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‚Äôt as jammed and enthusiastic as you might expect with Brad Pitt there.
One reporter asked about the film‚Äôs ‚Äúpessimistic feeling about human nature,‚Äù and its ‚Äúempty, vacuous, self-serving‚Äù characters.
‚ÄúIt sounds like it,‚Äù responded Joel Coen.
‚ÄúYeah, umhum, I‚Äôm not even sure, it‚Äôs an undertone,‚Äù added Ethan. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre 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?"
‚ÄúWe sorta wanted to do a spy movie,‚Äù continued Joel, ‚Äúbut it didn‚Äôt turn out that way. I don‚Äôt think it is a spy movie. That was more of the original idea. Like most of our stuff, it‚Äôs about these particular characters. We had in our minds vague references to characters, not a specific lampoon of anything."
‚ÄúIn a vague way, thinking about Fran [McDormand] and her plastic surgery, Linda Tripp,‚Äù said Joel. ‚ÄúAnd Donald Rumsfeld.‚Äù
‚ÄúYou really have to stop,‚Äù 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)?
‚ÄúThat was all me in a finer day," he replied. "I really don‚Äôt know. It‚Äôs 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‚Äôt, 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. ‚ÄúI am one day going to be in a film where we say one nice thing to each other,‚Äù 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]