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 style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
Updated 06 October 2022

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
  • Influencer collaborated with Net-a-Porter for many looks during fashion week season
  • Al-Gabbani pulled off number of fashion-forward ensembles with help of stylist Wafa Nasser

DUBAI: Saudi designer and fashion influencer Tamara Al-Gabbani is back from her “manic and exhilarating” Paris Fashion Week trip and it was one for the books, she told Arab News.

“It’s like that feeling you get after doing CrossFit for 10 days and you can’t feel your legs anymore,” she said.

Tamara Al-Gabbani at Paris Fashion Week. (Supplied)

She attributed part of the intense nature of the trip to having her stylist and assistant both miss the trip for various reasons.

“The main challenge was definitely that I didn’t have my stylist and assistant with me. Unpacking alone took me six hours. The second challenge was that we didn’t predict that the weather would be cold and rainy. We didn’t really prepare for that,” she added.

Tamara Al-Gabbani wearing Saint Laurent in Paris. (Supplied)

What followed was an intense shopping exercise in Paris, while Al-Gabbani had her stylist Wafa Nasser go over all the choices with her on the phone.

“She was on the phone with me the whole time and we were selecting all the boots and everything we needed because of the change of weather conditions. And we were re-creating looks while I was in Paris and shopping right before the shoot, which was in a few hours and we had to do all this last minute over the phone,” Al-Gabbani said.

But even before she arrived in Paris, Al-Gabbani had her work cut out for her. Behind the glitz and the glamor of an influencer’s life is steady teamwork, rigorous attention to detail, and a lot of preparation.

“My stylist and I began our prep three weeks in advance. But because she was in Riyadh and I was in Dubai and then at New York Fashion week, we had to work virtually to put all my looks together. We worked online for five days straight to decide on all the looks. And this time, we collaborated with Net-a-Porter for most of the looks,” she added.

On her favorite styles from her Paris trip, Al-Gabbani picked out her Saint Laurent and Coperni outfits. The Coperni ensemble combined a yellow twisted cutout cady blazer with an eye-catching mint-green crochet skirt, all perfectly brought together with season-favorite Barbie pink Bottega Veneta heels.

The Saint Laurent look featured a more masculine silhouette with a single-breasted tailored blazer dress in denim. Al-Gabbani paired this with thigh-high white boots and chunky gold hoops.

From the various shows she attended, Al-Gabbani said the Monot and Etam fashion shows stood out.

“And this time, I actually had time to eat. I know that sounds weird, but this is the first fashion week I actually went to lunch,” she added.


Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning actress Viola Davis stars in ‘The Woman King.’ (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2022

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
  • Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis and other stars discuss their groundbreaking historical epic
  • The film is set to be released in Gulf cinemas on Oct. 6

DUBAI: In the 26 years since she debuted on the screen, 57-year-old American actress Viola Davis has become the only Black American to win the Triple Crown of acting — an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, had her star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has even been named by the New York Times as one of the top 10 actors of the century. Never, though, has she been prouder of a film than she is of “The Woman King.”

“For the first time in my career, I had agency — agency to be able to control the narrative for myself, to have a character that reflected me,” Davis tells Arab News. “It’s a story in which I don’t have to make my blackness disappear in order to make the role work. It meant freedom — that’s what it’s meant.” 

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), “The Woman King” is the sort of film that many have called for for decades — a historical epic in the style of “Braveheart” or “Gladiator” that centers on the story of African leaders. It is set in the real-life West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823 and focuses on General Nanisca (Davis), the woman who would become Dahomey’s ‘king.’ 

For Bythewood, it’s the film she had been dreaming of making all her career. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve always wanted to make our ‘Braveheart.’ So when the script came, I thought this might be the chance to do it,” says Bythewood.

Julius Tennon and Viola Davis attend a special screening of ‘The Woman King’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Getting it made, however, was anything but easy. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, fought for seven years, with Bythewood coming in during the last year to help assemble a cast that was worthy of such an ambitious project. 

“To get from that desire to a green light is a lot. It’s a lot of fight. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of casting. But I feel like it just happened at the right time. And certainly, I feel like all my work up until this point got me to a position to be able to do this story and tell it the right way,” Bythewood says.

Viola Davis and John Boyega in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

The team assembled an all-star cast of up-and-coming talent, including Lashana Lynch (“Doctor Strange 2,” “No Time to Die”), John Boyega (the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy), and Thuso Mbedu (“The Underground Railroad”), each of whom took on different historical figures that showed the complicated nature of 19th-century Africa, in which prominent West African kingdoms worked with European slavers to sell those they defeated in battle, a practice they later rejected. 

“I really had to learn about this history, and once I did I had a responsibility in portraying this man to not shy away from his conflicts, especially the conflicts that are quite negative,” Boyega says. “I had to be open to the reality of the wrong, for the sake of good portrayal.”

Viola Davis in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

At the center of it all is Davis herself, giving perhaps the best performance of her career. 

“This movie wouldn’t have gotten made without Viola. No one else can be Nanisca, and she’s everything she is off the screen as she is on the screen. She’s so powerful,” says Bythewood.

“She wants collaboration, and we had a great time building this character. She wasn’t familiar with fighting and stunts because she hadn’t done it before, but I have, so I brought my athlete mentality to her and let her know what it really feels like to be in a ring, to hit or be hit, to swing a weapon. Once we had that, we could really build her from there, and once we had Viola’s performance, we had our key ingredient,” Bythewood continues.

