Actor Michael Pitt is perhaps best known for his role as James "Jimmy" Darmody on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, a role that catapulted him into Hollywood consciousness despite having starred in several films and TV shows since 1997 (he also was Henry Parker on Dawson's Creek). He hasn't had a ton of starring film roles, but that all changes on Friday, Aug 8, when the intellectual science-fiction movie, I Origins, opens everywhere. Pitt stars along with Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Steven Yeun, as a scientist who uncovers evidence that may radically change society as we know it. I recently spoke with Michael Pitt about his upcoming role and his past work.
The film deals with heavy themes such as creationism versus evolution and the whole "faith versus proof" debate. Directed by Mike Cahill (Another Earth), Pitt's character is at the center of a mystery that unfolds after his research on human eyes opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Tom Santilli, Detroit Movie Examiner: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! Very cool to talk to you!
Michael Pitt: Why thank you, very cool to talk to you too.
Tom Santilli: What drew you to the film, I Origins and what about your character of Ian Grey appealed to you?
Michael Pitt: I was really interested in working with young filmmakers, I was also interested because this was not the type of character that I've played before. I was very interested in this idea, or this theme throughout the movie, of science versus spirituality. How those things clash, where they meet up. And to me, it was just a very inspiring debate.
Tom Santilli: There is a great deal of that debate in the movie. Where do you fall personally in that debate?
Michael Pitt: (Pauses) Um, who cares? (Laughs) I guess me personally, that's a very personal question. I have a great love for science and I have a great love for spirituality. And we'll just leave it at that.
Tom Santilli: How would you categorize I Origins? What kind of movie is it?
Michael Pitt: I think it is a science fiction film. One reason I wanted to work with (director) Mike Cahill on this, was that I just don't see science fiction films being made like this. That genre has become more about how many bells and whistles can you blow, with special effects and giant budgets. It's just my personal taste in art and music and film, I really gravitate towards things that you can't specifically put in a specific genre. I think that at it's core it is a science fiction film, but it's also very romantic, it's certainly about love, spirituality. It has elements of being a thriller. I just usually love when things have a lot of different elements to them.
Tom Santilli: Now I know in promoting the film, you've done a few Q and A sessions with the film's director, Mike Cahill for fans and audience members. Has anything in particular surprised you or how has the overall reaction been from fans?
Michael Pitt: Two main things during these screenings where I'm surprised. If I'm able to catch the screening, there's a point in the film where, like clockwork, a portion of the audience gets really emotional and begins to cry. And that's very difficult to make happen. What's interesting is that they aren't crying because it's dismal or dark, it's a very positive thing. I can't say I've been in other films where that has necessarily happened with such a specific reaction. The other thing is that it just sparks conversation.
Tom Santilli: You were amazing on Boardwalk Empire, by the way.
Michael Pitt: Oh thank you!
Tom Santilli: Did you know going into it that it was only going to be a role that would last for two seasons, or was that scene a shock to you as it was to the audience?
Michael Pitt: It wasn't a shock to me. There was talk about it before. I wasn't that shocked.
Tom Santilli: What has that role done for your career?
Michael Pitt: I mean yeah, I loved going to that set every day. I love working in New York, I'm a New Yorker, I consider myself a New Yorker. The New York crew, the subject matter, working with Martin Scorsese, the amazing ensemble of actors I got to work with, Steve Buscemi, etc, it really was a joy to work with those people.
Tom Santilli: Over your career you have kind of jumped back and forth between TV and movie roles. Do you prefer working in one medium or the other?
Michael Pitt: It's all about the work. If it's good, I don't differentiate between them. You can see me in a play, you can see me on a show, you can see me in a film. It's really about the work.
Tom Santilli: Are you on Twitter at all? And what do you think about the whole social media thing, the interaction these days between celebrities and fans on sites like Twitter?
Michael Pitt: To be honest, I'm not even sure how it works, to tell you the truth. I don't really even know what Twitter is. I know that might sound wierd to some people. I don't use social media. I make music, so I use social media...it's more helpful for me when I'm making music than as an actor.
Tom Santilli: So what's next for you after I Origins?
Michael Pitt: I also executive produced I Origins, there was another film I executive produced called Rob the Mob, that came out. I just finished up a movie called Criminal Activities. There's a movie called You Can't Win, which is a novel that I helped adapt and also produced.
(I Origins opens everywhere on Friday, Aug 8. Check back then for my complete review).