LIFE ON THE WILD SIDE – by David Matthews
One is a notorious Wild West villain, the other a Hollywood superstar. Yet Brad Pitt sees similarities between himself and Jesse James, whom he plays in his latest film, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which is out today.
“There was a lot of exaggeration and distortion about Jesse James in his time,” observes 43-year-old Pitt. “So I guess not much has changed since then. But as for fame, well, I know the deal.
“I understand the trade-off, and there are great perks to being able to travel the world and do the kind of things I do. I don’t want to change my life.”
Pitt also produced the film, and the result is a stunningly photographed and complex portrait of the legendary American bank robber. Pitt and his partner, actress Angelina Jolie, flew into Toronto to promote the movie, which was being shown at the local film festival. The world’s top celebrity couple were mobbed everywhere they went.
“Well, it was kind of tough,” grimaces Brad. “At one point our car was surrounded, but it wasn’t as bad as Venice when some woman jumped me. I rarely get anxious in crowds anymore. Generally, people are very friendly and if you’re going to have success as an actor this is the kind of attention you have to be prepared for.”
Unfailingly polite and always the perfect gentleman, Pitt carries himself with the same kind of Midwestern grace that was part of his experience growing up in Missouri – the same territory where James spent much of his life.
“A lot of my family are still in Missouri,” he says, “and I often take the grandkids back or my folks would kill me.
“It’s a really gentle, sweet place to live. I loved the fact that shooting this film involved spending a lot of time in the wilderness and experiencing some of the isolation that Jesse James felt. There’s an incredible sense of calm and peacefulness that comes with being in that kind of setting, even though it could get pretty cold.”
However, Pitt’s conversation inevitably returns to the pressures which come with being half of such a famous couple.
“We’ve never let celebrity box us is in in terms of what we want to do,” he explains. “We also know that our ability to draw attention to pressing world issues is dependent on our visibility, so that’s the positive side.
“I worry sometimes about the effect on my kids when they step outside somewhere and a lot of flashbulbs are popping in their faces. That’s the thing which really annoys me.
“But kids have such an intense curiosity and different perspective on it all. Right now it’s just a game for them.”
Pitt and Jolie are parents to three adopted children – Maddox, six, Pax Thien, four, Zahara Marley, two, and their biological daughter, 18-month-old Shiloh Nouvel.
“I’ve always wanted to have a big family and so now that I’m a father it’s very satisfying,” admits Brad, “even though I don’t sleep very much anymore. Children enrich you. I want to enable them to have a good life. Everything comes down to family – I think it defines you as a man above all else.”
He says that as much as he admires Angelina’s drive and determination, he also relies on her to be his chief critic and closest career advisor.
“I rely on her advice,” smiles Brad. “She’s my best sounding board and we usually only argue about politics.”
Politics aside, he and Jolie have forged a bond not only in terms of their human rights work, but in not allowing their work to keep them from their children.
“We enjoy taking them with us wherever possible,” says Pitt. “They look at it as a big adventure although, obviously, it takes a lot of organisation and, in some ways, it’s incredibly tiring. But it’s our life and it teaches you to not to waste time.
“You get one child ready, then the other, call the driver, make sure you have all the plane tickets – I’ve never had so much stress, but I love being part of my family’s life.”
Having Angelina at his side has also been a source of enormous inspiration. Brad admits her energy is “incredible – she’ll push herself to the limit”. He also says his own mother had a similar personal strength and represented the guiding force in his own upbringing.
“My mother was really the glue,” he recalls. “She was the one who kept the family together. When you become parents, I see it as a big responsibility where you prepare your kids to go out on their own in the world.”
But once again, Brad returns to musing about the somewhat strange world of the Hollywood superstar.
“You really don’t know what you’re getting into,” he says. “A lot of the attention has nothing to do with my actual life, so you just ignore it.”