THE ESQUIRE INTERVIEW – by Emma Forest
Brad Pitt takes a swig from a keg of “Fierce Berry ” Gatorade, the label of which boasts a drink that is “new and bold”. The drink
is so new and so bold that within a few sips, his tongue turns bright pink. “Your tongue is cerise.” He pauses mid-slurp. “What does
cerise mean?” Pitt is not a man ashamed to admit the things he doesn’t know, nor to be coy about the things he does know. “Just a kind
of pink, like a maraschino cherry, I guess.” “Like Fuchsia?” “A few shades of Fuchsia.” “Really?” He replaces the cap on the
disgusting drink, digesting this information as if it is quite the most fascinating thing he has head all day. An ear-to-ear grin
raises his cheekbones even higher, quick as a rent hike. “I love naming colors, I love finding new ones,” he says.
Welcome to the beautiful Los Angeles. To your left is a 15m Gap poster starring Matthew Broderick. He has yet to be pasted from the
shoulders down and, as a result, sports a pair of pastel-clothed breasts where the old advert is still visible. Beside me is Brad
Pitt, Gatorade at his side, with two hands on the steering wheel and an apple in his cerise mouth. He looks like a movie star pig
“And over here,” the roastee offers, removing the shiny green apple, “right by the side of the road, I saw a dead dog put out with
trash, Imagine being that relaxed about the death of your household pet. Genius.”
Remember that person you met through work, at a conference, say, who alleviated the boredom of the slides, who shared with you the
inexplicable ennui induced by miniature shrink-wrapped hotel soap? I first met Brad Pitt a year and a half ago when he was doing
press for the dreary Meet Joe Black. I was the 10th female journalist he had seen that day, but the first to make it clear that I
didn’t fancy him. He relaxed.
“The way people focus on my looks, I feel like a girl walking past constructions workers,” he said at the time. Because his eye
contact is so constant and steady, one never really appraises him as the beauteous package he is said to be. Walking beside him,
though, you realize how incredible tall he is, one of the few very tall men who doesn’t move as though his skin has been shrunk in
the wash. Meeting again in honour of a considerably better film- Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, in which he plays an Irish “tinker”- he picks
me up from my hotel. Pitt is lolling on the sofa, waiting for me to gather m belongings, when the phone rings. It’s my mum. We talk
briefly and then, somehow, the phone is in his hands. “Allo Mum!” he chirps, in an abysmal cockney accent, “It’s Brad here!” They
chat pleasantly for a little while before he signs off: “Well, it’s been very nice talking to you, Mrs Forrest. I’ll pass you back
to your daughter now. Look after yourself. Byeee!”
Perhaps because he did journalism at university, or more likely because he is so weary of being expected to talk about himself, Pitt
loves listening to other people, and loves asking questions.
“He’s one of the only Hollywood people I’ve ever met who isn’t constantly looking over your shoulder,” recalls his Snatch co-star,
the very un-Hollywood Jason Flemyng.
Usually when someone says “uh-huhs” it means hurry up, Pitt’s “uh-huhs” come with an encouraging nod and wide-eyed expectation, as
if he can’t draw another breath until you’ve completed your thought. Half his vocabulary consists of “tell me more” and “go on”.
“I remember, when we first met, you asked the craziest questions,” Pitt frowns, rolling down the window of his Range Rover. “You asked
me if it felt strange to be so American. I’ve thought about that a lot. Because I remember being so excited the first time I ever
went to New York, seeing the different enclaves and how they looked after each other. I’ve always felt on my own. Drifting until I
find my focus. Maybe that’s why I love driving so much.”
I meant (I think) that where Sean Penn is Irish-American, Denzel Washington is African-American and Michael Douglas is
Jewish-American, Pitt is just American-American. Every actor from New York or LA, including his other half, Jennifer Aniston (family
name Anistolpoulos), seems to have an ethnic to fall back on. Pitt is from Oklahoma and went to a Missouri university.
“You’ve seen the film Gummo, right? Gummo is like a historical record of where I grew up. These were my cousins, people sitting there,
For someone with such a happy-go-lucky demeanor, he frequently says words like “drifter” and “loner”, albeit with the light-hearted
inflection of parents pretending they aren’t having a fight.
