Compass – 2007

MAN ON A MISSION – by Honie Stevens

Brad Pitt will be wowing cinema audiences once again this month as the notorious and unpredictable gunslinger in the action-filled western The Assassination of Jesse James, based on the novel by Ron Hansen.

Acknowledged as ‘the fastest gun in the West’, Jesse is planning his next great robbery with his brother, Frank (Sam Shephard), and eluding bounty hunters, when he’s betraye by Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a tormented youth who idolizes Jesse and joins his legendary gang, only to grow resentful of his charismatic hero. There’s a lot of tension within the James group, and Ford winds up shooting his mentor in the back, making him a despised, cold-blooded coward, living the remainder of his days in distrace.

‘I’m really proud of this movie,’ Brad says. ‘I’m always critical about my performances, but I think it’s a healthy criticism. I’m forever asking myself how I can do better. Acting requires constant study.’

Although Brad Pitt will always be a film star hunk for many, it’s not just his acting career that has won him admiration around the world. Newsweek magazine recently profiled his humanitarian work, noting: ‘If it weren’t for Brad Pitt, most Americans would never have heard of Namibia. They might not know about AIDS orphans in South Africa, or the plight of children in Haiti, or what transpired at the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland.’

‘There’s a great imbalance in our world when you see so many people dying – especially kids – from mosquito bites or dhiarrheoa. It tells me more should be done,’ Brad says. ‘And the main reason that that these kinds of issues don’t seem to make our print or airtime. We’re not getting this information. And our society has great ingenuity and great empathy and we could create more change. We many all have been created equally, but we’re not all born equally.’

Brad has been working quietly behind the scenes for many charities, recently funding 40 orthopaedic beds for an Islamabad hospital in Pakistan. When and Angelina Jolie were there on a UNHCR visit after an earthquake that killed thousands and left an equal number injured, he saw how
under-equipped the hospitals were. The beds hebought tilt from side to sie and move up and down using electronic switches and hydraulics, which help nurses shift paraplegic or tetraplegic patients regularly to avoid bedsores.

Pitt’s charitable efforts are not just focued abroad either. A self=described ‘architectural junkie’, he put up $100,000 of his own money to help sponsor an ‘intelligent architecture’ competition that required contestants to create affordable, single and multi-family housing that was both eco-friendly and community focused in an effort to help rebuild hurricane-devastated parts of New Orleans.

‘Our Global Green USA Project is trying to show the way,’ says Brad, who chaired the jury. ‘Enviromentally conscious building doesn’t have to cost more. It doesn’t have to look like a spaceship in the desert.’ Financed briefly by the Home Depot Foundation, the homes, which will produce up to 100 per cent of their own electricity, are part of a development that will include 18 apartments and a community centre in New Orleans’ hard hit Ninth Ward. Brad believes it’s essential for society to look to the future.

‘We cannot just consume ourselves into extinction,’ he says. ‘We have to find a new paradigm, a new way of thinking. What if a home actually created energy instead of consuming it? What if your utility bill could be nothing?’

Brad is currently working on a ‘green’ house, north of Santa Barbara in California. He’s planning it to be so efficient and produce so much electricity from solar cells on the roof that it won’t need to be tied into the power grid. Brad hopes such examples can push America toward sustainability, but he doubts it’s possible without a serious national programe. To really get there, he says, the country needs a major effort on the scale of Project Apollo, the audacious goal set by President John Kennedy in 1961 to send a man to the Moon within a decade, which was accomplished eight years later. ‘We need a straight forward leader to say: ‘This is Apollo time! We’re going to do this in 10 years,’ he says. ‘I’m certainly hoping this man or this woman will show up soon.’

He’s certainly come a long way from being just ‘Pretty Boy PItt’, a label his close friend George Clooney often teases him about.

Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on 18 December 1963, William Bradley Pitt was brought up in Missouri and raised with traditional small-town values and a staunch work ethic.

‘I came from a very white-bread Christian community,’ he says. ‘There were 1,800 students in my high school but only four were black.’

‘I think it was watching the film Saturday Night Fever that changed my perspective on life. It wasn’t so much the dancing or the clothes but the cultural issues the film raised which really inspired me and got me on a quest for travel. My parents taught me about understanding differences and about unconditional love, which gives you a lot of freedom. I very much believe in the philosophy of ‘live and let live’.’

Brad’s cinematic future includes the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on a story by F Scott Fitzgerald about an odd romance sparked between a woman of 30 (Cate Blanchett) and a man who, at 50, beings ageing in reverse. He’s currently working George Clooney, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand on Burn After Reading, a contemporary caper about a CIA agent who loses the disc of the book he’s writing. That’s followed by Kevin macDonald’s crime thriller, State of Play, based on the BBC series about a team of investigative reporters working alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress.

Meanwhile, among the quirkier projects Brad is developing is Chad Schmidt, about a talented actor who moves to Los Angeles in the 1980s in hope of being discovered. The problem is he bears an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt, who’s star is ascending – turning Schmidt into a punchline rather than a movie star.

Away from the cameras, Brad is a dedicated family man, having made the pivotal decision to share legal custody of Angelina Jolie’s two adopted children, Maddox and Zahara, changing their last names to Jolie-Pitt. ‘Fatherhood is the best thing I ever did,’ he says. ‘It completely changes your perspective, and it certainly takes the focus off yourself. You can write a book, you can make a movie, you can draw, paint a painting, but having kids is really the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever taken on. I’ve had my days. I’ve made some films, and I’ve really had a very fortunate life but it’s now time for me to share a bit.’

He concludes: ‘Most importantly as a father, I look at my kids and realize that they will inherit this world. Angelina and I want to do everything we can to make it a little better.’