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THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

Recruiting The James Gang
Seeing Brad Pitt in character for the first time, author Ron Hansen recalls it was like having the subject of his years-long research come powerfully to life. "When I saw him on the set I didn't think ‘There's Brad Pitt'; I automatically thought, ‘There's Jesse James.'”

Dominik agrees. "I believe audiences will forget pretty quickly that he's Brad Pitt, which is a real testament to his performance. Brad couldn't have been more passionate about this movie and this role; he's not afraid to crack some eggs to make an omelet. He captures all the nuances and brings such authority to the part that you understand why people claimed Jesse James' mere presence could fill a room with warmth or tension.

"By all accounts, Jesse was a very isolated person,” the director notes. "I'm not sure how much he really noticed the people around him. He's been called a sociopath, but that, by definition, is a person who lacks conscience and isn't very emotional, and I don't think that's entirely the case with Jesse, who ran the gamut from violent outbursts to stretches of pensive meditation. In any case, he was certainly damaged.”

Pitt, who, coincidentally, grew up in Springfield, Missouri, less than 200 miles from Jesse James' birthplace and childhood home in Kearney, Missouri, based his characterization on a blend of instinct and Hansen's research. "He was unsettled,” Pitt says, considering some of the issues that were driving Jesse at the time. "He felt cornered, weary of the chase and of having to live his life under an alias. Mostly, I think he was unable to deal with his own legend.”

Ridley Scott, who directed Pitt's 1991 breakthrough performance in "Thelma & Louise,” says of the role, "It's a true character study that, on the surface, carries none of the usual trappings of a leading man ‘hero.' It really demonstrates Brad's maturity and depth as an actor.”

Casey Affleck, who teamed with Pitt on all three "Oceans” films, took on the complexities of Robert Ford with similar passion, saying, "I have a lot of affection for Robert Ford. I don't think he was a coward at all.”

"I can't remember seeing a better arc or a character that approaches the kind of messy complications of human life more than Robert Ford,” the actor continues. "He goes from being a starstruck kid who idolizes the Jesse James from dime novels to actually meeting him, robbing a train with him and forming a friendship with him. Then that relationship becomes convoluted and, ultimately, he has to kill him. It's a rich role and I was both thrilled and intimidated by the prospect of playing it. I had seen Andrew's film, "Chopper,” ten times and was a big fan. I would have played any part he offered, but luckily he asked me to play the part I wanted most.”

"Ford is the person with whom we identify,” says Dominik, who shares Affleck's affection for the character. "But identifying with him is uncomfortable for all his insecurity and his inability to sense boundaries. He's like the part of yourself that you wish you weren't.”

Dede Gardner recounts the impression Affleck made on Dominik during his initial reading. "Andrew really responded to him, in particular the way Casey conveyed the depth of Ford's defeat and sadness. But there's a smart-aleck quality to Ford in the beginning that Casey also hits. The character is a blend of confidence and bravado with insecurity and innocence. It's not an easy balance and not an easy part to cast.”

At the core of Affleck's interpretation was his effort "to think like Robe

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