Many movie directors have a genre they return to again and again â€” suspense for Alfred Hitchcock, or the Western for John Ford.
For David Fincher, it's not so much a genre as a tone â€” and it can be summed up with one word: dark.
He directed Seven, starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as cops hunting serial killer Kevin Spacey.
There was Zodiac, another serial-killer movie. And Alien 3, about ... an alien serial killer. And on a lighter note, again with Pitt in the lead, there was Fight Club â€” you remember, the one about the men who beat the tar out of each other as a kind of therapy.
Now comes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another Fincher-Pitt picture, also starring Cate Blanchett. To say it's a change of pace for the director is an understatement: It's a love story, about a man who's born old and ages backward â€” and the woman who struggles with him to stay together while their lives head in opposite directions.
"I just thought it was beautiful," Fincher tells NPR's Michele Norris. "I thought if you were going to make a Hollywood romance, this was the one to make â€” because it just had this great tragic riptide."
The director calls Benjamin Button "a step sideways," rather than a refutation of his earlier work. And, perhaps surprisingly, what attracted him to the project wasn't the high-concept aging-backward notion.
"The gimmick of the movie is in some ways, for me, the least interesting part," Fincher says. "If you say it's about a man who ages in reverse and becomes Brad Pitt, I don't know how many people can relate to that."
But look at a person's everyday life through that lens, Fincher says, and the mundane things become interesting anew.
"Putting him in these scenes suddenly made the first kiss, and the first hangover, and the first job â€” made you look at them in a different way," he says.
In the full-length audio version of this story: How to make Brad Pitt look 85, what Fincher learned about how to tell the story from losing his own father, and what Fincher's early music-video work has in common with Mary Poppins.
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