I Origins is in select theaters after being picked up by Fox Searchlight at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. The film is an effective and affecting piece, gorgeously directed with some really great performances. I had a few issues with the script here and there, but overall I left the theater feeling impacted in a pretty unique way. But don’t take my word for it, read Adam Chitwood’s glowing review and check out the trailer if you’re unfamiliar with the project as a whole.
In the film, Michael Pitt plays PHD student Ian Gray, who is out to prove intelligent design to be a falsehood by demonstrating that the eye can undergo evolution. Along the way he falls in love with both Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and his lab partner, Karen (Brit Marling). I sat down with Pitt in Los Angeles earlier this week to talk about his work on the film and how he calibrates his performance to play the same character at completely different points in his life. We also discussed a potential return to the character of Mason Verger in Hannibal Season 3 as well as his upcoming movie with John Travolta, Criminal Activities. Hit the jump for the interview (you can find my interview with Marling here). I Origins is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.
MICHAEL PITT: Well you can draw on experiences, but that can be a dead end because then you’re at the mercy of your own experiences. What I’ve learned, after working for I guess some time now, is when you’re approaching a relationship like that, like any working relationship, it’s good to be open. To know that someone might have a different way of doing things and listen to them. And hopefully you come to a common understanding. Thank God that not only are both Astrid and Brit lovely people, they’re very talented actresses. And we had good chemistry.
When you get a script this ambitious, what kind of trepidation do you feel when deciding to take the part?
PITT: You always have nerves. And it’s important to respect your nerves and your doubts. And then you have to ultimately overcome them.
There’s a seven year gap in the film where a lot happens offscreen. Can you talk about playing the same character at two totally different places in his life?
PITT: There are technical things. Seven years to a twenty-six year old, those are big years I think. In a weird way scientists understand things on a higher level but it takes a lot of dedication and a lot of time. So you’re kind of in school until you’re twenty-six, which can maybe make you in some ways still a college student [emotionally]. So in those formative years I sort of look at him as being sort of a young student. Idealistic and passionate.
Seven years later your character tells Karen that the relationship with Sofi was never going to last. And we can see he was annoyed with Sofi in that last scene. Do you think your character is being fully truthful in that moment?
PITT: Yes, I do. It’s something he believes. I think what he was trying to pinpoint was that it was more about… of course it’s hard enough when you have a love like Sofi. She opened up his world in a lot of ways. So that’s powerful and life changing. Your experiences are what made you what you are today. So when tragedy happens in people’s lives and things are left unsaid, it can be very unsettling. The lack of closure can linger. And Ian Gray, the way I played him, never dealt with it. He tucked it away and sort of lived with that. And I think when you do that, eventually you have to deal with it, however that manifests. In that conversation with Karen I think what he was trying to explain was that, because of the awkward situation he was in, it still doesn’t diminish his love for her. And I truly believe when they kiss in that moment he knows that this is the person he is going to spend the rest of his life with.
PITT: We’re still trying to work it out. Bryan Fuller is amazing, so I hope it works out. If it doesn’t [shrugs]… I just hope it does. It’s a big commitment and that’s kind of the problem. There are a lot of moving parts and I have other projects that I’m attached to. But Bryan has been really awesome.
You’re also starring with John Travolta in Criminal Activities, which Jackie Earle Haley directed.
PITT: That’s a working title, they might change it. It’s a movie about this group of friends who sort of get tied up in a business transaction with the mob and how they try to get out of it.
So is it kind of like Killing Them Softly in tone?
PITT: I don’t know if I’d compare it to Killing Them Softly. I haven’t seen a cut yet, but there are elements of it that are very comedic. I think it should be an exciting film. There are elements that feel like Reservoir Dogs and I had a blast with John Travolta. I was a little bit surprised.