Topher Grace talks new Netflix film ‘War Machine,’ Brad Pitt and more

“War Machine” is a Netflix film inspired by “The Operators,” a book by the late journalist Michael Hastings. The film, available for streaming May 26, uniquely combines humorous biting commentary that addresses the fatigue of war with the emotional turmoil that takes its toll on the men.

At the center is a colorful, absurdist performance by Brad Pitt, who plays the egotistical U.S. General Glen McMahon, who genuinely believes he can solve the untamed war in Afghanistan. The film captures his radical undoing from the perspective of a Rolling Stone journalist invited by media adviser Matt Little, played by Topher Grace.

amNewYork sat down with Grace to discuss working with Pitt and the evolution of the film industry.

In terms of research, did you get a chance to read the book or the Rolling Stone article?

Both. [The film] does follow the book very closely. I remember hearing about General [Stanley] McChrystal [the retired U.S. Army general on whom Gen. McMahon is based] and the best thing, if you’re an actor, is to go into a project and do a deep dive on something that you want to know more about at the time. It was a four-month-long personal investigation.

It’s interesting how the film really confronts the ego it takes for a person to look at the complexity of a situation, that hasn’t been working for decades, and thinks in some form that they have a cure-all.

[Laughs.] What’s crazy is that this film was really timely when we were shooting it. It’s actually more timely this week.

Did your thoughts on the war change, whether it was your perspective or gained insight?

I’m pretty sure that my personal view of it was pretty similar to what the piece portrayed. I didn’t know as much about it as I do now, so that was the fun thing about being able to be on a project like this. A lot of the actors are not from America, so it was a really interesting perspective. We shot in London and Abu Dhabi so there were British actors who had a certain point of view on America and Australians had another point of view, and that’s what made the round-table dinners that we had.

What was it like working with someone like Brad Pitt on this particular project?

I did a small thing for “Oceans 11” and “12.” I remember Brad made a point of coming into the trailer where I was getting made up and said, “Hey I just wanted to come by and say welcome to the film.” I thought this guy doesn’t have to do any of this stuff. Now working with him years later, I feel the same way. When people get to be this successful, it’s not a coincidence. He’s incredibly talented and on top of it to see how wonderful and giving he is to everyone.

Is he the kind of guy who imparts advice or is he just laid back?

He’s very relaxed. Look, Brad’s production company, Plan B, has been in the Academy Awards conversation consistently. So it’s amazing to see him and his team empowering director [David Michôd]. The fact that Netflix allowed them to make a film as complex as this — that to me, is how you learn by example.

What does it say about the future of the movie industry that this film is on a streaming service?

Only that I think the line between television and film was getting blurry, and now it’s disappearing entirely. Look, I’ve been watching [Hulu’s] “The Handmaid’s Tale” and [actress] Elisabeth Moss deserves an Academy Award for that, right!? [Director] Reed Morano deserves an Academy Award for that as well. No joke, I think MTV is ahead of its time for including TV and film this year in their awards ceremony. It’s all just morphing together.