Legends of the Fall’s Director Reveals Brad Pitt’s Attempt to Quit During Filming

Legends of the Fall

Legends of the Fall is a 1994 epic drama starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Aidan Quinn, is remembered for its sweeping cinematography, poignant storytelling, and the emotional journey of its characters. 

Behind the scenes, however, the making of the film was not without its challenges, particularly for Brad Pitt, who found himself grappling with discomfort surrounding his character’s motivations. In a revealing turn of events, Pitt’s unease reached a point where he contemplated quitting the project just days before shooting began.

As the film’s production neared its commencement, Brad Pitt’s discomfort with his character’s motivations became apparent during a table read with the cast, as noted by director Edward Zwick. In a surprising twist, Pitt’s agent reportedly made a call to the studio, expressing the actor’s desire to quit the project altogether.

The director’s observations during the table read hinted at Pitt’s growing unease, and it fell to the producer to intervene and talk the acclaimed actor out of abandoning the film.

Director Reveals Brad Pitt’s Attempt to Quit During ‘Legends of the Fall’ Filming

Legends of the Fall

Reports suggest that he was unhappy with the Legends of the Fall‘s final cut, feeling that his character’s descent into madness was not adequately portrayed. Pitt’s emotional investment in the film was evident, with the actor expressing a desire for a specific shot that resonated deeply with him, to be included in the final edit. Unfortunately, this shot was omitted, leaving both Pitt and the director, Edward Zwick, with a sense of regret.

“I could see Brad’s growing discomfort as it went on,” Zwick writes. “Hours afterward, his agent called the studio to say Brad wanted to quit. It fell to [producer] Marshall [Herskovitz] to talk Brad off the ledge. It was never mentioned again, but it was the first augury of the deeper springs of emotion roiling inside Brad. He seems easygoing at first, but he can be volatile when riled, as I was to be reminded more than once as the shooting began and we took each other’s measure.”

Legends of the Fall’s director, “Brad’s anxiety about the movie never quite went away” even during production.

“Sometimes, no matter how experienced or sensitive you are as a director, things just aren’t working,” Zwick jotted. “You think the actor is being oppositional, while he finds you dictatorial. 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 further adds, “There are all sorts of reasons an actor might pick a fight. Most likely he’s afraid. Insecurity manifests as arrogance and fear precipitates bad behavior — on the director’s part as well as the actor’s. Brad would get edgy whenever he was about to shoot a scene that required him to display deep emotion. It was here that his ideas about Tristan differed from mine. Brad had grown up with men who held their emotions in check; I believed the point of the [‘Legends of the Fall’] novel was that a man’s life was the sum of his griefs. […] Yet the more I pushed Brad to reveal himself, the more he resisted. So, I kept pushing and Brad pushed back.”

The director recalls the argument: “One afternoon I started giving him direction out loud in front of the crew — a stupid, shaming provocation — and Brad came back at me, also out loud, telling me to back off. The considered move would have been to tell the crew to take five and for the two of us to talk it out. But I was feeling bloody-minded, and not about to relent. I was angry at Brad for not trusting me to influence his performance. Also for the reluctance he’d shown after the first table read. Who knows, I might even have been acting out my own inability to be vulnerable. But Brad wasn’t about to give in without a fight. In his defense, I was pushing him to do something he felt was either wrong for the character, or more ’emo’ than he wanted to appear onscreen. I don’t know who yelled first, who swore, or who threw the first chair. Me, maybe? 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. ‘We hate it when the parents fight,’ said one.”

Zwick further said, “Yet, after each blowup, we’d make up, and mean it. It was never personal. 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 I showed Brad the final film, he wasn’t pleased,” Zwick wrote. “He felt I’d underplayed his character’s madness. I had in fact cut only a single shot from the scene where Tristan is raging with fever, screaming as the waves wash over him on the schooner. But it was a shot he dearly loved, and it would have been little enough to leave it in, and I should have. Apologies, Brad. He was also unhappy when People named him ‘Sexiest Man of the Year’ — something for which I take neither credit nor blame.”

Zwick wrote, “There’s a bright line between strong direction and dominance, especially when a male director is directing a male star. At times it risks becoming what a shrink and friend once called ‘an issue of phallic identity’ — in other words, dick-measuring. A strong director working with a strong actor can be like two dancers who are both trying to lead. But such tension can also yield very good work. George Clooney and David O. Russell got into an intense altercation on ‘Three Kings.’ Each claims the other started it. Was it worth it? It was a great movie.”

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