LOS ANGELES—“Don’t mess around with me, man,” Brad Pitt quipped, his famous blue eyes smiling when a journalist remarked that only two years ago, he said he was ready to be a father.
Now, he has not one but three children.
In an unprecedented freewheeling interview at the Universal Hilton, his first with our press group since he began his much-publicized relationship with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt talked about Angie, fatherhood, the issues he believes in and Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel,” his stunning new film.
In gray shirt and jeans, Brad, 43, is younger looking and a lot more boyish in person.
When he was asked to stand by to pose for pictures, he asked, “What am I supposed to do for five minutes?” And then he broke into a brief dance which would have elicited shrieks from his millions of fans had they been there.
Talking for the first time on a variety of subjects, he smiled and leaned forward when the topics were obviously close to his heart and mind, like flying planes and putting his celebrity status to positive use like in environmental activism.
He shook his head emphatically when he named two things that irritate him the most. Sometimes he rocked back in his chair. Reflexively, he occasionally wet his lips.
The only time he refused to answer was when he was asked what he was good at. “You stumped me there,” he told a reporter. “It’s really not for me to say.”
We got to throw the first question—about his emotionally charged scene in “Babel” where his character speaks by phone to his toddler son.
A story (written by Guillermo Arriaga based on his and Alejandro’s idea) about how one rifle shot in the desert affects four families in Morocco, Los Angeles, Mexico and Japan, “Babel” is superbly directed by Alejandro (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams”), who won the Best Director prize at last May’s Cannes Film festival for this film.
Alejandro’s achievement is doing justice to the milieu in each of the four locations and interrelated stories, drawing fine performances from all (and we mean everybody) in the cast, from Brad (made up to look older, with graying hair), Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal to the Japanese, Mexican and Moroccan cast.
The latter group, recruited from announcements blared from mosque speakers, acted for the very first time before cameras. A Japanese actress, Rinko Kikuchi, is terrific in a daring role (more about her in another column).
The obsession with Brangelina has overshadowed the couple’s impressive philanthropic efforts. Each of them recently made a gift of $1 million to two humanitarian organizations, Global Action for Children and Doctors Without Borders.
“I’ve seen ‘The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl’ about 18 times,” declared Brad who has patiently watched this kiddie favorite with Shiloh Nouvel, his four-month-old biological daughter with Angelina, and their adopted children, Maddox Chivan and Zahara Marley.
During the interview, Brad, who was divorced from Jennifer Aniston last year, was the first to downplay his public speaking skills.
Smiling, he quipped as he began to respond to a question, “Let me just sit here and stutter for about five minutes and I’ll come up with an answer.”
I was moved by that scene where your character is talking to his son on the phone. He is trying to sound normal but he couldn’t control his emotions. Does that scene pack more emotional wallop for you since you’re now a father?
That scene means a lot more to me now. That moment is about the idea of losing almost everything and what that would mean. Sometimes we can’t see the wonderful things in our lives, the wonderful people. When Richard, my character, hears his son’s voice as he talks about something so innocuous but so beautiful, a thunderbolt of realization hits him: I could have lost all of these. From that moment on, his life would hopefully change.
What is it like being a father now that you have three kids.
Three a year so next year I’ll have six (laughter). Nine total. We’re looking for a soccer team.
How has fatherhood changed your life?
It makes me much more efficient. I do everything faster because there’s no time for messing around. I value what I’m doing. I mean, I still value my work but at the same time, I value the part about getting home to the kids. It makes me stealthier in my attack of things. In a funny way, though, it doesn’t make work inconsequential. It makes the work mean more because I know that somewhere down the road, my kids will see my movies. I approach everything now by considering what it might or could potentially mean to them down the road.
How did you manage to co-produce two potentially award-winning films, “The Departed” and “Running With Scissors,” on top of your duties as actor, father and supporter of humanitarian causes?
I work with good people. Maybe turning 40 has something to do with it as well. There were certain things that I wanted to attack and they seemed to work. Having kids makes me more efficient, too. I’m very proud of these films. That’s a whole other aspect of the business. Actors can only work in certain roles but being a producer opens up opportunities. I get to work on films and stories that mean something to me or films that I wouldn’t normally fit in like “Running With Scissors.” It is a real joy.
What was it like working in the middle of nowhere in Morocco without the distraction of the paparazzi?
They did not have a clue we were there. We had to drive an hour to get to this village that was in the middle of like a lunar landscape. They didn’t have electricity. They brought it in for the film. They ran a (power) line and we were able to leave it there afterward which was nice.
Cate says “I peed” in one scene but it is probably one of the most touching scenes.
Yes, it was very intimate. That goes back to Alejandro and Guillermo’s writing. They threw in something as human and mundane as having to take a piss and worked it into this intimate moment. The moment spoke volumes about their history, who they once were and what they could be together. But don’t listen to me. Whatever Cate said, it’s right. Cate has an uncanny insight and I would go with her response before mine.
How does your involvement with humanitarian causes seep into your acting career?
I know it has to seep into acting in some way. Maybe not in “Ocean’s 13” (laughter) but in some way. This film relates to me on that level.
Does this movie speak closer to you?
Yes, because it parallels my belief that what is most lacking is an understanding of each other. It’s a strange thing with globalization, we’re more connected to others and yet, there are more conflicts than ever. It has something to do with a lack of understanding and of talking to each other.
On a lighter note, do you have your pilot’s license yet?
Yes, I do.
What is it about flying that you love so much?
Well, I can’t be followed, which is the first plus. Angie has been flying for a while so the second plus is the idea that it’s like throwing the kids in the back of a Suburban and having some freedom. There’s the freedom in the air and a real sense of accomplishment. Flying is this amazing marriage of human ability with nature and machine. Any one of these can go wrong at any moment so there’s a real call for focus and attention up there. I’m telling you it can go wrong seriously fast but it’s a real pleasure. To be 40 and still be able to achieve things that are personal is a rewarding experience.
What kind of planes do you fly?
We have the beginner planes. Little ones.
Was there a movie that inspired you to become an actor?
No, but strangely enough, I like “Saturday Night Fever” (laughter). I did. I loved it. But it wasn’t because of the bad suits and the dancing although I can do the hustle as I’ve proven today. I didn’t know people could live like that (until I saw that movie). I had only seen my corner of the world which was Oklahoma and Missouri. That there are other complete ways to attack life—this idea of a different culture—I got most intrigued by. I’ve always liked films. I remember watching “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in kindergarten.
What inspired you then?
A week before I was supposed to graduate from college, everyone had applied for jobs and was receiving offers. I hadn’t applied anywhere. I didn’t have a clue nor did I have any interest to go somewhere. But it occurred to me and I’ve always thought, I wish I’d grown up in New York or LA because I could watch films in those cities. It just struck me one night that I can do it. So within that week, I decided I was going to LA. But I had no money so I worked for a couple of weeks. Then I loaded up the car and went to LA. I did not go back to my college classes. I did not graduate.