Film marks third collaboration with Fincher

With his glamour-boy image and superstar status, it’s easy to forget that Brad Pitt has always liked to stretch and push his talent, all the while playing around as an actor with preconceived notions about his image.

Yes, he’s perfectly cast as the super-cool dude of the “Ocean’s” franchise, but he also happily stepped into the gym shoes of dimwitted Chad Feldheimer for the Coen brothers’ “Burn After Reading.”

But Pitt really gets to show his ability to age and stretch out — literally, as it turns out — in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the new film from David Fincher, who worked with the star in “Seven” and “Fight Club.”

“Button,” which reunites Pitt with “Babel” co-star Cate Blanchett, is based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man born with a strange condition that causes him to age in reverse.

“Because ‘Benjamin Button’ is such an epic, sweeping story, we felt we needed not only a movie star, but an extraordinarily gifted actor,” producer Frank Marshall says. “Brad fit both requirements. Just like Fincher, he had read a draft years ago and thought it an intriguing story, but knew it would have required four or five different actors to play Benjamin. When the new draft by Eric Roth came in and Fincher committed, he also convinced us that the technology was there so one actor could play the entire role.

“He knew from the start that he wanted Brad to play Benjamin, and when he told Brad that he could play the part through the entire story, Brad was in, too.”

Button is a “very unconventional” protagonist, Marshall notes. “The challenge of the role was to be able to manifest internal feelings that are, but for a small period, incongruous with the character’s external appearance. I think it took a lot of guts on Brad’s part to take on the role, but I believe his previous collaboration with Fincher gave him the confidence that they could pull it off.

“It was also a physical challenge for Brad. Because the movie spans such a great expanse of time, most of the principal actors had to undergo some version of the aging process, but Brad had to endure the most complicated and time-consuming makeup effects.”

The aging was done with a mix of traditional and visual effects, which sometimes required five hours in the makeup chair or several hours just doing facial expressions.

Adds Marshall: “Even though Brad has many looks throughout the movie, the way that Fincher has been able to weave all the different elements together into one performance is what makes it so compelling.”

Coming attractions Pitt is co-starring with Sean Penn in “The Tree of Life,” from director Terrence Malick, and toplines “Inglourious Basterds” from Quentin Tarantino. He’s also been attached to “The Fighter,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, and “Dirty Tricks,” from “Nip/Tuck” helmer Ryan Murphy.

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