For Brad Pitt, playing warrior-for-hire Achilles in ''Troy'' (yes, that Troy -- of the Trojan horse, the face that launched a thousand ships, ''The Iliad'') meant finding inspiration in unusual places. ''You watch football?'' he asks. ''Steve McNair playing through broken ankles, Favre with a broken thumb -- that was my motivation.''
Pitt is talking specifically about the injury (ironically, a damaged Achilles tendon) that sidelined him for several months, but in actuality ''Troy'''s entire five-month shoot was about playing through the pain. The epic film, featuring Pitt's first starring role in three years, suffered enough setbacks to, well, fill a Greek tragedy. The then-impending war in Iraq bumped the production from Morocco to Malta, two hurricanes swept through the shoot while on location in Mexico, and Pitt's injury meant he couldn't film his final fight scene until this past December. Between crises, director Wolfgang Petersen saw his budget balloon to $200 million. ''It was extreeeemely challenging,'' he says. ''But I feel incredibly high about it.''
But who ever thought filming one of history's great love-and-war stories would be simple? For those uninformed about their Homeric epics, the basics: Young Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom) falls for the famously beautiful Helen (Diane Kruger). She ditches her husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), who hires the mercenary Achilles to storm Troy and bring her back. Sworn to uphold the great city is Prince Hector, played by Bana -- who goes mano a mano with Pitt in that final brawl. ''We both felt like, man, it's been a long time coming, so all bets were off,'' says Bana. ''We decided to really go for it, and if we connected, don't worry about it. We belted each other around quite a bit.''
Scene complete, Pitt quickly rid himself of his much- discussed manly gladiator look. ''I shaved my head, stopped going to the gym,'' he says. ''I still wear skirts, however. For casual Fridays.''
THE GOOD NEWS The last few times Pitt played ''troubled,'' we got ''Fight Club'' and ''Snatch.''
THE BAD NEWS Pitt stretching? Good. Budget stretching? Not so good.