Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt talks ‘Bullet Train,’ his first lead role in three years

Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt talks ‘Bullet Train,’ his first lead role in three years
“Bullet Train” is Pitt’s first lead role in three years. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 July 2022

Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt talks ‘Bullet Train,’ his first lead role in three years

Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt talks ‘Bullet Train,’ his first lead role in three years
  • The Hollywood actor used his real-life experience of therapy to inform his performance as an assassin trying to maintain inner peace

DUBAI: We all hit rock bottom at some point. If you’re Brad Pitt — perhaps the most famous actor on Earth — it’s just a lot more public. While the lows of Pitt’s personal-life may have been covered in painfully intimate detail on every gossip page going, his journey to self-betterment has been a lot more private. Over the last six years, he has done the work — exhaustively — and now, with “Bullet Train,” his first lead role in three years, he’s ready to make fun of it.

“I think that’s what drew me to the role, honestly,” Pitt tells Arab News. “This man who’s trying to grow — but also somewhat regressing — on his way to being a better person. My own experience with self-help and therapy allowed me to take the (mickey) out of that.

“There are moments when you have one epiphany and you think you have the whole egg figured out, and then you step in a pile of crap the next day. This was making fun of that, and I took great pleasure in it,” he continues.




Brad Pitt accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2020. (Supplied)

Pitt is, of course, one of the world’s premiere box-office draws and has been for 30-odd years. He’s one of Hollywood’s most-admired actors too, and received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2020 for his role in the Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which he played the stunt double for a famous actor.

It’s fitting, then, that he’s followed that up by teaming up with his old stunt double David Leitch, who stood in for Pitt on films including “Fight Club,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and “Troy” back in the 90s and early 2000s and has gone on to become one of the most sought-after directors in the world, helming “John Wick,” “Deadpool 2,” “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbes and Shaw,” and now “Bullet Train.”

“We saw that relationship in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ and it’s not untrue that actors and their stunt doubles can have great bonds. Brad and I had that. We were friends,” says Leitch. “Now, we’ve come full circle where I’m at a place in my career where I’m an artist too, and he appreciates my work. I, of course, already appreciated his work. Doing this together was such a great experience.”




Brad Pitt and David Leitch promoting “Bullet Train” in France in July. (Getty Images)

“It was really nice to come back together with him, but this time with him as the boss,” says Pitt.

“Bullet Train” is based on a best-selling Japanese novel. It tells the story of five assassins who all find themselves on the express train from Tokyo to Morioka with little chance of them all surviving to the end. Pitt plays ‘Ladybug,’ a perennially unlucky man fresh off a mental-health sabbatical who is trying to keep his inner calm in a situation that refuses to allow it, spouting as many positive aphorisms as he can muster.

“Ladybug’s lines really do sound like a 22-year-old going through a self-discovery,” Pitt’s co-star Joey King says to him.

“Exactly. The sad thing is, that's pretty much where I am in life,” Pitt replies.

Pitt and company shot the film during lockdown in 2020. While “Bullet Train” is set in Japan, it was shot on a single soundstage in southern California, inside a purpose-built train set that was flanked on either side by LED screens that showed footage shot on the actual bullet train in Japan. It was so realistic that some people on set reportedly got motion sickness.

For Pitt, the film wasn’t just a chance to reconnect with his old friend Leitch, it was also an opportunity to create a surrogate family to help each other through the crushing loneliness of COVID isolation, with each taking turns trying to make the others break into laughter and ruin another take with constant improvisation.

“This was pre-vaccination, so we had all these protocols and gauntlets we had to run through just to be able to shoot this. We were essentially in a bubble. It worked because of the high degree of talent everyone had, which led to so many good laughs,” says Pitt.

Pitt even recruited some of his own friends to come along, including Sandra Bullock, whom he called up personally to ask her to appear in the film.




“Bullet Train” is set in Japan. (Supplied)

“Sandy is a dear old friend; someone I can call on for any favor and she's always there. She'll drop whatever she's doing, she's done me some really big favors,” says Pitt. “When this came along, we thought it'd be really cool to call her again for another favor. She did it, but this time she said I had to do something in return — which is how I ended up appearing in her enchanting film ‘The Lost City.’ I liked this idea that we could cross-pollinate each other’s projects.”

Beyond the jokes, the self-deprecation, and the reunions with old friends, Pitt even quietly found himself connecting with the deeper themes of the seemingly wacky action comedy.

