Flaunt – January, 2001

NOT HALF BRAD – by Jim Turner

Brad Pitt. He’s grown a little tired of talking about his cinematic past, which understandably has resulted in numerous interviews about, what else, movies. And just in case someone reading this story doesn’t know Pitt’s background, it can easily be summed up in one ( long ) sentence. He was raised in Missouri, moved to Hollywood, and landed a role on the TV series Dallas; after which he hit the big screen big with Thelma and Louise, and followed up with A River Runs Through It, Kalifornia, Interview With A Vampire, Legends Of The Fall, Seven Years In Tibet and Fight Club, to name only a few; annually, without fail, he’s been named "Sexiest Man Of The Year" by at least one magazine; and he’s married Friend Jennifer Aniston.
Today, Brad Pitt would rather discuss design and what it’s future holds. He’s just completed renovating and connecting three neighboring houses in the Hollywood Hills – a California Craftsman, a ’50’s post and beam, and a 1917 stone house – creating his own Camelot-style compound. I arrive at his house on a sunny afternoon in October.

"Up here," he says, smiling down from the roof of an immaculate, cream colored garage. Dressed in faded jeans and a t-shirt, he bounds down wooden cantilevered steps and through the courtyard’s gate. In true midwestern style, he extends his hand, and we exchange stories about the last time we met – on the top of the Rocky Mountians ( vis helicopter ) an hour north of Vancouver, Canada. He was in the midst of filming the mountian scenes for director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film, Seven Years In Tibet. That was about four years ago, and since, he’s made four additional films, most recently Ocean’s Eleven ( costarring George Clooney and Julia roberts, and directed by Steven Soderbergh ) and Spy Game (costarring Robert Redford ). His personal crowning achievement is the design and renovation of his wife Aniston’s hillside living/studio/getaway.

Jim Turner: Would you rather talk about design or movies?

Brad Pitt: I’m open, man. Whatever you want to trade. You guys are doing some good things with Flaunt. When we first found out about you, we wanted to be in the magazine, but something happened, and it didn’t work out for whatever reason. But we wanted to do something rawer, something authentic. Magazines today look the same, operate the same, and they don’t point you in a new direction.

We have fun, which is the main goal of Flaunt.

You find that to be true more and more as you get older, don’t you? Your quality of life? Having a great time?
And the more you travel and see other places…..

…..the more you like home. ( Laughs )
How long did you work on redesigning and constructing your house?

The main house is an old Arts and Crafts house. I bought this house as a guest house that I was just going to slap together with the one next door, which is an old stone house. I just figured I’d do this one and live in it while I worked on the main house. I let some guy do it for a few months, and it started taking shape. As I moved in, I’d just finished a movie and decided I’ve got so many ideas, I’d love to play with them. So I started ripping stuff out and trying my first experiments with design, and it was a great experience. So, overall, a year-and-a-half for this house. When I got into it, it was fun, and there was so many problems to be answered with the stone house, and I wanted to do a studio space, and this one was laid out perfectly for all the stuff Jen and I like to play with. I could inject my own vernacular in this one, whereas the other house had a set vernacular, so I wasn’t as excited about restoring it.

What’s fun is that you play with three different types of architecture.
It starts old – with an old stone potter’s shed from 1917. The test on that one was to give it a modern vernacular, using old world materials to keep it warm, and by the time you get to the ’50s house, it becomes much more modern. And except for the stainless steel, I used colored mica, colored plaster, stone, and wood. I’m doing another project up north now. It was a group of little shacks that were turned into a sort of beachside commune. One has a community kitchen, one has a community television room, community office and they all turn into one another. The bedrooms are all on the outside, where each one has a view of the ocean. It’s small, humble, quaint, and really cool. The ostentatious "McMansions" are just not important to me.

Those "McMansions" are such a waste of materials.

The biggest example of that is the huge tourist debacle they are building to house the Oscars on Hollywood Boulevard and Highland. It looks like a theme ride. It pisses me off. With all the extraordinary voices in architecture right now, and all the money they put into that thing – why wouldn’t they pair the two up? It looks like a theme ride at a cheesy theme park. But there are some good buildings going on right now in Los Angeles.

Frank Gehry is one of your favorites.

Oh, yeah. He’s doing the Disney Hall downtown. And Jose Raphael Moneo’s cathedral that’s going up downtown is amazing. Cesar Pelli and a couple of others are doing an addition to one of the art centers. There is some great stuff going on, but I wish they’d put more into it. L.A.’s a great city.

Have you been to Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain?

I saw a picture of it when it was just finished, and I lost my shit. I was doing a tour of Europe and booked a plane to take us there just for the day to see it. I didn’t even make it inside, most of the time I just walked around and around outside. It is the sexiest building I’ve ever seen. What a voice! He’s something special.
Landscape designer Jay Griffiths helped you design the outdoors of your home?

