BRAD – by
Brad Pitt talks about his life, career and why being a good actor is always better than being a good celebrity.
Brad Pitt has come a long way since he first appeared on the big screen nearly two decades ago. Back then his first major role—that of the improbable named Dwight Ingalls in teen horror movie Cutting Class—earned him $12,000. Nowadays he is a firm fixture in the Hollywood A-list and, as such, can easily command the $20 million he earned for his last box-office smash Mr and Mrs Smith. Not bad for a boy from small town Oklahoma.
When William Bradley Pitt was born in the American mid West in 1963, to a trucking firm managed father and a guidance counselor mother, Hollywood seemed a million miles away. Throwing himself into high school life, the youngster was involved in sports activities, debating, student government and musical drama.
He went on to attend the University of Missouri, where he majored in journalism with a focus on a career in advertising. His occasional acting in fraternity drama shows whetted his appetite for the limelight, however, and leaving university shortly before graduating he moved to California to pursue his dreams. Supporting himself by working as a limo driver, a refrigerator mover and a giant chicken, he threw himself into his acting, taking lessons and joining community theatre groups. After securing uncredited parts in a couple of forgettable features, and a small role in soap opera Another World, Pitt auditioned for his first major role; that of JD in the 1988 cult classic Heathers. Although his talent was undeniable, casting directors deemed him too sweet for the teen rebel role that eventually went to Christian Slater. Undeterred he kept at it, finally securing his first starring role in Cutting Class—but it would be another two years before he got the break that he needed.
In 1991, Pitt was cast as cowboy stud JD in female road movie Thelma & Louise. Although his character was a mere plot point on the women’s journey, and he had a total of 14 minutes of screen time, Pitt’s smouldering charm and James Dean-esque laid back talent made the character the most memorable and exciting thing about the whole film. It certainly made Hollywood executives sit up and take notice as, from that moment on, Pitt turned from jobbing bit part actor to movie star.
Now, almost 15 years later, Pitt has held on to that title. Speaking with him as his latest blockbuster Mr and Mrs Smith—in which he plays one half of an ordinary married couple who are both secretly top-class assassins hired to kill each other—is released on DVD, he’d had plenty of time to deal with the pressures of fame. “I don’t feel like I’m in a cage,’ he laughs. “Maybe I feel more cut-off from the herd than anything—a lone gazelle with the lions. But I don’t feel constrained in my personal life by what I do professionally at all. I don’t feel limitations as a result of what I do. The goal is to stay an artist and not a personality.”
And Pitt’s personal life has been as much in the spotlight as his career throughout this year, as he divorced his wife of five years, Friends star Jennifer Aniston, and—much to tabloid delight—struck up a close relationship with his Mr and Mrs Smith co-star Angelina Jolie. Having been pictured with both Jolie and her two adopted children, it seems as though Pitt has got the family that he has famously always wanted, but the pair have remained resolutely tight-lipped about the situation. Although he won’t talk about it directly, Pitt has a philosophical outlook on the trials of life. In spite of admitting that “I’d like to turn back time if I could. I’d like to redo a couple of things,” he asserts that he’s “a big believer in that it’s the mistakes that define you as much as anything. It’s there that you get a real understanding of yourself. You can’t have one without the other.”
This positive attitude has not only helped Pitt cope with a personal life that is under constant media scrutiny, but has also been a big influence on the career choices he has made. By only choosing roles that he feels are completely right for him, he can assure a good time and a good performance. And, as the actor explains, this strategy all stems back to some good advice he received while still in high school. “I played tennis, and I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t great,” Pitt remembers. “I had a real [John] McEnroe problem, which didn’t flow too well in the Bible belt! We had a neighborhood tournament and this guy was kicking my ass. Obscenities are flying about, and I let go of my racket shouting ‘Bastard!’ Then I see my Dad coming down from where all the parents are sitting; he was coming over to me in kind of slow motion, and I had just thrown my racket over the other side of the court. I think ‘I’m in for it now!’ Then he comes over, and I thought he was going to smack the s*** out of me because I was really embarrassing the family. And he goes ‘Are you having fun?’ And I go ‘No!’
And he goes ‘Well, don’t do it’. And he turns around just as slowly and walked back to the stand and sits down. I was probably 15 at the time [and] that’s the best advice I ever got.”
This advice certainly hasn’t failed him yet, as Pitt has a resume that any actor would be proud of, and over the years he has shown himself to be well versed in a variety of roles and genres. From a fly fishing novice in A River runs Through it  to a desperate detective holding his own against Morgan Freeman in chilling thriller Se7en , from death himself in a dark drama Meet Joe Black  to the nonchalant heist man Rusty in the light-hearted Ocean’s Eleven  and its sequel, he adept at choosing roles that are perfect for him at the time. The fact that he turned down a role as an astronaut in big budget blockbuster Apollo 13 to accept his Oscar-nominated part of a mental patient in cerebral fantasy Twelve Monkeys  highlights his continuing desire not to take the easy route with his career. But does the actor have anyone guiding his hand? “Oddly enough, not anyone specifically,” he divulges. “I draw more from peers, I think. [Tom] Cruise is a great businessman and [George] Clooney handles the business better than anyone, you know, he has fun and he enjoys the business better than anyone I’ve seen. So I think I draw bits from my contemporaries.”
