Poor Michael Pitt. The actor is in town to promote Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot American remake of his own Funny Games, an intelligent but grotesquely disturbing film about two polite, well-dressed young men (Pitt and Brady Corbet) who invade the vacation home of an upper-middle-class couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) and their son, and then begin physically and psychologically torturing them for no apparent reason. (Those who know Haneke’s work understand that the real game is to get the audience to identify with the sadists, and through a series of horrific, carefully arranged episodes, confront their complicity in the consumption of violent images.) Dwarfed in a parka, with sunken eyes and a wan look, the baby-faced Pitt puffed on a cigarette (“I really gotta quit”) and looked around glumly as though he were waiting for someone to rescue him from the insult of daylight, and the hell of having to endure one more interviewer’s nosy (or perhaps just boring) questions. He clearly wanted to be anywhere but here, in the atrium of the Marriott, awaiting an afternoon-long fusillade of interrogators. And he didn’t mind saying so: “Do you think we could keep this short? Neil Young is playing right now, somewhere around here, and I really want to go.” Pitt seemed oblivious to the fact that his publicist had no intention of letting him go anywhere anytime soon. The cameras for his next sit-down session were already setting up. Meanwhile, his co-star Brady Corbet was asking if he could do his next interview in the hot tub. It was hard to know if he was joking.
Me: Were you familiar with Haneke’s work before you signed on to do this film?
Pitt: No, I didn’t go to film school.
Me: Was it hard to live with such a twisted character for weeks on end?
Pitt: I just went to the set and worked.
Clearly, I was agonizing the poor fellow, like some ironic meta-character from Funny Games: The Press Junket. I felt like I was participating in the journalistic equivalent of waterboarding. Cristina, our producer, noticed Pitt’s hands were trembling. She wanted to make him soup. I’m quite sure if he’d been able to retract his head into the hood of his parka like a tortoise, he would have. The only time he lit up was when I told him we were through talking. “Thanks!” he said, flashing a big grin, like a schoolboy released from detention or an unpleasant outing with the family. A few minutes later, as we were packing up, I noticed him slumped morosely in a pool chair, pinned like a fragile, exotic bug in the white light of a TV camera, while another tormenter stuck him with painful questions.
Somewhere, Neil Young was singing “The Needle and the Damage Done.”