My Favorite Shirt

August 8, 2023

Sometimes you know an actor is the only one for a role, and at the same time, you know you’re both in for a wild ride.

Michael Pitt embodied all the elements that were crucial to Toby in Delirious. He was both innocent and streetwise, as believable crawling out of a dumpster as he was gracing the red carpet. And he was always, always emotionally compelling.

Things started out beautifully, with a lot of joy and laughter. Michael loved this one shirt I wore and kept saying how much he wanted it. And I kept saying, “No, man. It’s my favorite shirt.” Then, about two weeks into shooting, something changed. I noticed a resistance that required more and more time and effort from me just to get the basics of what his scenes required. I was pretty familiar with on-set issues by this point. Hell, I wrote a whole section of Living in Oblivion just to film a fistfight between an actor and director.

But the pace of shooting Delirious was intense, and things erupted one night. We left the set without speaking. I spent the weekend brooding. Late Sunday, I looked up from my desk and saw this book by Judith Weston, Directing Actors. I’d read it before, but when I picked it up, it opened to this page:

“Whatever actors do, love them anyway, the way a mother loves her children, even the difficult ones. Give them unconditional love. Let them know you are willing to reach into your own chest and offer your own heart.”

Monday morning, I got to set early and went straight to Michael’s tiny cubicle. I hugged him and gave him a wrinkled paper bag. I walked out before he opened it. Inside was my favorite shirt.

The first scene we shot that morning was of Toby leaving K’harma’s hotel after spending the night with her. All the shot required was for Michael to walk out, pause to look up at the dawn sky and then walk away.

As I called out action, Michael walked out and paused, looking up at the sky. Then to my utter astonishment, he suddenly stepped over to the uniformed extra playing the hotel doorman and embraced him. The startled doorman froze for a moment and then embraced Michael back.

It was a moment I could not have written. It was something Michael created and offered to me. To this day, it is one of my favorite moments I ever put on film.

Get Delirious: The Director's Cut (2020) here.


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