Once they hit their late 40s and early 50s, there’s a tendency amongst Hollywood leading men to turn to the dark side. After playing the hero on screen for years, those good guy roles can start to dry up for aging A-listers, leaving some very meaty – and oft times villainous – parts up for grabs.
Greying Hollywood legend Henry Fonda turned heads when he played the brutal villain Frank in Sergio Leone’s epic 1968 Western “Once Upon a Time in the West.” So, too, did Denzel Washington when he famously went bad for 2001’s “Training Day” and won himself a Best Actor Oscar in the process.
Megastar Brad Pitt may have found himself in a similar position. Though he’s not putting the action hero beat behind him quite yet (see: the upcoming zombie thriller “World War Z”), at 49 years old he may be looking for a change of pace. If a recent report is to believed, that change could come in the form of the villain role to end all villain roles: Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who ordered the execution of Jesus Christ.
According to Deadline, Pitt is currently in talks to play the title role in Warner Bros.’ “Pontius Pilate,” a historical epic that follows the life of a promising Roman soldier turned politician. Instead of being a straightforward New Testament story, the script is said to play like “a Biblical era Twilight Zone episode,” in that it is told from the perspective of the “bad guy.” Pilate, of course, is a historically vilified figure whose modern claim to fame is that he sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. “Pontius Pilate” will reportedly depict the man’s life and exploits prior to and leading up to that fateful decision. Deadline calls it the story of an essentially loyal soldier who gets in “way over his head” in the always-turbulent Holy Land.
It’s a fascinating way to spin the New Testament story – one that is known to virtually every Christian on the planet. But is Pitt really up for playing one of history's greatest villains, even if the character is portrayed in a sympathetic light?
While Pitt is probably better known for his good looks and superstar status, the actor has consistently turned in solid performances throughout his career -- and those performances have turned to great ones in recent years. In 2008, Pitt earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his age-defying work in David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and was again nominated a few years later in 2011 for his strong work in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball.” (He was previously nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1996's "Twelve Monkeys.") Also in 2011, Pitt turned in another lauded performance in Terrence Malick’s experimental family drama “The Tree of Life.”
He hasn’t hit Oscar gold yet, but Pitt is clearly keen on tackling more challenging work as he matures. What could be more challenging for an actor than putting a sympathetic face on one of the most reviled historical figures in the Western world?