He’s a laugh. We fight all the time. He’ll say, "No, no, I can’t do that, it can’t be done." And I’ll say, "A;; artists must suffer for greatness." (Laughs)

He believes in planting the smallest specimen of plants, which is so hard when you can buy full-size plants.

So they’ll be adaptable. I have big problems with that because I want instant gratification. The most important thing I learned with this house is you have to let go of a lot of great ideas for the sake of harmony. I threw away alot of ideas for the stone house for harmony.

This house is so clean and Zen-like, mainly because everything disappears into the walls – it’s all built in – including the chairs.

That was a collaboration with some German guys who are friends of mine, who are architects, who have studied all over the world. We have great think tanks. They actually came up with the idea of these "toolbox walls." Everything collapses open, folds open with purpose. The outside is plain and simple, but the inside is covered in beautiful walnut. It’s like old furniture, how they finished the back and the inside – everything was done beautifully. We actually put all the walnut inside. And each part of the studio has a function. This area is for computers, that area for my architectural models, Jen paints in one area, and there is an area for creating pottery.

Do you want to talk about Ocean’s Eleven?

All right. I’d much rather talk about design….so we’ll come back to it.

You and George Clooney have quite a chemistry.

Yeah. We make a good couple, don’t we? ( Laughs )

Redford and Newman….

He’s so easy to work with and bounce off of. He’s great. Great laughs. It was like summer camp or a day off.

Scott Caan and Casey Affleck were hilarious.

Casey Affleck is an original, man. This guy has got his own drummer. He’s one to watch – and Scott Caan too.

totally forgot about Afganistan for two hours – and there’s no nudity, no sex, no cursing.
That’s exactly what Steven [ Soderbergh ] set out to do. There was no social commentary on this one.

Your other film, Spy Game, stars Robert Redford.

That film is a sensitive issue right now, naturally. It’s really a mentor/student story with the background of the CIA, and our foreign policy during the time of the Cold War. We get into some sensitive areas, that I believe are very important to the debate that’s going on today. It is very sensitive, and they reworked some of it.

How do you feel about studios removing shots or scenes that show the World Trade Center from movies made prior to the bombing?

I can only use my reaction as a barometer. Intellectually, in theory, I can say "Okay, I can see why you feel like you need to make that move." But, certainly when I see the Twin Towers now in a photograph, or scene, it doesn’t upset me in the fact like, "Oh, I don’t want to go there." I find them very empowering symbols. People run in our country. We run from becoming the black sheep – except for Bill Maher – and you saw what happened to him.

But some of these movies were made ten years ago, and the buildings were there.

I think it’s unnecessary, but at the same time, I didn’t lose a family member on September eleventh. Possibly, if you asked a family member who did, they’d have a different reaction. I believe it’s for the sensitivity of these people who did lose someone.
Is it hard to publicize a film or go on TV and talk about movies during this time?

Certainly in an awards type of situatuation, yeah, it would feel awkward to me. The awards are there for everyone to have a good time, but they’re also there to generate more income for a film or TV show. It doesn’t feel like the time for awards shows to me, but that’s my opinion. But movies and television shows? We gotta have entertainment.

I do think it’s unbelievable that there were a few movies who had posters featuring the World Trade Center. Waht are the chances that those particular buildings would be bombed?

What are the chances of any buildings being blown up? It’s just so foreign to our society. Oklahoma was an anormaly. It’s unfathomable, the scale. I get chills when I think of the people and what was going through their minds on the planes and in the buildings.

Are you nervous about flying now?

I’ve never been a nervous flyer. I’m a big believer, I guess, in life. I trust life. In that kind of situation, though, I don’t know how I’d take it because I’ve never had to face anything like that, but sitting here I feel okay. I just don’t know why no one is talking about oil. We keep going back into the history of these extremists, these fundamentalists, and understanding the Islamic culture, and understanding foreign policy. We’re embracing religion – which is a beautiful thing to see – because that’s really what America is about. It’s also an area we’ve been lacking in, and to see everyone embrace other people’s temperments and convictions is fantastic. The thing no one is talking about is oil. Why don’t we set ourselves free? We have the technology for electric cars, and we have other power sources. Yes, it would be very expensive to make that switch over, but we could, and we would have complete autonomy from our need for oil. We would not have to rape Alaska, and we wouldn’t have to be dependant on those guys over there. Don’t get me wrong – we have to set this right. This will go on. these are not realistic individuals we’re dealing with. We’ve got to stop this, absolutely. But, in the long term, if we could free ourselves from the dependency of oil, we’d be all right. We’ve got to have the human rights issues, we’ve got to help any way we can to teach what we’ve learned as a democratic society, but at the end of the day, if there’s something wrong in another country, trust the people to figure it out. There will be a civil war, and they will get there. We don’t have to manipulate other governments as I feel we have done in the past in fear of losing our oil interest or a threat to our democracy.

It’s interesting when traveling to talk to people our age about the United States and how we’re viewed around the world.