At 43, Pitt is no longer the youngest kid on the block and, with the likes of George Clooney, Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis, is now one of Hollywood’s old guard. Rather than feel threatened by the fresh new talent climbing the industry ladder behind him, however, Pitt is enjoying the challenges of being a 40-something movie star. “I really kind of enjoyed it,” is his characteristically positive take on turning 40. “No more excuses, you know? I’m responsible, I can’t blame anything on my parents. I’m responsible for my mistakes and my choices. And the trade-off is wisdom, so that helps you feel better about things!” So there has been no hint of a mid-life crisis? “I’d always said I was going to get something like a Rolls,” the actor laughs. “But then I got too into energy conservations!”
All joking aside, Pitt is fully aware that many see youth and beauty as the strongest currency in Hollywood particularly as every move is made the public eye. And although the actor has certainly got nothing to worry about as far as looks go, he is aware that he operates within a superficial industry. “You have to contend with it,” he states simply. “But do I worry about it? No. But listen, you see yourself getting older and you don’t want to be left with any regrets. So you do that inventory thing and say ‘Did I get everything out of it that I wanted to?’ Or ‘I wish I’d done that…’ I guess you could pound yourself with regrets, but you just use that as a marker for where to go from there. That’s why, when a part like Achilles [the character Pitt played in Troy] comes along you go ‘All right, let’s really go for this, because this be the last time that I’ll do that…’”
Despite that fact that as he approaches his mid-40s, his thoughts are turning to the future, Pitt is showing no signs of slowing down. With no less than four films currently in production, including the fabulously named Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in which he is playing James himself, Pitt has certainly lost none of his box office appeal. And, as many of Film Review’s readers will no doubt agree, this is not only due to his effortless acting style but also his classic good looks, which are most definitely not diminishing with age. In fact, Pitt’s attractiveness is so widely recognized that Shania Twain even immortalized it in her song That Don’t Impress Me Much. Now there’s an accolade. The actor has certainly always been seen as something of a sex object throughout his career, something which was perhaps inevitable given his early sizzling performance in Thelma & Louise. The fact that he is someone who is defined as much by his looks as his professional ability is not lost on Pitt. “Yeah, I’m concerned about it,” he admits, “but I’ve pretty much given up worrying about that. It’s a losing battle that takes up too much time. It gets in the way. I don’t have anything to do with this image thing, I really don’t. I just do whatever [film] interests me at the time, and hopefully it’ll keep me honest.”
This is the nature of the beast that is superficial mainstream Hollywood, however, and Pitt is aware that he is partly responsible for perpetuating his own celebrity image. “We are required to support the films because there is so much content out there, so much competition,” he says of the endless publicity game of which he is a major player. “Part of what they pay us for is to get out and be supportive, and that’s the honest truth. But the problem with that is you start to know me and I become a personality and that takes away from any kind of characters and believability. When you start seeing the personality, instead of the character, that’s the danger to the art.”
Like it or not, however, Pitt is a major personality, and in fat is one of the most recognizable and popular figures in the industry today. But what does he really think of the cultural phenomenon o the modern celebrity? “I don’t find it silly,” he reveals. “But it can easily go down the wrong road, when it becomes obsession.” And Pitt has encountered more than his fair share of obsessed fans. “I remember being in Argentina, fading off to sleep, and in the room I see this figure come in. It was a little 14-year-old girl who has climbed over the walls and had broken into the house through an upstairs window.” Thinking about that event seems to make Pitt have a slight rethink. “What was it Picasso said ‘Fame is a beast; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,’ I agree with that to an extent!”
Whatever his feelings on the fame that goes hand in hand with being a movie star, it’s clear that there is nothing else that Pitt would rather be doing. Despite all of the press intrusion, speculation and gossip—and he’s had to contend with more than his fair share recently surrounding his divorce from Aniston and relationship with Jolie—Pitt remains positive about the direction his life and career is taking. After proving that he can do action, romance and comedy with his multi-faceted role in Mr and Mrs Smith, the actor is keen to find some “new horizons and different directions. I love to bounce around, back and forth. A lot of accumulated baggage won’t allow you to do a lot of those.” And, as a man who was once famously quoted as saying hat he was ‘bored with himself’, can Pitt now say he is fulfilled? “I forget sometimes I am talking to the world,” he laughs as he is reminded of the quote.
“it was a completely light-hearted conversation and as usual they found something and things are spun in different directions. My point was, yeah, I was a little bored watching myself on the screen and it was time for some reinvention. New direction was what we were talking about. There are some guys that are fantastic at appearing the same, they present this guy who we want to see over and over. I don’t think that would be my strong point.”
So Pitt is determined to keep reinventing himself as he gets older, as he has done many times in the past. Who can forget how his muscle-bound, gritty performance in violent drama Fight Club smashed his pretty boy reputation, or how his hard as nails Irish boxer Mickey in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch proved that he was more than prepared to get down and dirty for a good performance. The actor readily admits, however, that when it comes down to choosing his next role, it’s all down to his gut reaction to the most basic element—the story. “I’ve passed on good scripts because they didn’t read in the storytelling, and I’ve taken films where I didn’t get the movie right off the bat.” But in the midst of all this reinvention and new directions for the actor, could there finally be a golden statuette on his horizon? “I don’t think I’m one of those guys who’s considered,” he says honestly about his chances of being awarded come Oscar night. But he remains as unconvinced about the whole awards circus as he is about the trappings of celebrity. “I think there are far too many [awards],” he states. “I think theyshould just combine [them all] into one award and call it a day Television was created to sell things. Awards were created to give a picture a second run. It’s all about money.” Pitt’s not entirely dismissive about it, however. “At the same time it’s fun to go and see what everyone did for the year. So I don’t mean to dismiss them. I’m all for them! I just don’t want them to give me one when I’m old, because they feel sorry for me! I really don’t want that!”