Don’t let Brad Pitt’s Ladybug fool you in “Bullet Train.” In the trailer alone for the action comedy, Pitt’s curiously code-named assassin gets table-slammed, stabbed, thrown through a glass door and pulled out of the high-speed Japanese train.
Not a problem for Pitt. Even at the road-tested age of 58, the Oscar-winning star had his stunt double-turned-director, David Leitch, watching his back.
“Yeah, it was always, ‘If it’s going to hurt, get Leitch,’ ” says Pitt of their early days as a team, laughing during a Zoom call with Leitch, 46. “I’ve never had a stunt double like Dave , that kind of collaboration. It’s just different now. And then he becomes a director, full circle. It’s just an amazing story. This kind of thing doesn’t happen.”
Only in Hollywood. As “Bullet Train” leaves the station for theaters on Friday, Pitt and Leitch look back on their sometimes painful, always captivating stunt history in action movies like “Fight Club,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Troy.”
‘Bullet Train’ premiere:See Bad Bunny, Brad Pitt, Simu Liu, more stars hit the red carpet
Pitt insists it was dumb luck that the fruitful relationship began on David Fincher’s 1999 “Fight Club.” The two were paired up when Leitch, brought in as a fight choreographer, happened to be standing near Pitt as the double decision was made. It was a fit for the brawl-filled drama.
“They just stuck us together,” Pitt remembers. “That’s how it happened.”
With camera and wardrobe tricks, Leitch was perfect for “Texas Switch” moments such as when Pitt’s trench coat-wearing “Fight Club” character Tyler Durden shows off impossible martial arts skills in the background.
“So that’s Dave in the background,” says Pitt. “Then I got to jump in the foreground. It just worked so damn well.”
Pitt was so thrilled with his stunt double that he brought Leitch along to work on 2001’s “The Mexican.” A major mishap occurred when a newbie Leitch shot his first scene in the desert, driving one of the film’s three El Caminos.
“It’s the second time I’m doubling for Brad Pitt, and that’s a big deal for a stunt man,” says Leitch, recalling the dirt road stunt. “All I had to do was drive the car through the intersection and go super fast.”
But as Pitt and the film crew looked on, there were problems, ostensibly stemming from a broken speedometer.
‘Bullet Train’ review:Brad Pitt charms, but his A-list action flick mostly goes off the rails
“I’m going fast. And then, I’m going too fast. And I see the stunt coordinator going ‘Slow down’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ And then I tap the brakes,” says Leitch. “The suspension got loose on the dust and there was only one safe place to put the car, and that was into the other El Camino.”
Pitt and Leitch can laugh about it now.
“But at the time, I had been like, ‘You’ve got to get Leitch, he’s the greatest,’ ” Pitt says. “We had three cars. And in one shot, suddenly we have one. He took out two in one shot. But it was funny. And I learned not to bring Leitch onto any driving shots.”
No cars were needed in the 2004’s sword-and-sandal epic “Troy.” Leitch was crucial in fight training the bulked-up Pitt as Achilles for the climatic on-camera fight scene against Eric Bana’s Hector.
Brad Pitt says he has prosopagnosia: What is that, and what do experts say about it?
“They rehearsed that fight like I’ve never seen anyone do before, and it shows,” says Leitch. “It’s an amazing fight.”
Pitt and Bana were so skilled, they wagered money on every sword mishit: $50 paid for small errors, $100 for the biggies. Reports at the time had Pitt losing $750 to Bana, but the scene is action glory.
“Is that what I owed him? I’m sure I paid up,” says Pitt. “That’s funny, but not nearly as funny when I was riding the ATV and the whole stunt team had their bows and arrows trying to shoot me as I would go back and forth serpentining like an arcade game.”
Producers were not thrilled to see the film’s megastar serving as gleeful target practice in the open vehicle. “We got in trouble for that one, didn’t we?” Pitt says.
Ultimately, Pitt understood Leitch’s decision to break up their movie partnership after six films to follow his director’s path. Pitt even agreed to do a quick, unforgettable cameo as the doomed Vanisher in Leitch’s “Deadpool 2,” only revealing himself when the invisible character skydives into electrical wires.
“That’s my man here, he came up with that,” says Pitt of Leitch. “It wins on so many levels, including getting my superhero moment done in like 10 minutes. Now I don’t have to do another superhero movie.”
The collaboration continued during the pandemic when Pitt was bowled over by the “Bullet Train” script Leitch sent over. He signed up for the full-on Leitch reunion, playing the reluctant assassin who fights a trainload of deadly rivals (including rapper Bad Bunny and “Deadpool 2” star Zazie Beetz).
Pitt, who won a best supporting actor Oscar playing the longtime stunt man of Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie star in 2019’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” pulled off most of the physical fight moves in the contained “Bullet Train” set. Naturally, he stepped out to stunt professionals for the serious flips.
He also brought his classic quirkiness to the Jackie Chan-inspired comedy. After Pitt saw the potential for comedy gold in smart toilet technology, Leitch had a souped-up commode added to the train and the script.
“Brad was like ‘We need a smart toilet,’ and I immediately called the art department and told them to have one built,” says Leitch. “He was like, ‘We’re going to have some fun.’ He came in with a bunch of riffs. It was great. Classic physical comedy.”
“They rigged that up beautifully,” Pitt says. “With those smart toilets, the water feature is just a gift.”