely. From speaking to the veterans I learned the standard issue soldier experience is the same on both sides. This was not a film about which side won but about the dent in the psyche that every soldier endures and carries home with them. There's a fantastic book on the subject that helped me a lot… It's by Dave Grossman and it's called, 'On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War'. He lays it out better than anyone…"
We see the film through the eyes of Logan Lerman - he plays the rookie recruit Norman who joins Wardaddy's tank crew. Were you a mentor to him on and off screen?
"Sure. When the film starts the guys have been together for years but the survival rate of a tank crew was not so good. So by 1945 they were having to pull people off the infantry line with no experience and throw them in a tank. So we have to harden him and get him into shape pretty quickly or we may not be going home. Norman comes in with servility and ideals, everything the rest of the crew have lost and long for, but at the same time it has to be crushed to get him on point."
What do you think audiences will take away from Fury and what effect do you hope it will have on them?
"First of all I hope the soldiers themselves walk away and feel they were respectfully recognised and there is truth in it. You know, war is hell… Talking to the vets, one guy said, 'Listen, war is ludicrous…' It is an amazing fact of human nature that one year we can be chopping each other up, the next year we can be sharing a pint. We continually devolve into conflict not matter how much we evolve. And I think this film represents that."
Wardaddy says that ideals are peaceful, while history is violent. Could there ever a time where you could use violence to protect your own ideals and the people you love?
"We talk and talk. We better ourselves. But we always seem to slip back into conflict. Always…"
In the circumstances your character finds himself in could you have done what he did?
"Sure. The warrior is in all of us I believe. It's just a question of circumstances as to when that warrior is awakened."
Have you learned lessons from producing and starring in Fury that you'll take with you on future projects?
"Definitely. The level of commitment we shared as a team for three months of boot camp even before the cameras started rolling… The greatest thing an actor can experience is discovery, to learn something about themselves and about the world. This was one of those for all of us. We all walked away enriched. For me specifically it was a real study in leadership, in earning respect and being responsible for others. I walk away knowing I'm a better father because of the experience."
Was it a logistical and physical nightmare shooting in the cramped confines of a tank set?
"The turret turned, the gun loaded and ejected shells, the machine gun fired, the radio transmitted and received… It was a technically complex set. There's nothing ergonomical about a tank - it's not made for habitation in any way. The hatch weighs 75 pounds and you can lose your fingers bringing that down! But there came a point when you found your comfort spot and a place you could put your coffee. It was cold instant coffee by the way - we were method. We actually became quite proprietary about the tank - it was our home. It made us think of the guys who did this for real. They would literally eat, sleep, crap and fight inside the confines of this tin can."
How does Fury compare to your wife's (Angelina Jolie) forthcoming film Unbroken?
"We don't normally work at the same time but we got our schedules cocked up. I was studying the European theatre, she was studying the Pacific theatre. I was studying tanks, she was studying bombers. But it was good fun for us. Fury deals with the psychic damage of the soldier. Her film focuses on the triumph of the human spirit against horrific odds. Unbroken is a very uplifting and very beautiful film."
What would you do if the US Army called up one of your children to fight in a war?
If it was like WWII and they called them up there wouldn't be much I could do. I would worry as a father and make sure they were trained as best they could be. And I think I would start praying.
Fury is released in cinemas October 22