“The cast of Snatch blew me away, Jason Flemyng, Jason Statham, the best guys. Vinnie Jones- what a sweetheart! Sharp as a tack! These
guys, you would think that the movie was secondary to them. They’re having these chess battles in between set-ups for the shot,
shouting “Fuck you, you cunt!” As a loner, I was really taken with the camaraderie these guys have together.”
Cinematically, he has veered towards the confrontational roles and experimental directors. His career highlights are, to date, Terry
Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and David Fincher’s Seven and Fight Club. It’s even worth mentioning his astonishingly self-deprecating
two-second cameo in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, in which he grins gormlessly for the cameras on the red carpet of a film
“I sound so wanky when I tell people about Brad,” groans Jason Flemyng, “but it’s hard not to. Not only has he chosen films that I’ve
loved, but he’s been fantastic in all of them. Any actor that good-looking who continues to do good work- him, Jude Law to some
extent- you can’t take that away from them.”
Pitt became a star on the basis of his 15-minute turn in Thelma & Louise, as the cowboy who is such a stud-muffin that he gives Geena
Davis her first orgasm. The perception of him as a male bimbo has haunted him ever since (a recent Rolling Stone cover story was
devoted this subject). But the thing is, if Twelve Monkeys, Seven and Fight Club have not convinced you otherwise, if Snatch still
does not change your mind, Brad Pitt genuinely, 100 percent, doesn’t care.
“I’ve disconnected from it, you see. I spent so much energy in the first portion of the fame game trying to fight that. It just
became daunting and I missed the enjoyment of what was going on. I vowed not to do that any more.”
In front of us, leaning out of a convertible, camcorder in hand, a blonde films our drive. Just us, us, us, the same still shot on a
moving camera. I’ve been in similar situations with far less well-known celebrities who have squirmed and shrieked at the invasion of
privacy. He does not flinch. He is unruffled. This is not something that bothers him. Flicking between stations, we hear on the car
radio a report that does.
Following Abner Louima’s assault in a Brooklyn precinct and Amadou Diallo’s death by 41 shots as he reached, not for a gun, but for a
wallet in the vestibule of his own home, there has been yet another case of police brutality. Listening to the report, one is
reminded that the relationship between the police here and inner-city African-Americans can seem like one giant, malevolent conga
line. Pitt spent some time riding around with the cops of the Los Angeles police department in the process of researching Seven, and
he came to an uncomfortable conclusion:
“What kind of guy would want to be a cop? Are you seeking power? Are you seeking identity with a group, a very powerful group? Say
that image of that powerful group is now threatened, wouldn’t you fight like hell to defend that image, whether it was rational or
Weaving in and out of traffic, his theme does not falter.
“I don’t like distinguishing by colour. Let’s call it what it is, which is low-income areas. It’s poverty. I can see how you get a
young, fresh-faced cop, a little bit scared about his job, he gets hassled by a low-income kid. Immediately he starts building up
prejudiced because he was coming in with maybe pure intentions. But he ran into a kid who was growing up with pure intentions, but
got hassled by some cops. Some LAPD white cops with mustaches.”
We pass a cop car and he cracks a smile.
“Me and Jen get BBC news on satellite. Instead of watching American news we get to see the craziness from afar. Using the BBC as a
mirror seems like a fairer vision of what’s going on.”
Did he understand, then, the British furore surrounding the release of The Devil’s Own in which he portrayed a sympathetic IRA
“I can only understand the crisis from afar,” he begins, delicately; “from books and interviewing people. What I got from that was
pain on both sides. As with anything, it comes down to a few bad people.”
Now his voice has raised, loud enough for the motorist beside us to realize that this is Brad Pitt, although probably not that this
is Brad Pitt holding forth on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
“But I want to know why the British Empire is promoting this pain. Why can’t the Empire make right its wrong?” The area of Oklahoma
Pitt grew up in was defined by religion: “Not just Catholic or Protestant, but Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist. Like it matters, like
who gives a shit.” He started off Baptist, “and we graduated or erored into a nondenominational group that means nothing to me.” The
voice is loud again, the topic perplexing to the strained ear of the gawper.
“Religion is at best a pacifer and at worst, barbaric. People who live in a vacuum get very scared of people living in a different
way. What threat is it to you if a gay man is kissing another gay man on the street? He’s not coming into your home. This is public
territory. Why does that fuck you up?”
Pacino is a great actor because of the method, because of his training. Johnny Depp is a great actor because of his face- the
emotions that he can convey with those soulful eyes alone. Robert Downey is a great actor because he is a skin too thin. Brad Pitt is
a great actor because of his intelligence. He analyses intensely, as he does with everything else, any role he is about to play, until
he finds the truth in it.
