Times Picayune – May 10, 2007


It has been less than a year since he bought a house in the French Quarter, but Brad Pitt already knows what it means to miss New Orleans.

Since leaving town to join Angelina Jolie on the Czechoslovakia set of her new movie, “Wanted,” Pitt said that he has regrettably slid, once again, under the celebrity magnifying glass.

“Let me tell you, we’re in this house in Prague right now and there’s about 12 cars of paparazzi outside and some tourists with video cameras,” Pitt said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I can’t describe why we’re allowed to live a more normal life (in New Orleans).”

The thing he misses the most, he said, is bicycling through the streets of New Orleans at night.

“Living in the French Quarter is a thrill for us,” he said. “We have some semblance of real family life. People have been very, very gracious with us. If we’re on the front deck, people go by and say, ‘Hi.’ Then they go on their way, very friendly.”

The main purpose of Pitt’s call wasn’t to tell us he missed us, but to discuss a milestone in the progress of Global Green USA’s ecologically friendly low-income residential development in the Lower 9th Ward.

Pitt spent $100,000 last summer to fund a design competition for an energy-efficient cluster of five houses, 18 apartments and a community center slated to be built in the Holy Cross neighborhood near the Mississippi River levee. On the first anniversary of Katrina, architects Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman of New York City were chosen to plan the development.

Today, in a 10 a.m. ceremony near the corner of Avery and North Peters streets, Global Green, a nonprofit environmental organization, will announce that the Home Depot Foundation has become a major contributor to the project, valued at between $7 million and $9 million.

The ceremonial announcement will include the making of a human mural by Los Angeles artist John Quigley, using 1,500 students from New Orleans schools as living mosaic tiles.

Pitt, who visited New Orleans in the early 1990s during the filming of “Interview With a Vampire” and took up semi-permanent residence early this year while filming “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” said that he’s impressed with the city’s never-say-die post-Katrina spirit, especially in the hardest hit areas.

“For me, first as a tourist, it’s the most unique city that we have in the States,” he said. “It has an energy like no other place. You guys shouldn’t change a thing. I’ve got to get me some of it. I absolutely love it there. We moved our family there. We’ve got a place there and we’re intermittently going back and forth. We’re in Prague now because of work. We’ll be back there soon.”

Like most New Orleans residents, Pitt seems bewildered by the pace of recovery and paucity of distributed aid.

“I’m concerned for the people who want to get back, especially in the lower-income areas, because it seems that the money they will receive, whenever they finally receive it, is not near what it would cost to replace what they had,” he said. “How is it possible? How is it feasible for them to put their families back together and put their communities back together, if that’s their wish? It’s a real concern.”

Global Green USA’s Holy Cross project has experienced its own delays, but Global Green Director Matt Peterson hopes the public will see progress by late summer.

“We’re not at a place where we can unveil the design on the whole,” he said, citing parking issues that have yet to be worked out with the City Planning Commission. “Our commitment is to have one single-family home up by the second anniversary of Katrina.”

Pitt, an architectural enthusiast, believes that model developments such as the modernistic, 1¼-acre 9th Ward project, may lead the way to general redevelopment.

“You know, this is one little patch of dirt in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s our hope to expand on the ideas put forth in this building project and help get people in homes, help people get to that moment when they can put the key in that lock and walk in their home and know that their family members are doing the same down the street and their kids are going to go to school and their communities are back together.”

Although he hopes to encourage eco-friendly rebuilding here and elsewhere, Pitt said he understands that global environmental concerns are not foremost on the minds of locals dealing with post-K problems.

“I think more than anything, people need help getting in homes,” he said. “It seems to me if you have to rebuild, you can turn it into an opportunity and create something better for the people who have to inhabit (rebuilt homes), because that technology is out there. If you can cut the (energy) bills in half, isn’t that worth going for? If you can make healthier homes, homes that are not making people as sick? I’m referring to cancer rates going up, asthma rates going up. If you can make a home that is better for the environment, and better for the future people who live there, isn’t that worth going for? Isn’t it better to take this catastrophe and actually replenish something that’s better for the people living there? Isn’t that worth going for?

“You guys are a bunch of individuals like no other city, why not be the leaders in this, too?”

That uniqueness proved valuable during the filming of “Benjamin Button,” which Pitt described as “a love letter to New Orleans.”

He predicts it will be released in the latter half of 2008.

“It’ll be worth the wait,” Pitt said. “I think it’s got real merit as a film. It’s a beautiful film — and I am not one to sell a
film. I’m not a salesman in any way. I am the most disgruntled viewer in cinematic history. But what I’ve seen is really special.

“The people in the background were so good and so real. It added this life to an otherwise rather dreary scene. It was far superior to
anything we’ve experienced before.”