TOWERING AMBITIONS OF BRAD THE BUILDER – by
Ever since Brad Pitt, once voted the sexiest man alive, teamed up with Angelina Jolie, the world’s most desirable woman, one question has obsessed the public: has he or hasn’t he? Last week the truth emerged — yes, he has definitely signed up to design buildings in Brighton.
Or, more precisely, Hove in East Sussex. The resort’s tearoom crockery has been rattling at the prospect of the Hollywood star, whose six-pack propelled him to fame in Thelma & Louise, settling in to help to develop a £250m complex on the seafront.
You might imagine that the 41-year-old movie star is to architecture what Wayne Rooney is to brain surgery, but you would be wrong. “I’m really into architecture, structure and design,” he said recently. “Give me anything and I’ll design it. I’m a bit nutty about it.”
Pitt is taking a break from films to join the design team of the acclaimed Canadian architect Frank Gehry, a friend and mentor whose creations include the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. The actor has been commissioned to design an apartment and a restaurant at Hove’s contentious King Alfred residential and leisure development.
The star of such films as Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys and Ocean’s Eleven is expected to be present when the planning application is submitted in August and there are rumours that he might move into one of the complex’s penthouses.
Is it a midlife crisis? Here is a guy with a $100m fortune, the respect of Hollywood’s top directors, the pick of the world’s most beautiful women and he wants to play with his slide rule. He was a miniskirted Achilles who laid siege to Troy and his new epic is in Hove? Pitt has had his setbacks, of course. Troy was a flop and then his marriage to Jennifer Aniston, star of the television sitcom Friends, went down the toilet. For seven years they were Hollywood’s hottest couple. Some said that he wanted kids and she wanted her career; others insist that filing for divorce is their only way of sustaining the relationship away from the intense media spotlight.
Being the man who has everything can be, well, the pits. “The three terrible karmas are beauty, wealth and fame,” Pitt once observed. “They’re the things that stop you from finding true happiness. I’ve always had this kind of congenital sadness. I see the guy out there (himself on screen) sometimes and I want to beat him up.”
No need. Gossip writers do it for free. A feeding frenzy has surrounded the film Mr and Mrs Smith, to be released on June 10, in which Pitt and Jolie co-star as a married pair of secret assassins whose next hits happen to be each other. Photographs of them relaxing on a Kenyan beach were followed by reports that the rumpus coming from their suite made security guards believe a marauding lion was on the loose.
Last week Jolie denied the speculation: “To be intimate with a married man, when my own father cheated on my mother, is not something I could forgive.”
Sceptics wonder if architecture is the new bandwagon for Hollywood stars to make themselves look interesting. It used to be motor racing, then it was painting. Last week the actor Hayden Christensen, perhaps to distract attention from his wooden portrayal of Darth Vader in the latest Star Wars epic, revealed that he was thinking of giving up acting for architecture.
However, it seems that Pitt’s architectural foundations are well established. His instincts first surfaced in 1999, when he helped his father to develop a building plot in his hometown of Springfield, Missouri. He saw himself defying the hegemony of the strip mall by ensuring that homeowners got land and space. “I’m in a frenzy,” he declared. “I want to build cities. I’m quite mad with it.”
He decided to experiment on his own home. In 2001 he and Aniston bought a $14m, 12,000 sq ft Normandy-style mansion with six bedrooms in Beverly Hills. He created a minimalist, black-leather living room, a screening “cave” and a pop art study. “I just couldn’t keep my hands off it,” he said. His wife, perhaps prefiguring her real grounds for divorce, said that it had been “hard doing the house together (but) if you can make it through that, you can make it through anything”.
To restore the oak-shelved wine cellar, holding almost 1,000 vintage bottles valued at more than $5m, Pitt brought in Gehry, thus beginning a mutual admiration society. Meeting the architect was “about as much fun as I’ve had” and left the star “salivating”. Pitt enlisted in a formal apprenticeship at Gehry Technologies and made his debut in March 2004 at a Los Angeles architectural forum as a member of the designer’s “dream team”.
Gehry’s involvement in Hove has not been greeted with unalloyed rapture. After his four 400ft-tall blocks, designed to resemble crumpled Victorian dresses, had been dubbed “tin can towers” and dismissed by one critic as “transvestites caught in a gale”, their height was reduced.
There was little in Pitt’s Baptist childhood to indicate his towering ambitions. The oldest of three children, he was born on December 18, 1963, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where his mother Jane was a teacher and Bill, his father, was an executive at a trucking firm. Growing up in Springfield, he made his mark as a tennis and basketball player at Kickapoo high school. By his own account he was “a good kid” who lived a comfortable, ordinary life organised around school and the church. His classmates, whose nickname for him — “Pittler” — was apparently a term of affection, voted him best dressed boy.
A quiet rebellion simmered beneath the facade. He attended Missouri University to study advertising and journalism but two weeks shy of his graduation date he abandoned his degree, packed his belongings into a jalopy named Runaround Sue and headed for Los Angeles. He was too ashamed to tell his strict parents that he wanted to become a movie star.
He signed up for acting lessons and joined the local community theatre, supporting himself by dressing in a chicken suit to advertise fast food and chauffeuring stripogram girls around in a limousine. A bit part in Dallas, the TV soap opera, led to his role as the cowboy-thief who seduces Geena Davis in Ridley Scott’s box-office hit Thelma & Louise. He was 28.
In only 14 minutes on screen, he made an indelible impression that wafted him into A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford, and Legends of the Fall, another film set in the wide open American spaces.
With the fame came the girlfriends. Juliette Lewis, one of the first, recalled: “The thing is, Brad does not know how beautiful he is.” The list includes the actress Robin Givens, Mike Tyson’s former wife (“He just oozes sexuality”), and Gwyneth Paltrow, who was widely expected to become Mrs Pitt. They epitomised the perfect American couple in the mid-1990s. When they broke up, Paltrow was tearful but insisted there “was no cheating on anyone’s part”.
To Pitt’s credit, he avoided a lot of glamour puss roles pushed his way. He passed up on the part of an all-American astronaut in Apollo 13 to play a cross-eyed asylum dweller in Twelve Monkeys, which won him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. He went from portraying a grunting white-trash psychopath in 1993’s Kalifornia to an incoherent gypsy boxer in Snatch, the 2000 film directed by Guy Ritchie.
Pitt’s strategy of picking tricky parts has brought him a wealth of accolades, from that Oscar nomination to People magazine’s “sexiest man alive” title. He has made only a handful of duds, such as the unwieldy Meet Joe Black in 1998 and Ocean’s Twelve, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie.
His latest film, Babel, revolves around four interweaving stories set in north Africa, Mexico and Japan. Earlier this month Pitt was credited with saving the day for Cate Blanchett, his co-star, when one of her two sons suffered burns in an incident in Marrakesh, where they were filming. Pitt reportedly used his influence to persuade the King of Morocco to fly Blanchett and her son home in his private plane.
By a curious quirk, Blanchett and her husband Andrew Upton live in Brighton. Other famous residents include Sir Paul McCartney and Fatboy Slim, the DJ. Pitt may seek a period of obscurity but the cluster of celebrities augurs well: someone has to be rich enough to afford his penthouses.