Metrolife – May, 2004

PITT THE ELDER (AND WISER) – by Edward Goodland

As Troy, his $200 million comeback movie opens worldwide, Brad Pitt tells Edward Goodland how his priorities have changed since he turned 40.

Brad Pitt is back after two years away from the big screen. And he’s back with the biggest movie of his career, the $200 million blockbuster Troy. Hollywood insiders are predicting that the films performance will be a turning point for Brad in terms of box office draw. All of Pitt’s films prior to his break, bar the ensemble caper flick Ocean’s Eleven, were bombs of various volume. Spy Game, The Mexican, Fight Club and Meet Joe Black all under -performed and now that Pitt has turned 40 – a delicate time for any film star – he desperately needs a hit. And as Achilles, the bloodthirsty machine who despises the Greek king he is fighting for in Troy, Pitt is carrying movie all on his own.

Which may explain why a once publicity-shy actor is currently playing the PR game for all it’s worth. Dressed casually on a beautiful spring day in a hotel suite overlooking Central Park, he is surprisingly relaxed and friendly, considering he’s on his third straight day of interviews. The long sun-bleached locks sported by Achilles are now closely cropped and he looks in perfect shape. Pitt used to refuse scripts that fixated on his form – he made Snatch and 12 Monkeys to play dirty and ugly – yet June’s Vanity Fair has him pumped-up and more than a little naked over many pages. The rippling physique was constructed over the course of a year for Troy, and Pitt plays Achilles as a demi-god made hard-rock flesh. Apparently, Brad Pitt with long blond hair and a ‘short skirt’ (his phrase) is the thing to renew interest in a story 3,000 years old.

Still, having collaborated in the build-up, Pitt now denies any hint of reinvention. He’s very good-humoured about it, but it’s disingenuous nonetheless. ‘I know there’s been a lot of emphasis on my physicality. But it hurt, man’ he says with a smile. ‘All that pushing yourself physically really hurts. But it was very rewarding. And it’s amazing how the body adapts, how it responds, changes itself. It’s an impressive machine.’

A machine director Wolfgang Petersen shows off at every opportunity. There are lingering sequences of Pitt disrobing after a hard day’s slaughter and, even in battle, his ‘skirt’ seems just that inch shorter than the rest. ‘Yeah, what is that?’ he laughs. ‘The Trojans definitely got the best deal with the skirts – The Greeks got the mini. But I was kind of getting used to it in the end. Those guys, they went free fall. They didn’t have anything strapped down, which, when you think about it, is weird, because that would have been a definite kill shot…’The intense training even prompted Pitt to give up smoking. ‘Yeah, I did give up. And started again. And gave up again. And now I’m starting again.’Pitt is surrounded by a sterling cast. Helen (Diane Kruger), the most beautiful woman in the world, is seduced away from her husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) by young Paris (Orlando Bloom) against the wishes of his brother Hector (Eric Bana), who realises that the Greeks, led by Agamemnon (Brian Cox) will use her defection as a reason to start a war. Hector is right – 1,000 ships are launched.

But it’s Pitt alone who has to carry the picture. Well, with a little help from Jennifer Aniston. There’s a reason the tabloids are awash with rumours that the couple are breaking up, and Pitt knows it. ‘It’s funny, but all that stuff seems to increase when a film is coming out. And it’s either making us out to be better than we are – a »super couple« – or it’s tearing us down. We’ve found it’s best to just get on and live our lives.’

Perhaps now isn’t quite the time to point out that Pitt kick-started the gossip by appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show and telling his hostess, ‘There is so much pressure from day one to be with someone for ever and I’m not sure if it’s really in our nature to be with someone for the rest of our lives.’ Best to let him praise Aniston, which he does with genuine sweetness. ‘Our recipe is to put everything on the table, and then deal with it. We’ve become better friends because of it. That was the experiment going in and, I’ve got to tell you, if pays off. Jen’s softened me. Yes, without a doubt. I’m the more cynical bastard in the relationship and she’s more that warm, sweet, really intimate human being who slaps me around a bit. She’s great.’

Pitt was raised in America’s Midwest to workaday folks. He majored in journalism at the University of Missouri before opting out to pursue acting in LA, where he drove limos and dressed as a giant chicken for a fast-food restaurant to support himself. His big break came in Ridely Scott’s Thelma and Louise in 1991, where he stole the film with just a few minutes’ screen time. Bigger roles followed – the charismatic but doomed Paul Maclean in A River Runs Through It, the blood-sucking Louis in Neil Jordan’s Interview With Whe Vampire, the cop hunting a serial killer opposite his girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in Se7en – and it’s estimated that he pocketed $30 million for his last film, Ocean’s Eleven.

Pitt says that since hitting the big 4-0 last December, he’s more relaxed, happier, content. A family is definitely on the cards. ‘I do feel ready now’ he says. ‘I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews and I adore them. But it would be nice to be blessed with children of our own. Being 40 doesn’t bother me. I like the responsibility and the wisdom that comes with getting older. It’s a trade-off for youth, but, so far, I hope it carries on this way.’Pitt does appear to be settling – settling with Hollywood, settling with public expectations and, finally, settling with himself. He talks about architecture and how he has designed an extension to his homes. He admits to curling up on the sofa to watch telly with his wife (he loves the Extreme
Sports Channel and they both enjoy Jamie Oliver). And he loves music. Recently, he agreed to narrate a Radio 2 documentary on the late, little known but highly regarded folkie, Nick Drake. ‘Yeah, and you know what the biggest kick about doing that was? It was saying, »This is Brad Pitt in BBC Radio 2!« There’s a certain… Pride there.’