WALKING THE WALK – by Zoe Heller
All of this hot California day, I have been on the phone with Brad Pitt’s publicists,
trying to determine when and where my meeting with their client will take place.
First, it was going to be a four o’clock, in a coffee shop. Then 4:30 at a restaurant.
Then we rescheduled for five o’clock, at his place. Then word came that Brad
wanted me to swear not to write about how he lived or what his house looked
like. In fact, could I not tell anyone I had been to his house at all? At this,
I balked. Come on guys. Be reasonable….And so it came to pass that Brad Pitt
got in his chunky old Jeep and drove over to me. Yes siree, at this very moment,
my boyfriend is skulking in the bedroom, having been forbidden, on the pain
of death, from sneaking out to take a peek at the Great Hunky One, and Mr. Pitt
is bouncing around my kitchen in sunglasses with peach-colored lenses, showing
me how to open a bottle of beer with a lighter.
It’s a good trick, the lighter thing – he picked it up in college, he says
– but I’m not really concentrating. This cute reversal of the interview format,
where the movie star comes to check out your home furnishings, is making me
rather more anxious than I had anticipated. Pitt, who takes a serious interest
in architecture and design, has just pronounced a little sniffly that my house
is "an amalgamation of styles."
"I have firm instructions from your people to make you comfortable,"
I say. "So perhaps you should choose where you’d like to sit."
"Oh, they…that’s bullshit man," he drawls. "Where do you usually
hang?" I point to an exceptionally cluttered kitchen table. "Cool,"
he says with a wide smile. "That’s where we’ll be." I refer apologetically
to the lack of air-conditioning in the house. "That’s all right,"
he replies. "I don’t have a/c at my house either. I just keep all the windows
open." He laughs, lifts his T-shirt and scratches his grade-A abdomen.
"It can be stifling, y’know, but it can be kind of sexy too…. the sweat,
the smells…good stuff."
Pitt’s down-home charm may come a little too easily, and his sex appeal may
have a certain self-consciousness to it, but he is attempting, quite earnestly
it seems, to inject this situation with casualness, some normalcy. "Wait,
are you the one who didn’t like the movie?" he asks merrily as we sit down
with our beers and cigarettes. He is referring to his latest film, Meet Joe
Black, Martin Brest’s lush, vastly budgeted remake of Death Takes A Holiday,
with Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, and Pitt, who stars as the grim reaper,
trying out life among the mortals. It’s not quite accurate to say I didn’t like
it, but my insufficient enthusiasm after a screening led Pitt’s publicist to
try to cancel this interview.
"Yeah", Pitt says, "I was told that you didn’t like my performance.
But, look, let me tell you, I don’t expect everyone to like it. What got back
to me was, ‘We’ve got to find a new writer.’ And I was thinking, But isn’t that
the crap we always sell?"
"You mean, you disagreed with the notion that you should be interviewed
by someone who liked the movie?"
"Yeah! I disagreed with the sales pitch. You know how alot of articles
present things: they’re all happy, shiny, we all had a great time on the set,
we’re all great friends, and one big happy family, and blah-blah-blah and …well,
"But if I was going to write mean and terrible things?"
"That’s different. Someone who’s out to write mean and terrible things
will tell you they loved it. You know what I’m saying?I respect an opinion.
I don’t respect a……a shooting match."
Actually, he says he’s not entirely happy with his performance. Death is a
tough role to get a grip on, after all. "Here was the first problem: Who
the hell is Death?" he asks. "Where are you going to go for your research?
[ The character ] wasn’t very defined."
He attributes some of his difficulty to personal experiences he was going through
last year during the filming – an oblique reference to to his breakup with Gwyneth
Paltrow. "It’s funny," he says. "Movies come along, and you’re
in a particular place in your life – this is not an excuse – but it always colors
your performance, I find. I can’t watch a film without knowing where I was then,
what little terrain of life I was going through at that point. I mean, most
of the things I’ve done I’d love to have a second shot at. With this one, I
think I made mistakes in it, but fortunately, the film is bigger than my mistakes.