“There’s this undercurrent that questions the nature of fate, and the constant battle between self-will and manifestation versus the larger powers at play. That really hit me. It was combined, of course, with the David Leitch language of filmmaking — this mashup of comedy and ultra-violence,” says Pitt.

Pitt wasn’t just focused on himself, however. Part of his journey, both professionally and personally, has been to establish meaningful connections with others and to help raise them up, whether they be people he meets briefly or his co-stars. In a quiet way, it may be his life’s mission at this point.

King, for example, found in Pitt a true mentor, she says. As a 22-year-old Hollywood sensation with nearly 20 million followers on Instagram, King was grateful to have someone to help her navigate the increasingly complicated contours of fame at a time when apps such as TikTok have made things more emotionally taxing for megastars than ever before.

“I was going through a tough time one day, and I was expressing that to some of my castmates. Brad is someone who has been through a lot in his life. He’s been around the block. I was very lucky to have someone like him, with his life experience — specifically his experience with people having opinions about his life,” King tells Arab News. “It was really helpful to hear from someone like him about why that noise should be drowned out and how he does it. It was really, really nice to talk to someone like that.”

And Pitt’s performance in “Bullet Train” contains a lesson for us all: Not to take ourselves too seriously.

“I play a chump,” he says. “And the chump is the most fun role to play, hands down.”


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’
‘Dunki’ stars Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

DUBAI: NEOM has attracted its first Bollywood shoot, with “Dunki,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, having filmed at the location.

The announcement was made at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Sunday, with Wayne Borg, the managing director of NEOM, adding that 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera “Exceptional,” produced by MBC, would also be shot at one of the region’s new sound stages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk)

Borg also addressed nearby competitor Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a hotspot for Hollywood shoots in recent years, saying: “I think our ambitions are much greater than theirs,” according to Variety.

Neom has hosted an estimated 26 productions over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” which stars US actor Anthony Mackie and is directed by Rupert Wyatt.


Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF
The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Saudi director Nora Aboushousha’s film “Lucky You Are Mine,” which sheds light on mental illness in Saudi Arabia, is screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple who are working through their struggles to keep their bond alive and thriving. 

Aboushousha chose to represent mental health in her film because of the tremendous struggle the person affected, and people around them, go through. 

“Let alone if they lack the knowledge. As I watched more people around me and loved ones suffer from mental breakdowns, depression and anxiety, I started to notice how big of an impact it has not only on the lives of those suffering but their loved ones too. I witnessed a few relationships come to an end because of mental health issues,” she said. 

“Then I saw two (people) who decided to weather the storm ... it touched me and inspired me,” she added. 

Aboushousha said that stories in general have always been a means of escape and comfort for her. She has been touched by many writers; some films and books have helped her through tough times while others have shaped her personality. “Maybe my film can do the same to others,” the director said. 

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Aboushousha said that the challenges she faced were not gender specific, and her being a woman in the field did not make a difference. “The biggest challenge we faced was filming during Ramadan when most of talent and crew were booked with bigger projects.”

While making the film, Aboushousha enjoyed the support of her cast and crew, friends and family, and even some of the professionals in the industry whom she had never worked with offered help and advice when needed. 

“Raghad Al-Faisand and Hasan Qudus were generous with their time. We rehearsed daily for almost a month, in which Hasan would travel from Makkah to do the rehearsals,” she said. 

Speaking about some of the challenges, Aboushousha said that the “editor who was going to edit the film found himself stuck in Ramadan season, and my friend Ali Al-Attas volunteered to edit.”


Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
The 3-day program will take place in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah from Dec. 8-10. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
  • Magazine’s annual conference is back with 2nd edition
  • 3-day program in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah to take place from Dec. 8-10

DUBAI: Expanding on a successful platform built in 2021, Hia magazine’s Hia Hub 2022 will offer more interactive experiences and celebrity talks at the event’s second edition in Riyadh, editor-in-chief Mia Badr told Arab News.

“Since its inception, Hia magazine has been in the service of representing and catering to the Arab woman, particularly the Saudi woman who is sophisticated, discerning, complex and multi-dimensional. Throughout our journey, we have always championed her voice, told her stories, engaged and inspired her with insightful and thought-provoking writing and exciting fashion trends. That said, Hia Hub was envisioned as a platform to bridge international and regional audiences," said Mia Badr, editor-in-chief of Hia Magazine, in an interview with Arab News.

“We are celebrating our 30-year anniversary this year, along with our second season of Hia Hub, and there is no other place that would be better suited than to host the event where it all started, and where it will continue to flourish and grow — here in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Badr said that the event is meant to reshape the boundaries of “leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity for the Hia fashion community.”

