Summer 1997. New York, New York. A baseball-capped figure sits outside a plush apartment, clutching a script.
A security guard checks who he is. “David Fincher.”
A car pulls up and out steps Brad Pitt, worn out from a day shooting Meet Joe Black. “I’m tired, Finch,” says Pitt, balking at the prospect of spending hours discussing Fight Club.
“No, no, no, no. This is not a big, long conversation, it’s a three-minute conversation,” says Fincher. “All right,” says the star. “Why should I do this movie?” “Because this will be one of the best movies you’ll ever be in and probably one of the best movies I’ll ever make.”
Pitt nods slowly. “Okay. Let’s go get some pizza.”
Sean Penn could have been Tyler Durden. “I just couldn’t get the movie made at the scale I wanted to make it at,” explains Fincher, of why The Game’s co-star didn’t take up the fight.
“And I love the irony of it being Pitt, ultimately.” Sean Penn could have been The Narrator, too. “But he’s too wise, too knowing. He’s not guileless enough to be The Narrator.”
Sean Penn could have been Marla... Okay, no. The studio wanted Winona Ryder. Fincher wanted Janeane Garofalo, but she was "uncomfortable with the idea of all this sex”.
Courtney Love was considered and rejected, for reasons unclear. (As Chuck Palahniuk tells it, “She was desperate to do it. Fincher said she was too obviously ‘the type.’”
According to Fincher, she was “romantically involved with Edward and that proved to be problematic.”
Thanks to an agent’s idiocy, Fincher even ended up pitching the role to Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “She had no idea who I was. I’m sitting there thinking of myself, ‘My God, you are such a fucking loser.’”
Then there was Reese Witherspoon. “She’s somebody else who the studio brought up,” says Fincher.
“I think she’s amazingly talented, I just thought she was too young. When you realise Tyler doesn’t exist and The Narrator’s been abusing Marla himself, it needed to be somebody who, for lack of a better explanation, was there out of choice; not somebody who didn’t know any better."
"I was at Brad’s house and he goes, ‘Look at this actress; don’t think about it, just look at this actress’ and he put on the sex scene at the end of The Wings Of The Dove, when Helena’s just so unbelievably sad. I thought she was emotionally exquisite in that movie.”
A meeting was swiftly arranged, but Bonham Carter needed convincing.
“I think her mother had read the script and just thought it was awful and I think that’s partly why she was ambivalent about it. Actually, ambivalent may be giving the material the benefit of the doubt. She may have been repulsed by it.”
Next: Helena Bonham Carter