Somehow, it’s a great movie It has some beautiful themes of family and love
and dealing with loss. It really gets to the bottom of some of that. I think
that’s to the director’s credit and the writer’s credit and what Tony [Hopkin}
The ironic premise of the movie, Pitt’s fans will be gratified to hear, is
that Death inhabits the body of an innocent strapping country boy, so Pitt is
not required to wear cadaverous makeup or carry a scythe. If anything, Meet
Joe Black is something of a cinematic paean to Pitt’s beauty. This is just as
well, because in his next movie, Fight Club, which he has just finished shooting,
Pitt will be appearing with a chipped front tooth. In pursuit of authenticity,
he went to his dentist and had the damage done for real. He now sports the best
crown money can buy, but the gesture seems a little excessive, nonetheless.
"You fucked with your immaculate teeth for art?" I ask.
"Yeah, that’s right. They weren’t so immaculate, though."
"Didn’t everybody around you go crazy and tell you not to do it?"
"Well, no, not everybody." He giggles. "Just the people who
paid for it."
Pitt has been more zealous than most pretty-boy actors in attempting to dodge
the limitations imposed by his own prettiness – dutifully scoffing when he is
announced People’s Sexiest Man Of The Year, repeatedly taking on parts that
require him to ugly up with funny haircuts, beards and wonky eyes. It’s very
noble, this refusal to cruise on his matinee-idol looks, but it can also seem
a little hokey. Is every beautiful movie star honor-bound these days to insist
that he doesn’t feel beautiful, that he looks a perfect fright first thing in
the morning? It would be a shame, I tell Pitt, if he didn’t allow himself some
of the straightforward pleasure to be had from being gorgeous.
He pauses before he answers: "It’s just dangerous. I’ve got my own vanity
that I’m not so proud of, sure. But I don’t want to sit here and talk about
it. I’m trying to get away from it. Do you know what the three terrible karmas
in Buddhism are? It’s fantastic – it’s the funniest shit – the three terrible
karmas are beauty, wealth and fame. Meaning that they’re traps. They’re the
things that stop you from finding true happiness."
When he first got famous, this wariness of specious blessings led him to retreat,
he says. "It was such a shakeup. I was so mistrusting of it and what kind
of effect it would have. See, you don’t know what I was dealing with. It’s a
beast, and you can’t describe it to anyone. I had a good year and a half where
I pretty much hid out. I just hid out. I couldn’t deal with the attention. I
didn’t want the attention. And yet I did, right? It’s a pretty strange dichotomy
of emotions. So I think at first, I missed out on some of the fun of it, some
of the rock & roll of it. I think if I’d understood it in the beginning
– and there’s no way I could have – I might have enjoyed it more. But the people
who do really enjoy it normally go haywire."
"Things are easier now," he says, partly because he’s learned not
to worry so much: "I don’t spend much time anymore thinking about the pitfalls,
the negative aspects of it all. I hit the lottery, but that’s all it is. My
number came up. So now I’ve got an opportunity to get out there and do something
with it." It also helps that he’s been around for a while and other, younger
actors – Damon, DiCaprio – have appeared on the scene to absorb some of the
glare. "I used to think that is was easier to be the new kid, but it’s
not. It’s much harder. Much harder. When you become….not a veteran in any
sense, but when your in your fifth-year war term, people don’t notice you so
much. They’ve seen you a bunch of times and it takes the buzz off. It’s like,
how many times have you seen Cindy Crawford on a cover and said ‘Oh, my God,
enough already? All right, go take a vacation in Bali for a year and a half.
Don’t come back.’"
Pitt has reconciled himself now to the strange isolation of fame, to hanging
out pretty much exclusively with other famous people. "We’re cut off from
the herd a little bit. We’re that one gazelle that was running with the herd,
and then we got cut off by the lions." No longer quite so fretful about
the Babylonian aspects of the Hollywood scene, he is able to enjoy it, with
an amused, anthropological sort of detachment. "It’s great fun. I call
my evenings out ‘great experiments.’ It’s the most fantastic study of human
nature, people’s projection on you, what’s really going on behind what people
say. Out here, very little can be taken at face value." Even tabloid gossip
doesn’t make him crazy anymore. "In the beginning," he says, "I
used to want to write to these people, but I’ve realized it’s futile. You can’t
reason with people of that nature; you can’t reach them. I truly believe the
gossip stuff is is usually written by petty, miserable people who have no capacity
to find fault with themselves. You have to annihilate them or ignore them."
