Brad Pitt arrives for the premiere of "Ad Astra" during...

Brad Pitt arrives for the premiere of "Ad Astra" during the 76th annual Venice International Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, on Aug. 29.  Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock / CLAUDIO ONORATI

"Ad Astra" looks and sounds like a space epic with a movie star lead in Brad Pitt, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Pitt said Thursday at the Venice International Film Festival that he and director James Gray are really digging into the idea of masculinity.

"Having grown up in an era where you're taught to be strong and not show weakness … there is certain value in that but there's also a barrier that's created denying those pains or those things you feel ashamed to reveal," Pitt said. "I think we were asking the question: Is a better definition for us actually being more open divining a better relationship with your loved ones, with your parents, with your kids, and with yourself?"

"Ad Astra" follows Pitt's detached astronaut character Roy McBride on a journey to the outer reaches of space to find his estranged father, a famous astronaut himself who has long been thought dead.

In addition to starring, Pitt also produced the film which he said was one of the most challenging he's ever done. Not only did he and Gray use primarily practical sets (he laughed that he and friend George Clooney "exchanged some discomfort stories" about the strings and rigs used to simulate antigravity in space films) but it's an emotionally taxing role as well.

Pitt had to draw on personal pains and wounds to make his performance as honest as possible. Gray, who has been a friend of Pitt's for 25 years, would send him emails every day revealing ideas from his own life that would help set the tone for whatever was needed for that particular day on set.

"We don't have a normal male relationship, we've always been quite open about our foibles and had big laughs at our embarrassing moments and [been] open about our feelings about our perceived failures or missteps," Pitt said. "It was a really unique experience."

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