Brad Pitt has a great laugh: a sort of staccato, slow-rolling ah-huh-huh-huh that makes you think of surfers and cowboys and movie stars. He uses it more than once to excellent effect as Cliff Booth, the laconic stuntman-cum-sidekick who stumbles into the dark heart of the Manson family in Quentin Tarantino’s showbiz Babylon Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and not at all in the lonely-astronaut epic Ad Astra (out Sept. 20), though it often punctuates his conversation with EW about both those roles.
To say that one of the world’s most beloved and best-known celebrities is having a moment 30-plus years into his career feels, at this point, pretty much indisputable. But don’t call it a comeback, or a Brad-aissance; several times over the course of a friendly, sometimes philosophical interview he’ll insist that his only goal is “putting stories out into the world” — which in 2019 means not just starring in a pair of films that may well end up dominating the coming awards season but also continuing to head up Plan B Entertainment, the boutique production company responsible for a vanguard slate of films, including Vice, Moonlight, Beautiful Boy, and 12 Years a Slave.
That laugh comes tumbling out again when he’s asked to find the thread between Hollywood’s Cliff, a sort of beach-boy Lebowski with a singular gift for sudden violence, and Ad Astra’s Maj. Roy McBride, an almost pathologically contained spaceman on a solo mission to Mars. “Well, Cliff is by far a much easier way to live, and certainly I would say what we’re all striving for,” he says, chuckling. “But to get to Cliff’s peace of mind and acceptance in the day, you’d probably have to go through Roy’s dilemma to get there.”