Last year, Brad Pitt reached a career high-water mark, nabbing the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of a late ’60s stunt double of shaggy hair and few words in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. Coincidence then that the 57-year-old has suddenly decided to pursue performing his own stunts with new vigor?
As Greg Rementer, the second-unit director and stunt coordinator on Pitt’s just-now-wrapping-production thriller Bullet Train, exclusively tells Vulture, the actor has been largely eschewing the services of a stunt double to portray a hitman named Ladybug in the film. “Brad did 95 percent of his physical stunts — the fighting,” Rementer says. “He’s like a natural-born athlete. He really got in there!”
Based on the Japanese graphic novel Maria Beetle by Kotaro Isaka, the ensemble thriller finds half a dozen hitmen from various criminal factions — each with their own respective mission, each with a competing agenda — aboard the same titular train. Needless to say, bloodletting ensues. In recent months, the project has remained lodged among Hollywood trade headlines for its dazzling star power. Best Actress Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock, Brian Tyree Henry, Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, Tyree’s fellow Atlanta co-star Zazie Beetz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Bad Bunny all boarded the project, which also has the rumored participation of Lady Gaga in an unspecified role.
Turns out Pitt was hardly the only member of that group to put himself on the line physically. “Never have I ever done so many huge actors in one feature where all of them excelled at the physical movement of our training,” Rementer says. “So Brad, Brian, Michael Shannon, Hiroyuki Sonada, Andrew Koji — who was already a stud in terms of where he comes from with the show Warrior — all these actors put out some great action and did a lot of their [own] stuff.”
Persuading actors to execute the kind of shoot-’em-ups and punch-outs usually left to stunt professionals has become a professional calling card of Bullet Train’s director, David Leitch. The journeyman stuntman turned action choreographer turned filmmaker — who served as Pitt’s stunt double in such films as Troy, Fight Club, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith before graduating to directing blockbusters like Deadpool 2 — previously coaxed taxing Gun-Fu performances from Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde and Keanu Reeves in the first John Wick installment. (Leitch also produced this month’s gritty thriller Nobody, for which Bob Odenkirk similarly metamorphosed from wimp to ass-kicker.)
Leitch, for his part, was close to wrapping production on the film when reached by Vulture a few days ago and refuses to confirm whether Lady Gaga will appear in Bullet Train. But he heaped praise on Pitt as a beacon for talent. “We were fortunate to be shooting in L.A. during a time when artists were ready to get back to work and having Brad on the project — hot off an Oscar win and having a great script by Zak Olkewicz — really did attract the best people,” Leitch says. “We were able to get people back to work safely during a pandemic, which is pretty amazing.”