As a molecular biologist in the new sci-fi film I Origins, Michael Pitt experiences two very different loves — one with the antithesis of his character, spiritual and unbound, and another with someone who is penetrative, logical, and precise. But the varied on-screen intimacies are nothing new to the actor.
Whether he’s paired with stunning actresses like Brit Marling or Astrid Bergès-Frisbey unraveling scientific secrets in his latest film or entangled in a sibling love triangle as he was in The Dreamers, Pitt says it’s all about certain chemistries that evolve on set. “You need to be open to how another person works and how that develops,” Pitt says. “Don’t jump in too quick.”
But The Dreamers isn't the only film to showcase Pitt’s unconventional choices. Many of his early films, such as Jailbait and Murder by Numbers, skim the surface of queer culture, while Hedwig and the Angry Inch swims in it. “I try not to be a judgmental person and to be open to life and everything that it has to offer,” Pitt says. “It’s sort of my mantra.”
Unlike other young actors who tend to stick closely to the conventional Hollywood formula, Pitt didn’t worry about taking on gay or gay-adjacent roles. “I was more interested in doing things differently,” he says of his early roles. “I think you need a guy who’s going to go in there and sort of break down walls.”
Instead of worrying about typecasting, Pitt challenged himself to find projects that he felt were exceptional, like Hedwig. “I think that, in particular, heterosexual actors can be homophobic,” he says — in an attempt to break down another conventional wall. “That’s putting aside the fact that [Hedwig] was an amazing project.” And though he hasn’t seen Neil Patrick Harris who portrays both Hedwig and Pitt's role as Tommy on Broadway, he looks forward to it.
Pitt’s penchant for striking relationships in film seems to only be eclipsed by his love of playing characters in precarious situations. As Jimmy Darmody in HBO's Boardwalk Empire, he plays with the big boys during prohibition and — spoiler alert — it doesn’t end well. In Rob the Mob, which came out in March, Pitt is a New Yorker who specializes in stealing from crime organizations, and next year he’ll revisit the mob scene opposite John Travolta in the independent film, Criminal Activities. Pitt will be part of a group of friends who get caught up in a bad deal with the mob with Travolta as an authority figure within the crime family. But even those roles boil down to the chemistry on set. “You never know when someone’s been working so long — is [Travolta’s] heart still in it,” Pitt says, “but from the first read in rehearsal everyone was like, ‘God damn, he’s John Travolta, and he’s fucking amazing.' ”
I Origins opens in select theaters July 18.