We pull into the parking lot of the West Hollywood Tower Records. Since he doesn’t mind – really doesn’t mind – if he is recognized or
not, hardly anyone notices him. We storm in and out. It’s a guerrilla-style, hundred-dollar CD blitz, bam, bam, bam.
“Ya gotta have that,” he insists, buying me “Euphoria Morning,” by a former Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell.
With a sigh, he leans on a rack in the “Rock Imports,” aisle and confesses that he is really a frustrated musician.
“You know, I’ve had this frustration with film because we can replicate feelings and sometimes, a few of us get to an ultimate truth
that when you witness it, it floors you because you weren’t able to express it yourself… But my frustration with acting is that I
can’t do quite what music does. Music has its own language. It’s not Japanese, it’s not English, it’s music.”
We move to the next aisle and I point out some things I think he should hear and he buys them, too:
“From the Verve?”
“Oh, him we definitely gotta have,” and Richard’s in the basket.
Pitt is one of those heterosexual guys who is unabashed and unashamed in his love for other men. Snatch director Guy Ritchie is one
“He fulfills for me some kind of Peckinpah fantasy. Anyone who says he’s arrogant is threatened by the fact that he knows what he
wants. He has absolute faith in his decisions- not that he’s going to make the right decision, but that if it is not right, he has
the capabilities to figure it out. And that’s magic.”
Benicio Del Toro, another Snatch co-star, is also a hero.
“I’m trying to find my character for Snatch, I looked to what Benicio did in The Usual Suspects [as the mumbling Fenster].”
“Right! Just with an Irish accent instead of Puerto Rican.”
He’s about to start filming a remake a remake of the rat pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven, because of Steven Soderbergh.
“That sex scene in Out Of Sight, which is about pheromones, about two people looking in each other’s eyes, after they had already
said yes. I think that is genius. Then in The Limey he plays around with memory, how our thoughts skip around. So I went to see Erin
Brockovich expecting to see the evolution and I did see the evolution. But he had completely backed off. He did something so simple,
almost monotone, in editing and camera work, and let the lives of the people do it. He drives me crazy! I gotta get next to him! I
gotta rub up against him!”
Pitt pauses, cheerful as anything, to sign a store worker’s copy of the Dust Brothers soundtrack to Fight Club. Back in the car,
flicking through our CDs, he selects David Holmes, who will score Ocean’s Eleven. I ask if he has any trepidation about doing a
“Remember when everyone said they shouldn’t make remake Lolita? Well I’ve seen the movie and it has its merit and there were things
in the movies that I was affected by. And Adrian Lyne found his own version of it. Then I realized: it’s Shakespeare. It’s why you
redo Shakespeare. To find your own personal version.”
Lyne’s Lolita benefited from the participation of Melanie Griffith as the jealous, ageing, glamorous mother, an example of how the
baggage of a person’s stardom can contribute positively to a role.
“Which is me and Fight Club,” he replies, as we head towards East Hollywood, where he has been working on what he terms with his
“little project” for the past year.
He is about to move into a house which, on first appearance, appears to be constructed entirely of chairs and dogs. Four dogs, or is
it five? And at least 20 chairs. Big plush chairs. A retro bubble chair lined with fake fur. Tan leather sofas. A metal chair that
slides in and out of the wall. A love seat at the foot of the stairs, for when you are so in love, you can’t make it to the next floor
without stopping to smooch. There are numerous framed pictures of Jennifer Aniston, who looks, in every one, prettier than you’ve ever
seen her before, leading one to believe that Pitt was the photographer, for it’s true that we look most beautiful in the eye of those
who loves us most. And, boy, does he love her, with that rare love that is nourishing rather than destructive.
Jason Flemyng, who as well as starring in Snatch with Pitt, has just finished filming a heavy metal movie (Metal Gods) with Aniston,
describes her as “a female Brad. Couldn’t be more gorgeous, yet utterly without vanity. They took me out a few times in LA and, this
will sound strange, but it was so nice to be around such normal people. We just ate Mexican food and talked nonsense.”
Pitt says that it will not be long before we see Aniston in her own equivalent of Twelve Monkeys or Fight Club.
“We talk about it all the time. I’m on to it, don’t worry. I think Friends is hilarious. I will be sad when that show goes off air.
