BRAD PITT INTERVIEW – by John Hiscock
On the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the actor talks about his girlfriend Angelina Jolie, their six children – and how the film changed the way he looks at life.
Brad Pitt has a reputation for being cheery and affable when he is making a movie. But not this time: the dark shadow of death hung over the set of his latest film, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.
Angelina Jolie’s mother died a month after they began filming, director David Fincher’s father died, as did writer Eric Roth’s mother. And, to top it all, the film’s controversial theme of ageing forced the actor to confront his own mortality.
I walked away realising that time is short,” he says, talking on a sound stage at the Warner Bros studios in Burbank, California. “I don’t know if I have a day or 10 days or 10 years or 40 years. Am I halfway or am I close to the end? I don’t know, so I have to make sure I don’t waste those moments in any kind of pettiness or bitterness or laziness, and that I surround myself with the people who are most important to me.
“Angelina and I are together because we can enhance each other. I don’t want to waste any time because I’m with company I really, really love.”
As well as Angelina Jolie, the company includes their adopted children Maddox, seven, Pax, five, Zahara, three, and their biological babies Shiloh, two, and twins Knox and Vivienne, who were born in last July.
To make the most of the time he has left, Pitt and Jolie are already planning to add more children to their family. “We haven’t found any reason to stop yet,” he laughs. “It’s chaos at times, but there’s such joy in the house. I look and there’s our boy from Vietnam and our daughter from Ethiopia, and our girl was born in Namibia, and our son is from Cambodia, and they’re brothers and sisters, man. They’re brothers and sisters and it’s a sight for elation.
“We have the capability to give a child a home, and let me tell you it’s selfish, too, because the reward has been extraordinary.”
The twins, he says, mean double the pleasure. “One seemed simple, and it’s just double the fun. It’s surprising how soon their personalities have started emerging. But it’s really important that everyone gets their individual time as well as group time together.
“We were four before, and we got into our rhythms and it worked. Then someone new comes in, and it discombobulates the movements for a moment, but then you settle in again and it just all works. Everyone’s pretty well integrated. It’s not the first time new kids have come in.”
Pitt is feeling a little jet-lagged, having flown in from Berlin, where he and the family are living temporarily while he films the Second World War story Inglorious Bastards for Quentin Tarantino.
He received a Golden Globe best-actor nomination for his role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which he plays a man born old and wrinkled and then ages backwards. Aged 50, he falls in love with a 30-year-old woman (Cate Blanchett) and they must come to terms with the relationship as they age in opposite directions. “It’s about looking back on your significant moments in life,” he says.
The film’s story and the deaths of relatives of people around him set him thinking about pain and loss. “I had a friend who worked at a hospice, and he said people in their final moments don’t discuss their successes, awards or what books they wrote or what they accomplished. They only talk about their loves and their regrets, and I think that’s very telling.”.
He has not yet discussed matters of life and death with his children. “Our oldest is seven and at the point where he’s asking these questions, but the others are too young, but I wrestle with it now.
“It’s hard to help them fully comprehend this, and I don’t know if they’re meant to comprehend it yet, in all fairness, but it’s a big issue.”
Their filming schedules and charity work take Pitt and Jolie around the world, and the children go to school in whichever country they happen to be at the time. “We’re a very nomadic family, and it works for us,” says Pitt.
“The value of it is that the family becomes the core, and the kids may not understand the places they see at this early age, but I know it’s seeping into their consciousness. We move quite well, and I don’t think it’s taking its toll. We have to think about schooling, though, and we’re in an international programme, so wherever we go it’s the same curriculum.”
While filming demands keep him busy, his charity work takes up even more of his time. Like Jolie, he has learned to make good use of his celebrity status to promote the causes close to his heart, such as fighting poverty and hunger in third-world nations. A keen student of architecture and a close friend of leading architect Frank Gehry, he has also been using his money and knowledge to help rebuild areas of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
He says the project is going well: “We wanted to help people to be able to return to the city because they were in limbo and wanted to come back, but whole neighbourhoods had been wiped out. We saw this as an opportunity to be a proving ground for high-performance buildings and a greener approach.
“Now, for an area like this that suffered such injustice to suddenly become the greenest, most advance neighbourhood in the US is an incredible achievement. This time next year we’ll have more than 100 homes up, and there’s no reason this shouldn’t work outside New Orleans. There’s something at play here that is bigger than just a starting point.”
Pitt sees his duties as being a companion and father, making movies and helping charitable causes. “What’s valuable to me has become clearer as I’ve got older,” he says. “To me, it’s about the value of your time and your day and the value of the people you spend it with. It’s about me being a strong father and guide and a good match for my significant other. Then, if I’m going to go to work, it must be something of value to me.
“I’m much more experienced now, so I can find films that are interesting quicker and cut out the films that don’t really matter. It means more to me now because my kids are going to see them, and I want them to be proud.”