For the most part, the tabloids have trained their gaze on the busy business
that has been Pitt’s love life. Rumor – and at least one well-publicized photo
– has recently suggested that he is dating actress Jennifer Aniston, but both
parties have refused to confirm this. When I raise the subject of romance, our
dialogue becomes temporarily rather…curt. Is he in love at the moment? He
won’t say. Why won’t he say? He won’t say why he won’t say. Okaaay, has he been
hurt in love? Sure. Generally speaking, has he been more the hurter than the
hurtee? He doesn’t know. He never added it up. Is he a good boyfriend? Ah, smiles.
Yes, he thinks he is: "I’m pretty much mush. I like love. That’s the best
way I can say it. I’m a huge believer in love and why two people come together
and what the potentialities are of that – so I call myself sappy, but I’m not.
I’m not sappy. I think there’s huge value in love."
Because he doesn’t appear on Entertainment Tonight or late-night talk shows
("You have to come up with those cute little on-set stories. It’s just
silly," he says), Pitt’s public persona has been defined, more than that
of most male stars, by the women he has dated. And they’re a pretty mixed bunch.
When he was with the actress Juliette Lewis, we thought of him one way – as
a boho hipster dude. With Paltrow, the image reverted to something more classic
– the sweet regular guy in love with the classy gal. The Jennifer Aniston rumors
prompted yet another revision. While reading the clippings on Pitt, I discovered
that some years ago he dated Mike Tyson’s ex-wife, the actress Robin givens,
at which point, I threw up my hands. This is not a man with a "type".
"I suppose it’s to your credit," I tell him, "that you don’t
go for the same skinny model every time."
He laughs. "I guess not. I guess not. The thing is, people get beauty
all wrong -"
"Wait, are you going to tell me the true beauty comes from within?"
"Well, I’m sorry, but it does. There are interesting people all over the
world in all shapes and sizes – and really awful people in all the same shapes
and sizes. I’m big on trial and error. You know, ‘What’s this about? I don’t
know this; I don’t recognize it.’ Experiment! That’s what it’s all about, in
life and acting and love. The most beautiful thing about [love] is discovery.
Discovery with a woman."
Hmm. "Do you think," I ask, "that one of these days, your explorations
will come to an end, that you’ll meet a woman and say, ‘Okay, this one’s a keeper’?
"Sure," he says. "Sure. Come on. I mean, who doesn’t hope for
"Well, yes, but it’s difficult -"
"Look, how long have you been with your guy? I mean, what keeps you with
I rattle on for a bit and then apologize for sounding a little lyrical.
"Bullshit. I think that’s dead-on. I believe that. There should be freedom
of self in a couple, and appreciation of the other person, or there shouldn’t
be a couple. All you’ve got is two people trying. You’ve just got to try; that’s
all I’ve ever asked. But the mind’s a mess and people are such a mess, and they
get into things for all the wrong reasons and stay in things for even worse
reasons. So, yeah, I’m not doing it until it’s all that. Otherwise, I don’t
Pitt doesn’t know where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing in 10 years. He is
pretty certain he’ll have some kids, but beyond that, he says, there are few
guarantee’s. He is not even sure he will still be acting. "I would say
there’s a good shot that I will, but then again I may have got to a point where
there are too many wrinkles, and I’m not into it, and the audience isn’t into
it, so I fade out for 20 years and then come back, playing some grumpy old curmudgeon"
The main goal, he says, is to "be himself" and to "stay open
to the possibilities." (Pitt has met very few new-age homilies that he
didn’t like.) "The one good thing about getting it all," he says,
"is that you see it doesn’t give you any answers, doesn’t make you wake
up any better. Then you’re left with yourself; it’s just a whole new set of
problems. We come out of the womb thinking we need this specific brand of tennis
shoes and this particular car….I almost wish everyone had those things. Then
they would see…."
He pauses, aware of the skepticism that tends to greet privileged actors lecturing
on antimaterialism. "Look, I don’t even want to say any of that. I see
so many narcissistic people out here, who sit and preach about this and that
way of life, about honesty and truth – and they’re full of shit. I know they’re
liars. If I talk this way, it sounds the same. I don’t think I need to go around
saying stuff. I don’t want to preach to anyone. I like the old adage ‘Walk the
walk.’ I think that says it all." He stubs out his cigarette, and gets
up from the table. He wants to go take a look at my yard.