But I cannot wait for everyone else to see the things she can do, because that show is just one facet of her talent.”
He has built a photography studio in the house in which he plans to experiment, and an art studio “because Jen loves messing around
with paint”. He tells me about the inspiration behind the development of the 1910 house, which is more of a sprawling compound. “I’m
interested in ways to make minimalism seem warm.”
He tries to explain and I try to understand, but it’s like listening to directions in a foreign country. All I can see is it’s a
house that is clearly inspired by being in love.
“Yeah, I started working on it when I got together with Jen.”
There is a bathroom with a waterfall and lights and jets, African carvings on cupboards, alongside Japanese screens. We move from
room to room, each more impressive than the next. He greets every workman by name, introduces me to all of them. We settle in the
living room. On the table is a copy of Ray’s A laugh, a gritty book of photojournalism with which he is greatly taken. There are also
three neatly displayed copies of Woman’s Own, whose presence seems to confuse him.
“Hmm. I’ve been living with Jen. This place has become a Mecca for anyone who needs a place to crash. That’s my best explanation.”
Soon, I find myself teetering into territory he doesn’t care for. He tries to dismiss my question as something “your editor made you
ask”, but it is mine and I am genuinely curious. We’ve all experienced that heart-dropping moment when you see an ex for the first
time at a party and the are with someone new and they are happy. If that party is the Oscars and there are cameras everywhere, does
that dull the pain or exacerbate it?
“You are referring to the Paltrow period”, he snaps.
Actually I’m talking about Juliette Lewis, who recently got married. But I don’t correct him. I am intrigued by the way he refers to
an ex by her last name, as if she were a still from of his life, taken out of context and in which he can see no link to the present.
“I think of the pain I’ve felt in my life… pain is relative but… the Paltrow period was a truly valuable time for me personally. When
something goes away you need that decompression time to digest what was really going on. I’ve done my homework. I want to know why
things go wrong, when I’m culpable and when I’m not. I want to know how I can not make the same mistakes.”
And then he is gushing about “Jen” this and “Jen” that. “That’s a book Jen gave me.” “Here’s a chair Jen picked out.” He’s recently
returned from filming The Mexican with Julia Roberts (in a defunct mining town in a Mexican mountain range), so he and Jen are going
to spend the next two nights camping on the beach above Malibu. So he suggests politely, he has to get going soon. On the way back to
the car, eh takes me through a room with squiggly light fixtures. They look like an upmarket string of fairy lights dotted around the
walls. “Those lights might be my favourite thing in the whole house.”
It is tough to say which he takes greater pleasure in -his pain-staking transformation of the house, or the transformation in his
career. The latter began a long while ago as True Romance, when he played a dozey pot-head. Twelve Monkeys saw him loony and
Oscar-nominated, and Seven was the first time he was excellent. Fight Club, ofcourse, fucked with everyone’s heads, just as it was
designed to. And now he has another strange, earth turn in Snatch. As he pulls into the driveway of my hotel, he tells me a secret:
“You know, the leading man role, you could plug an of us in there. Cruise, Clooney, me. It’s the same role. Because it’s already been
defined: the guy who can handle any situation. I understand why people want to see that. But there’s no game in it for me.”
With a hug and a wave, he’s gone and I’m left to ponder the implications of what he’s just said. Maybe post-Fight Club, post-Snatch,
Brad Pitt is no longer a leading man, a heart-throb. Maybe he never was. Maybe he has always been- from that very first appearance in
Thelma & Louise- simply a really good-looking character actor. And character actors are living, breathing things whereas heart-throbs
are mere holograms.
The phone rings.
“It’s Brad. That goodbye was so abrupt. I wanted to say goodbye again.” He also wants to add something about Mike Figgis, a director
with whom he has never worked, but whom he greatly admires. “He makes you want to make things. ‘Make things’- I’ve squeezed it down
to that line, whether it is a relationship, a movie or a building.”
When I first met Brad Pitt, I found him charming but unsure, an unfinished join-the-dots drawing that you knew would be fantastic if
it were completed. Half-finished almost-great thoughts. Half-finished almost great-feelings. A lot of dogs, a ton of chairs, a slew
of great roles and the love of one good woman later… and the dots have all been joined. In fact the dots are multi-coloured and
multitudinous, glowing like one of his fancy lamps. As you know, he loves colours. He loves finding new ones.