For Lynch, this was not just about telling the story of an African kingdom — it was the story of a Black woman-led society, one that has never been explored on screen before, and she and the crew felt a huge responsibility to do it correctly.

“For these women, this is the first time that we’re telling their story. We have to do right by them. These are our ancestors. These women are the reason why we are here on this earth,” says Lynch.


Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage
Updated 06 October 2022

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

MARBELLAA: One striking aspect of the Portuguese language is its historical link with the Arabic tongue. Along the country’s southern coast, for instance, one encounters small towns with names such as Almancil (meaning ‘the house’ in Arabic) in a region called Algarve, derived from ‘Al-gharb’ or ‘the West.’ In the 8th century, Moors from North Africa occupied Portugal for nearly 500 years, leaving a lasting effect on its culture. 

That effect is clearly seen in the ceramic square tiles that pepper the streets of Lisbon. Tiles are locally known as ‘azulejos’ and to understand their history, a visit to the capital’s National Azulejo Museum, which opened in the 1960s is a must. It is housed in a former convent that was founded by Queen Eleanor of Viseu in the 1500s. 

Home to more than 50,000 azulejos, the museum hosts a massive panel showing a panoramic view of ancient Lisbon; a gilded church; and a chapel studded with blue-and-white tiles, surprising visitors with its architectural splendor and diversity. 

“When people come to the museum, the reactions are very good,” the museum’s director, Alexandre Pais, told Arab News. “They don’t know what to expect and we are trying to make each area different, to create a variety of experiences.”

The term ‘azulejo’ comes from the Arabic word ‘zellig,’ a patterned type of mosaic tile work found in North Africa and Andalusia, Spain. “It started with the Arabs,” explained Pais. “We received azulejos in the beginning from Andalusia. The Arab heritage in Portuguese azulejos can be seen today in several aspects, including technique. For instance, we have the tradition of cutting the azulejos, which is very Arabic in terms of work.” 

Originally depicting scenes from the bible, mythology and everyday life, azulejos — which were also influenced by Dutch and Chinese porcelain — were a status symbol and reserved for private spaces, such as churches. They were only externalized to the facades of buildings by the bourgeoisie in the mid-19th century, becoming a national symbol. 

“The city became like a theatrical set,” said Pais. “Azulejos have a story of more than 500 years and it’s always changing. . . If you look at azulejos, you can understand the Portuguese, not just as a society but part of our soul — what it means to be Portuguese.”


Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador
Razane Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman.” (AFP)
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

DUBAI: Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal has been unveiled as the Middle East’s brand ambassador for French luxury label Dior.

“I’m so unbelievably excited to finally announce that I will be joining Dior as a brand ambassador in the Middle East!” Jammal posted on Instagram on Wednesday.

“Ever since I joined the fashion community, I wanted to collaborate with people I can truly grow with, to join a family that I value as much as it values me. It’s been a long journey but I can confidently say I’ve found my home! The ME Dior team you have been so incredible. An extra special thank you to @sandrasawaya for believing in me and making this happen. This is the start of a wonderful collaboration. I cannot wait to embody the timeless creations of @mariagraziachiuri,” she added, referring to Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri and the Head of PR & Communications Middle East for Christian Dior Couture Sandra Sawaya Nehme.

Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman,” based on the legendary graphic novels written by award-winning British author Neil Gaiman.


How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
Updated 05 October 2022

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
  • Misk Art Institute’s ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East
  • ‘Cold Flux’ by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago

RIYADH: A Riyadh art gallery has opened an exhibition exploring time, the mind and the changing world through installations by a dozen local and international artists.

Misk Art Institute’s “Tales of Nostalgia” opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East.

“Cold Flux” by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago. The artist’s installation uses video taken during his own trip to Antarctica, and comparisons with later satellite imagery. 

His footage was passed through an AI algorithm that distorts and morphs the images as the shelf changes and disappears over time.

“I thought it’d be interesting to kind of potentially rebuild these landscapes through the use of technology, a thing that kind of destroyed it,” Williams told Arab News. “Fundamentally, it talks about our changing planet, how our planet is constantly moving and morphing. But it also kind of brings the question, is technology the solution to our current problems?”

“Novae”, an audio-visuel work by the French art collective Lab212, uses a recreated star field to explore the constellations and the history of astronomy, while sounds of nature and a poem by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen, “Khouf wa Sikat,” plays.

Saudi artist Abeer Sultan’s work, “An Imagined Perpetual Past” focuses on Medini marital traditions, and the bride’s anonymity and the extravagance of her clothing.

Daniah Alsaleh’s “Rewind, Play, Glitch” explores nostalgia and the distortion of memory by time through the use of digital photos on a living room wall that change and morph.

The MAI also exhibits various works from artists Muhannad Shono, Ayman Zedani, Asma Belhamar, Sultan bin Fahad, Zimoun, Fuse, Katie Paterson, and Laurent Grasso.

Nawaf Al-Harbi, MAI’s acting strategy & development director, told Arab News that he hoped the exhibition could also be used as a platform for cultural exchange opportunities.

“The aim is to continue the conversations, to get artists, especially the international ones, to run some workshops and master classes, so it's also part of the connection,” 

The exhibition runs until January 15, and is open to the public from 4 pm to 10 pm.