Brad Pitt Channeled Buster Keaton And Jackie Chan For His Role In Bullet Train

Brad Pitt is a standout in "Bullet Train," the new Sony action comedy directed by David Leitch. But Pitt didn't just cook up the showy and unique persona for his character Ladybug out of nowhere. The seasoned performer took his inspiration from some classic actors to shape his portrayal of an unlucky assassin trying to get out of the game.

"Brad came in on fire for big and broad," director David Leitch told GamesRadar. "He was leaning into Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan from the beginning. He was leading the way."

The connection between Pitt, Keaton, and Chan lies in the icons' ability to finesse movement, slapstick, and top-notch acting into something so slick, it looked easy. It seems the "Thelma and Louise" actor took some notes from Keaton and Chan to do just that with his own scenes in "Bullet Train."

Pitt's inspiration

Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan aren't exactly the same type of dark horses that Pitt's character Ladybug ends up being in "Bullet Train," but their penchant for combining action and comedy certainly impacted how Pitt approached his role in "Bullet Train." Ladybug's overall vibe and style, especially when fighting, was inspired by a meshing of these two legends by way of Pitt's particular tastes — specifically finding ways to make their stunt work bleed seamlessly into comedy. 

In an upcoming interview with /Film, Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick told us how Pitt knew early on in the process that he wanted to take a big swing with this role. "[Pitt] was like, 'Let's swing for the fences, lean into the comedy, lean into the physical comedy, go for laughs.' That's what the world needs right now. That's the tonic of our times. We want to make people laugh and he was bringing it from the beginning," Leitch said. Elsewhere in that same interview, he told us:

"When you look at Jackie as a lot of those characters that he's had, where he is sort of the underdog and he's trying to survive and he's using the props in this fun Buster Keaton-esque way, it was a no-brainer to lean into that and the homage to Jackie's choreography. And so, we were full-on mining from Jackie's playbook, for sure."

McCormick told us that Pitt became "so obsessed" with Jackie Chan during filming that he lamented the fact that there weren't more documentaries about Chan for him to dive into and study.

Keaton, Chan, and Pitt

Keaton and Chan are undeniably legends in their field. Keaton is remembered for the precision of his physicality and top-notch stunt work. Chan is credited with birthing modern action comedy, revolutionizing the way actors can help straddle genres using their bodies and spot-on comedic timing. Where the two greats meet is in their refined ability to balance that slapstick physical comedy we know and love with actual acrobatics and serious stunt work that few can achieve. Knowing this, it's not hard to imagine what Pitt's performance as Ladybug will be like, especially if he nails it. In fact, all signs point to the fact that Pitt's performance in "Bullet Train" could be the most slapstick character he's played yet — which says a lot considering his absolutely pitch-perfect part in "Burn After Reading," which was possibly one of Pitt's funniest roles.

In Every Frame a Painting's video "Jackie Chan: How To Do Action Comedy," the narrator notes that in Chan's performance style, "action is comedy" and that his work proves that "the same filmmaking principles apply whether you're trying to be funny or kick a**." Using that underdog set-up, Chan has to fight his way back to a level playing field with his opponent each time, because he's always starting at a disadvantage. From there, logical reactions drive the scene and the physicality between actors — and from what we've seen so far, it appears that Pitt's performance will use this concept as a golden rule throughout his new film.

Can Pitt do it?

Keaton and Chan are heavy hitters, and their work is clearly still a huge influence in many genres to this day. (The heart of Keaton's stunt work is all over "John Wick," which features a top-notch action performance from Keanu Reeves steeped in Keaton's precision and skill.) They are some of the best performers the industry has ever seen, so Pitt certainly has a high bar to clear if he's going to be in the pantheon next to them. But, again, when I look back at his beautifully weird and physical performance in "Burn After Reading," which, sure, wasn't as stunt-heavy but still smeared on the slapstick, I have a lot of hope for what Pitt will bring to the table in "Bullet Train." At the end of the day, he's a charismatic, physical actor with comedic and dramatic chops to spare, so there will probably be something for everyone to enjoy in the summer action comedy. (Plus, we're very curious to see if Bad Bunny can act or not.)

"Bullet Train" will premiere in theaters on August 5, 2022.