We’ve been sitting back, and we’ve enjoyed a great life here. As a whole, I don’t feel like we’ve paid too much attention to foreign policy – we’ve let the guys in power figure it out. And now we see that we can’t rest on those laurels anymore. We have to be involved. We have to understand. We have to put pressure on them. Now, we’re dropping food in Afganistan after bombing – it may be a political move – but it’s the right direction. We may have sent peanut butter and Pop Tarts instead of rice and beans, which they don’t care for, but it’s the right direction, and we’re learning, and it’s responsible. We have to free ourselves. We need autonomy.

What’s really upsetting too is that this may go on for years.

Life’s changed.

It’s funny, but a few months ago, choosing the right windows for your house seemed so important, but now, other things seem to take precedence.

The right windows are always important! ( Laughs )

Who are your favorite architects?

Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas are my two favorites. MVRDV ( Dutch architects Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries ), ahhhh, some of my favorites! The voices are out there, and to the people who are putting money into new buildings, use these guys! What I love most about MVRDV are that these guys are completely redesigning how the masses are moving through the city ( Rotterdam ) and experiencing it. There’s this architect I just found out about named Stephen Holl ( New York), who’s great. I’ve also been jonesing about Daniel Liveskind ( Berlin ).

Is there a commonality with the architects you admire? Such as same materials?

No, no! I’m more interested in the way things are going with new materials and how we can manipulate them. We’re going to have homes that can change shape according to the weather. Let’s say you had a house at the beach. The outer shell or material would be a soft, mallable substance, and the inside or skeleton would have many moving computerized parts. My thoughts are you can have homes that can change shapes; like if you had a hurricane, the home would flatten out, allowing the winds to go around and over it. They would let light in all day long and have resins for colors – it’s really exciting! They’re even talking about airplanes with wings that change shapes almost like a bird. It’s extraordinary!

You probably admire Gehry because he’s known to create for the artist. Hasn’t his work been referred to as sculpture?

I think that’s true, but you know how there always has to be a criticism with anything new? People said that his buildings were too sculptural, didn’t make sense, and they didn’t function well. I just say, "Shut up."

Artists are always hired because of the risks they’ve taken but then are criticized for being too risky.

People understand what they’ve seen before. I like how the education starts though. First you find appreciation, usually with the old, then you progress, and you begin to understand the evolution of the building. Following that interest, you naturally end up in the future.

Does it seem to you that our generation is more interested in design and architecture than the one before us?

It seems to be – almost to the point of going design crazy.

Everything from a flyswatter to a scrub brush is "designed" now.

I guess that’s what went on from the 1950s to 1960s, right? So I guess that’s kind of cool. I appreciate the focus.

What are your favorite materials for living with?

Stone will always be my thing. There’s just a feeling of stone that’s like nothing else. That’s been the problem with plastics in the past, but now with the connotations of what plastics are now, there are plastics that are stronger than steel that have a great quality. Aerogel – it was a NASA material that is so warm and beautiful.

You must like the designs of Arnie Jacobson and the Modern Masters, judging from the furniture here ( a Jacobson Egg chair, two Swan Chairs, and an Ox Chair ).

I still come from that Bauhaus school of thought – the ornamentation comes from the materials, the beauty from the materials. It’s timeless.

Any favorite furniture designers?

It seems to be the stuff coming out of Italy right now – most of the innovative stuff – infusing quality with new expressions.

You obviously like vintage furniture, judging from this roomful of classic chairs.

No….Yeah….I mean I love chairs. I actually want to do a chair museum.

So it’s a chair thing.

My first job I bought a chair. My second job I bought a chair. My third job I bought a chair. My fourth job I bought three chairs. I love chairs, they’re like sculpture.

You have four matching Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs. Have you ever been to the Mies Pavilion in Barcelona?

Oh, I love that place. It;s the perfect building. It’s perfect. The first building that got me going was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house. I had two electives I had to kill in college, and it was a two elective class. I’d never heard of Frank Lloyd Wright. My buddy was taking it, and it was supposed to be easy, so I took it. It blew my mind, coming from Missouri, that you could live that way. I had no idea that there was more than the classical, traditional house. Any of these guys like Gehry – who have reinvented the dwelling that blows the lid off of anything we’ve done before – I admire.

Do you and Jennifer share this interest in design?

One of the first designing couples I got into was Charles and Ray Eames, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald. Macdonald did a lot of the small details for Mackintosh’s projects. Jen and I kind of work that way. We just have fun. We’ve made a point now, where we’re living, that we have an art room. And with our marriage we’re combining our stuff – the amalgamation of stuff – we’re streamlining. In the place we just bought on the westside ( Beverly Hills ), we’re most excited about our art room, and that’s probably where we’ll spend most of our evenings. The art room was our chief demand and actually we took the biggest room in the house. When the day’s work is done, and it’s night, you can sit in front of a movie on television and have dinner. And you can wastea lot of time – and it’s not really wasted time. I’m a big believer in checking out for a bit. But I get so much more out of life if I use my time to just make something. I just want to make things. My credo has been simplified to "just make things."