With the fashion industry exploding and growing at an exponential rate in Saudi Arabia, Badr is excited for Hia Hub to be at the center of the conversation.

“Local designers are gaining traction with brands and designers such as Mohammed Ashi gaining critical acclaim from global media; Hindamme; Mohammad Khoja’s brand currently has pieces on display in London’s V&A Museum; you’ve got young trailblazers like Arwa Al-Banawi, known for her fresh and contemporary RTW namesake brand who has collaborated with Adidas and Levi’s; all of them are making an impact on their home turf and gaining recognition on a wider scale,” said Badr.

When asked about her favorite speakers from this edition’s lineup, Badr refused to play favorites. “They are all exceptional in their respective fields, so it really comes down to what particular topic you are interested in. We’ve covered all topics of interest and relevance from female leadership, to how to build a beauty brand, sustainability, the rise of craftsmanship in culture, the new generation of creatives impacting the fashion sphere, styling and make up workshops and so much … there’s really something for everyone, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are all great!”

Some of the big-name speakers expected to attend the event include US fashion designer Zac Posen, iconic Hollywood stylist Law Roach, Emirati singer Balqees Fathi, French Moroccan fashion designer Charaf Tajer, celebrity stylist Cedric Haddad and Iraqi US beauty mogul Mona Kattan.

The speakers and topics were chosen with the cultural resonance in the region in mind. “We made it a point to have representation and diversity, inviting professional candidates from the region as well as from abroad to ensure a broad spectrum and different points of view for candid and thought-provoking conversations,” said Badr.

Guests can learn more about Hia Hub by visiting hiahub.com.


‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere
A still from the film. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

DUBAI: When French Algerian director Damien Ounouri was in his late teens, he knew he wanted to go into filmmaking. It was the 1990s and Ounouri consumed films by major Western directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  

“For me, a new world opened in front of my eyes,” Ounouri told Arab News. “I felt that it was what I wanted to do in my life — to express my point of view, to tell stories and try to create emotions.” 

Fast-forward to 2022 and he is showcasing his latest directorial effort, “The Last Queen” — co-directed with lead star Adila Bendimerad — at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which partly funded the project.  

The film has already been screened at film festivals in Venice, Montpellier and Hamburg, but the Dec. 5 screening marks its MENA region premiere.  

“The Red Sea Film Festival is quite important because it’s the MENA premiere,” Ounouri said. “We didn't screen it in Algeria yet. . . It's a new, natural market.”  

Set in 1516, “The Last Queen” is a historical drama, narrating the story of the legendary Queen Zaphira (played by Bendimerad), wife of the last king of Algiers, who defends her people against the arrival of the conquering pirate Barbarossa. 

“We don't know if she existed,” says Ounouri. “In Algiers, her story is well-known. . . Adila told me about her story, saying that this queen was fighting Barbarossa. Zaphira existed in books since the 17th century. With Adila, we worked a lot with a film that has a feminine angle. For me, it's not feminism, it's just humanism.”  

To properly capture this ancient era on film, shooting took place in Algeria's museums, mosques and palaces in the cities of Algiers and Tlemcen. The film is full of sumptuous costumes — around 2,000 outfits were made for the production.

The film was shot in Algeria's historic locations. (Supplied)
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Shooting began in March 2020, but everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic and filming resumed in October 2021. “There was a lot of pressure,” said Ounouri on the intervening period. “But we used this time to push the details and the quality. During one year-and-a-half, we worked a lot more on the set design and costumes and the film is better now.” 


Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  
The showcase was set against the majestic backdrop of Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

DUBAI: Hollywood star and Dior global ambassador Robert Pattinson was on the front row as the label presented its Celestial collection on Saturday, set against the majestic backdrop of Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dior Official (@dior)

Kim Jones, the creative director of Dior Men, had 75 models present new looks from the French fashion house. 

Other famous faces spotted at the event included South Korean rapper Sehun, South Korean singer, actor and model Cha Eun-woo, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, Scottish actor Thomas Doherty and British supermodel Naomi Campbell. 

The show took place in front of the Pyramids of Giza. (AFP)

Stars from the Middle East included Tunisian actor and filmmaker Dhafer L’Abidine, Egyptian actor Amr Youssef and Egyptian Canadian “Aladdin” actor Mena Massoud. 

A model hits the runway in Dior Men's latest collection. (AFP)