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Toronto Watch: Burn After Reading Press Conference

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 7, 2008 at 8:04AM

The Coens amuse me. So do their press conferences. They perform a little tap dance with journalists, who after all are trying to write something about their movie. Saturday's Burn After Reading press conference wasn’t as jammed and enthusiastic as you might expect with Brad Pitt there.
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Burndscn2867The Coens amuse me. So do their press conferences. They perform a little tap dance with journalists, who after all are trying to write something about their movie. Saturday's Burn After Reading press conference wasn’t as jammed and enthusiastic as you might expect with Brad Pitt there.

One reporter asked about the film’s “pessimistic feeling about human nature,” and its “empty, vacuous, self-serving” characters.

“It sounds like it,” responded Joel Coen.

“Yeah, umhum, I’m not even sure, it’s an undertone,” added Ethan. “They’re pretty terrible...A lot of our movies are about dolts and knuckleheads. If everybody knows what it is they are doing and is on top of things, what's going to happen that's interesting or fun or surprising?"

“We sorta wanted to do a spy movie,” continued Joel, “but it didn’t turn out that way. I don’t think it is a spy movie. That was more of the original idea. Like most of our stuff, it’s about these particular characters. We had in our minds vague references to characters, not a specific lampoon of anything."

Toronto_burnbefore

Who exactly?

“In a vague way, thinking about Fran [McDormand] and her plastic surgery, Linda Tripp,” said Joel. “And Donald Rumsfeld.”

“You really have to stop,” cautioned Pitt, who has his act down too. Keep it short and sweet. Like a politician. Less is more. After knocking on the Coens' door for a few years, he was "happy when they called," he said, "until I read the piece."

And who inspired his character (a cheery, well-intentioned fitness instructor who blunders into a dangerous game)?

“That was all me in a finer day," he replied. "I really don’t know. It’s a mystery to me. I am somewhat disturbed by it all. My other half's [Angelina Jolie] disturbed by it as well. This idea of assuming a certain situation would go a certain way and doesn’t, not understanding the other realm of possibilities."


He's been investing in more American characters lately, Pitt said. "I feel like I've been doing comedies for years. Maybe they weren't so funny." He called David Fincher's upcoming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a "bit of a love letter to New Orleans, to family and the people who make dents in your lives along the way."

Pitt and Swinton traded quips on who gets to work more with George Clooney, her co-star in Michael Clayton. “I am one day going to be in a film where we say one nice thing to each other,” she said. Next, she romances Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. They also competed for who would have the most ridiculous hair on the movie. "We were all going for the Javier Bardem prize," said Swinton. "You might have won, Brad." He nodded.

Clooney didn't show for Toronto but the Coens did tell one story about wanting to show him a prototype for a provocative sex machine he constructs in the movie. Did he want to check it out at the Museum of Sex at 23rd and Madison in Manhattan? "All I need," Clooney responded, "is to be seen coming out of the Museum of Sex."

Swinton, Pitt and Malkovich praised the Coens for their tight, perfect screenplay, which gave them more than enough to play with, inside the lines. Malkovich enjoyed especially, he admitted, dropping more than one "F-bomb, an expressive that can mean anything, or nothing, and everything in between."

At the post-gala Burn After Reading soiree Friday night, Pitt was surrounded by hordes of women in black. I asked Swinton about her recent film festival at her home in Scotland. She wants to do another, but there were local protests, apparently, so she wants to do the next one in Beijing. Sign me up, I said.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

This article is related to: Festivals, Toronto


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.