Jun 18, 2017 5:15AM

The Brooding, But Prepared, Michael Pitt For Oyster #110

All eyes on me.
Michael Pitt is making polite chit-chat about the weather. "I'm in Paris at the moment and it's pretty sunny, which is nice. Where are you?" he asks. It's a disarmingly ordinary opening to a telephone conversation with the actor, whose public persona is typically enveloped in a cloud of mystery, controversy and cigarette smoke. 
When you Google Pitt, there's not a huge glut of content attached to him. His interviews are few and far between and mostly concerned with his craft. Images of him, however, paint the poetic picture of a brooding man; his blue eyes naturally lock to the camera, which has been tethered to him since his TV debut on Dawson's Creek in 1999. His look oscillates between sharp Armani-suited heartthrob and sleek Prada poster boy to disheveled rebel — dark under-eye circles, greasy hair, wry pout and slouched posture working hard to negate his boyish good looks.  
The Pitt who greets me on the phone from Paris is an incredibly Zen and thoughtful character. Prior to our call, his publicist requests an outline of the questions I might ask ("he likes to be prepared"), and he takes a collaborative approach to the photo shoot at the Hôtel Amour, bringing his own props (a pair of boxing gloves) and clothing, and working on the images post-shoot with the photographer, right down to the suggestion of scribbling on some of the pictures with red ink. 
Pitt is a born storyteller, preferring to work on projects that he can become wholeheartedly involved in. And because he's very discerning about his choices, once he decides on a movie, he stands by it no matter what. I mention a quote of his that came up in my Google search: "Every movie that I've picked, from my first film on, has been considered by everyone to be career suicide."  Whether it's an auteur-driven art house flick (Bertolucci's The Dreamers; Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Gus Van Sant's Last Days) or a blockbuster TV series (Boardwalk Empire), Pitt lets his personal whims guide his decisions. "I am selective about what I take on," he says. "I've never had a career where I'm doing three or four films a year just because they're offered to me… and I think that's a good way to go about it because there's nothing worse than hearing an actor complain about something they've accepted. It's like, ‘Why'd you do it?' You should know what it is and you should stand behind it so you're not complaining about a choice that you made." 
It's a smart, self-actualized attitude, and one that casts Pitt as a surprisingly mindful and balanced character. Which begs the question, what's the reasoning behind his latest big-budget Hollywood sci-fi, Ghost in the Shell? It's his most mainstream career choice to date, in which he stars alongside Scarlett Johansson. "I got a call from Rupert [Sanders, the director], who I'd met through friends in California and it was actually really organic. I knew very well what Ghost in the Shell was. I was a fan of it; I am a fan of it. Early on in my career I learned that getting involved in a mainstream film, the best scenario is for you to be into the content. So it seemed like the perfect way to introduce myself to that kind of filmmaking." 
Pitt's role as cybernetically enhanced villain, Kuze, has been kept largely under wraps, and the ambiguity of the character — as well as the challenges the part presented — further enticed him. "Whatever character I pick… if it's not physically or mentally challenging, I'm not doing my job. That's the way I look at it. There was a lot of green screen, which I was kind of into because, in a way, if you do that right as an actor, it brings things back to it's purest form, you know?" 
Acting, says Pitt, is difficult, but the trick is making it look easy. "I don't mean that you should overcomplicate things; sometimes it's the opposite," he offers. "[Kuze is] a fictional character; it's not a character that was specifically taken from the manga, so it was very open. For me, it was a complete rebuild of a character from the ground up. What I was trying to do was build something authentic. That can be challenging, and it can also be extremely freeing too."  
It's an interesting political paradox we are currently living in that all of a sudden makes the sci-fi genre seem not entirely farfetched. "Ghost in the Shell, specifically, it's a little bit eerie how similar some of the problems in that manga are to the problems that we have now," Pitt agrees. "The other great thing about sci-fi is you're able to actually look at the similarities and maybe the lessons to learn about current topics but without any kind of baggage, because it's fictional." As an American living in Paris, a city he retains a fondness for and a close circle of friends from his days filming The Dreamers, this topic is particularly poignant. "In a weird way, I learn a lot more about America when I'm overseas rather than when I'm with Americans, which is strange," he says. "I usually take it as an opportunity to hopefully show people a good representation of America." 
Paris appears to suit him. And, anyway, there's no need for him to be in Los Angeles, considering he rarely reads scripts or actively seeks out roles, preferring a more serendipitous approach. "I've been doing this for a while now," he says. "I've made some amazing projects that have influenced so many people; I've gotten the opportunity to work with some of the greatest directors, in my opinion, that are living. I'm not constantly reading. There's enough there for someone to say whether or not they're interested." 
Instead, his time is taken up with multifarious artistic pursuits: writing, music, painting, travelling, and more recently, making films of his own. "I started directing a sort of episodic series shot in Iceland," he says. "I don't want to talk too much about it because it's premature." Pitt has released music as a solo artist and with the band Pagoda, but right now he's reluctant to put it out there into the public sphere. "I feel like in a weird way, the internet has made things so… kind of dirty," he adds. "I haven't released a lot of what I've made. I haven't made it necessarily as a hobby — when I work, you know, I'm working. But in a very strange way, the only way to protect it is to not share it with everyone, because everything is just free. It's kind of a drag, really. It's difficult to protect the music and, especially in my situation, because I have a following as an actor, it can get a bit… sticky. It can isolate the people who are into my music or put them off. It's really tricky, but that's the reason you don't see me on a label or anything." 
For now, Pitt's working on his own projects in Paris. "I've been shooting, editing and writing. My day-to-day here is kind of the same as my day-to-day in New York. I'm usually working on either music or film," he says. "I enjoy everything that goes along with it. I enjoy making a good environment for my actors, the crew… I enjoy the relationship I have with my producers and my editors. So I feel like I have something to offer in that." It's his business, I propose. "It's my art form, really," he counters. "I'm a terrible businessman. If I were a good businessman I probably would not be doing this." 
Text: Natalie Shukur
Photography: Christoph Wohlfahrt
Fashion: Nicholas Galletti