Brad Pitt has had a hell of a film career, no one can argue that. After making women swoon as a shirtless thief in Thelma & Louise, he offered a glimpse of his scary side in Kalifornia and then became the world’s hottest vampire when Robert Pattinson was still learning his multiplication tables. Yet it wasn’t until 1995’s serial-killer thriller Seven (or Se7en, as the cool kids write it) that Pitt established himself as one of the greatest actors of his generation as Detective David Mills, an optimistic hero who unravels in astonishing fashion in an impossible-to-forget final scene. What’s more, it’s this role that won him the coveted title of Most Desirable Male at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards, so take that, Val Kilmer in Batman Forever.
Twenty years later, the final scene in Seven remains just as chilling, from Morgan Freeman’s quivering lip to Pitt screaming, “What’s in the box?!?!” and “Tell me she’s all right!” to Kevin Spacey calmly telling him, “Become wrath.” Part of the genius of Seven was that we never got, or had, to see what was in the box. Viewers never had to know more than what Freeman’s Somerset was willing to tell us: “There’s blood.”
However, if the studios and producers had their ways, Somerset would have never stood there helpless as Mills unloaded his clip into John Doe. When he wrote Seven, Andrew Kevin Walker worked at a Tower Records in New York for three years, and served as a PA on films like Blood Rush, “which was about murders in a fraternity house.” He vowed to write his way out of that record store, and when Seven finally sold, he had enough money to move to Los Angeles. And while Walker never thought that his movie would be made, his script eventually made its way to director David Fincher. Fortunately for all of us, Fincher accidentally received Walker’s original script instead of the copy with a rewritten ending, and from there, Gwyneth Paltrow’s eventual decapitation had its strongest supporter.
Where did the idea for Seven come from?
I had moved from a very suburban upbringing in Pennsylvania, so New York City, for me, was a real culture shock. I was in New York from ’86 to ’91, so it was the height of a lot of New York City-specific stuff, like the crack cocaine epidemic on the rise. It was very different from the way it is now. For example, you would never go to Times Square without being very careful.
It was also, even more than now, a time where a concise one- or two-sentence description of something was a really helpful path for explaining movies, especially because at the time there was a gigantic spec market. So the idea — “seven deadly sin murders” — was a reaction to living in New York and putting myself in a John Doe head space where you could walk down the street and see every “deadly sin” on every street corner. What if someone was so highly, over-sensitively attuned to these injustices? That’s where the idea of seven deadly sins came from. It was my way of trying to make my last week at Tower Records my last week at Tower Records. I worked at Tower for three years and every week I thought, “I’m going to write my way out of here this week.” But it obviously took some time.
Were you surprised when New Line acquired it? And were you nervous about potentially not being part of the creative process of making it?
First, a company called Penta optioned it in concert with Phyllis Carlyle, who was a manager, and then optioned it for Jeremiah Chechik, who was the director of Christmas Vacation. The first part of the process was me doing a massive rewrite, just obediently rewriting it and vastly changing the script for Jeremiah, and he really did make it very different and the ending was completely different. There was no head in the box. I do thank God that that version of it never got made because it would have been a very different path for me in my life. But after that option period went by and New Line acquired it, I remember very specifically the first time I went to Anne Kopelson’s office and sat down with this director, David Fincher, who I had only known as the director of Alien 3. And Fincher, in every possible way, completely changed my life, including allowing me to participate in the creative process.