Despite his reputation as a perfectionist, Mr. Malick by all accounts strove for a documentary-style spontaneity on “The Tree of Life.” “It’s more found than planned,” Mr. Lubezki said. “Terry would say, don’t worry about getting a piece of dialogue or an interaction of the actors, but try to get the feeling of the first time being in a room with them.”
The mood on the set matched the subject of the film: a heightened alertness to the world. “When you’re shooting with Terry, everybody’s very aware of their surroundings,” Mr. Lubezki said. With their birdsong soundtracks and their signature images of nature and the elements — light through treetops, windblown grass, flowing water — Mr. Malick’s movies are both more concrete and more abstract than most. They pay close attention to the sensual materiality of flora and fauna, places and things (“Tree of Life” locations include the California redwood forest and the Utah salt flats), but they also seek “to put emotions on film,” Mr. Lubezki said, “which is something there’s no manual for.”
It can be hard for actors to find their place within the willful, perpetual flux of a Malick production — some members of the large ensemble of "The Thin Red Line" were unexpectedly sidelined, or even eliminated.
“Actually, he’s an imperfectionist,” Mr. Pitt said of Mr. Malick, speaking in an interview at the Carlton Hotel here. “He finds perfection in imperfection, and he’s always trying to create the imperfection.” He added that working with Mr. Malick was “liberating but exhausting,” a rare opportunity to fulfill what he called “this actor’s quest of always trying to be in the moment, which is a bit precious but very true.”
Mr. Malick often calls for his actors not to create a character so much as embody a concept or a feeling. Ms. Chastain said that her audition consisted mainly of “acting out behaviors, like putting a baby to sleep or looking at someone with love and respect.”
Glenn Kenny's rave review here