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Michael Pitt of ‘Funny Games’ on Giving In to a Controlling Director

Michael Pitt in Funny Games.Courtesy of Warner Independent

In director Michael Haneke’s brutal new remake of his 1998 film Funny Games, a pair of sadistic preps terrorize a genteel couple (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) who are on vacation with their young son. Local actor Michael Pitt, who cut his teeth playing a Kurt Cobain type for Gus Van Sant (Last Days) and an adventurous American expat in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, plays one half of the murderous duo. Pitt talked to Vulture about his new role — which entailed getting inside the head of one of the year’s creepiest killers.

So had you seen the original before you signed on to do the remake?
Yes, and it angered me the first time I saw it. It took me about a day of digesting it to realize that I liked it. I felt like I was assaulted a little bit when I watched it for the first time. But then what I realized that I liked about the movie was that it reminded me that there shouldn’t be any rules as to the normal ways that you make a film. You can do anything.

When we saw the remake, we have to admit that we felt like we were going to throw up the entire time.
Yeah. It’s a really hard film to watch. I find that parents in particular have a really difficult time to watch it, which is understandable. For Tim, especially, making the film was really difficult. He’s got a little boy about that age.

What was Michael Haneke like as a director?
Amazing. He’s an amazing man. He’s really intelligent, very specific about what he wants, very disciplined, but he’s also very open to a discussion. If you did challenge what he said, he invited a conversation. Of course, nine times out of ten, he was right. I don’t have a problem with the director being very controlling as long as I know that they’ve really thought about it and can really explain it in a very thought-out, intelligent way. I would say that’s probably the biggest reason I did this film. I wasn’t rushing to play this character.

You were reluctant?
Yeah, I was a little reluctant only because I have played killers in the past, and as an actor you want to do things that are different, not the same. But of course this was very different. Also, I had lunch with Michael and then we did a work session and instinctively I could sense that he was way up there — you know, with Bertolucci, Gus Van Sant, and some of the other directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with.

What did you and Brady think of those tennis whites you had to wear? Did you have to wear the same ones over and over again?
[Laughs.] No, we had many. We had many. And they were always clean.

And you had to address the camera at points…
Yeah, that was pretty weird. It’s a tricky thing to do. In watching the film now, I think the first time I do it in the film isn’t as good as when I do it later. I got a little more comfortable with it. But you know, the rule is never look into the lens, so it’s difficult breaking that rule once you’re programmed.

I read that when you moved here you were living in an apartment with nine other guys…
Among other places.

And what’s the biggest way life has changed since then?
Well, I guess the biggest change is that I’m able to make my rent every month. Which is kind of the goal I think for everyone, right?
—Sara Cardace

Michael Pitt of ‘Funny Games’ on Giving In to a Controlling Director