NEW YORK — Brad Pitt and Gen. Stanley McChrystal — the inspiration to Pitt's four-star Afghanistan commander in the upcoming Netflix war satire "War Machine "— would seem to be worlds apart. One, an affable member of Hollywood's elite; the other a hard-charging lifetime military man.
But Pitt found one connection with his character: a swollen ego, and the damage done.
"Hubris is a trap, and it's the trap of every great nation that has been number one for too long. You start believing your own stink," Pitt says. "Anytime I've gotten in trouble, it's because of my own hubris."
Pitt, at the moment, may be particularly empathetic to such a drastic swing as the one that sank McChrystal via an infamous Rolling Stone profile. Pitt is now, for the first time since Angelina Jolie Pitt filed for divorce from him last September, stepping back into the limelight. He hasn't been timid.
Over the course of half an hour, Pitt was forthright and discussed his present state of mind, his current attitude about acting and his alarm at the possibility of expanding the war in Afghanistan.
Why the openness?
"I've got no secrets. I've got nothing to hide," said Pitt. "We're human, and I find the human condition very interesting. If we're not talking about it, then we're not getting better."
It's undoubtedly a fraught period of transition for the 53-year-old actor. He said he's spending his time now "keeping the ship afloat" and "figuring out the new configuration of our family."
He's getting through it, he assured.
"I'm not suicidal or something," Pitt said, laughing. "There's still much beauty in the world and a lot of love. And a lot of love to be given. It's all right. It's just life."
Pitt was most keen to discuss "War Machine" and the strong passions behind it. The film, written and directed by David Michôd ("Animal Kingdom"), is based on Michael Hastings' 2012 book "The Operators," which chronicled McChrystal's tumultuous and short-lived stewardship of the war in Afghanistan.
"War Machine," which debuts May 26 on Netflix, takes a slightly fictionalized approach. Pitt's character is named Gen. Glen McMahon, but the events and personalities covered correspond accurately with McChrystal's downfall. The switch, made after the project was announced, saved the film from some potentially thorny legal issues.
"We had no interest in impugning General McChrystal or any of his guys," said Pitt. "For me, the problem is more systematic."
"The impetus for me was a visit to Walter Reed," added Pitt, who visited the military medical center in 2014. "Those young men and women — who are absolutely heroic in a very harrowing situation — their lives are forever changed and so are their families. It just really made me question who is spending this currency of dedication. Who's writing the check? Who's making the order?"
In "War Machine," Michôd summons some of the spirit of war comedies like "Catch 22" and "M-A-S-H." The film captures an American military driven by politics, illusions and personal aspirations. Pitt's general, with a deeper, gruffer voice than McChrystal's, comes charging into Afghanistan with outlandish delusions of grandeur and departs amid self-inflicted scandal.
Pitt said he discussed the film with McChrystal. "I feel for him," said the actor. "He's a product of us. He's us." McChrystal, who retired from the Army shortly after resigning command, has since launched a management consulting firm and penned a memoir. He declined to comment for this article.
Little about "War Machine" is typical for a Hollywood production. It would have never gotten made, Pitt said, without Netflix. The streaming service bankrolled the film for $60 million, making it one of Netflix's most ambitious projects yet.
"The degree of difficulty on this one was 10," said Pitt, "which is what makes it worth it for me to go get in front of the camera now."
Through his production company Plan B, Pitt has become a remarkably successful producer. He was behind two of the last three best-picture winners ("Moonlight," ''12 Years a Slave") as well as other acclaimed releases like James Gray's "The Lost City of Z." At times, Pitt — though he's prepping numerous projects, including a possible "World War Z" sequel — sounded almost as if his movie star days are behind him.
"I feel myself as I'm older gravitating more to the producing side than being in front of the camera," said Pitt. "It's a big commitment, a film, and it does take you away from your family. I just have to balance that. It's not less important, itself, it's just not as important as family. ('War Machine') I loved because it's after something and we don't know where we're going to end up. It's a delicate tightrope to walk."