BRAD TO THE BONE – by Christoper Bollen
There must be a movie-industry equation that determines a Hollywood superstar-some series of variables (looks, talent, chances of dating an attractive costar, ability to generate gossip fodder, etc.) that, when placed in a studio executive’s formula, adds up to a bankable celebrity. In the current cosmos of stars, there is probably no brighter light than the kind radiating off of actor Brad Pitt. And certainly from his first appearance in the role that pushed him into popular appeal as the bad-boy seducer in 1991’s Thelma & Louise, Pitt had all of the obvious traits of an actor that could equal icon status. The Missouri native clearly had the looks, so much so that today Pitt pretty much exemplifies ultimate male beauty in the early 21st century. He also had talent that far transcended a heartthrob persona: one need only clock his turns in 1995’s Twelve Monkeys and Se7en, 1999’s Fight Club, or last year’s Babel to see a performer that brilliantly converted his attraction (which so many other stars rest on when they can’t go any deeper) into the fuel that helps drive the part. Today, Pitt wears the hat of producer as well as actor, working to bring projects like A Mighty Heart to the screen, while starring in projects like this fall’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He plays the legendary outlaw who has come to typify the loner-American West mentality. Don’t expect Young Guns III, however. Under Andrew Dominik’s direction, the film, word has it, reads more as a moody, psychological portrait, like a dark horse inheritor of Terrence Malick.
It is, of course, Pitt’s personal life that has overwhelmed his reputation in the last few years. The high profile marriage to Jennifer Aniston ended in 2005 with a high profile divorce, and by the time Angelina Jolie entered the picture, there was little hope that the actor would not become the lead in a soap opera written largely by the media. No one has to be reminded of every twist and turn in this love story. It has been drilled into the head of anyone passing magazine racks on a weekly basis. Naturally the physical beauty of Pitt and Jolie was an irresistible hook. What no one counted on was the fact that the two were radical human being underneath.
And this is what Hollywood cannot calculate. They can pronounce an actor a movie star but they can’t deduce the quality of the man. Turns out, Pitt is the kind of guy whose ambition to help goes deeper than celluloid. Along with Jolie, he has committed himself to a number of humanitarian effort, principally in Africa where he and his partner chose to have their daughter, Shiloh, in May 2006. It is rather ironic that Pitt ends up with another 1,000-volt celebrity and then begins to disassemble the predictable Hollywood couple scenario, trying to live on hi terms, following his ethics rather than his agents. Today, Pitt I still going rogue in Hollywood. He might be the only actor who has ever referenced former World Bank president Wolfowitz (when talking about casting his girlfriend as the lead in A Mighty Heart). He is certainly channeling fame for bigger principles than most anyone thought it was good for. And what’s just as surprising, he till sounds like a dude from Missouri hanging out.
Christoper Bollen: I know you’re in Prague right now, but the fourth of July was yesterday. Did you celebrate it?
Brad Pitt: No, we missed it here. But when you have four kids, every day is the Fourth of July.
CB: Are all of the kids with you?
BP: Yeah, we have a nice routine here. We have a beautiful house with a great yard, and have the kids in school. We’re here for another week and then we’re off taking two weeks for the family.
CB: Your next film is Jesse James this fall. You shot that awhile back, even before Ocean’s Thirteen. Are you excited to see it finally
BP: I don’t know if I get excited about films coming out (laughs). I don’t know if that exists for me. I’m really happy about it, but to tell you the truth, I’m happier just when it’s completed and I see it being put together. For me, that’s where I jump off.
CB: Is it hard to get back into the Jesse James mind-set after so much time?
BP: No, because I remember making it vividly. For one, Angie was pregnant. It was a very nice time for us. We stayed out in the woods by a river. We were in a big log cabin. So personally it was a magical time. But also it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. I think Andrew Dominik, the director, has the potential to be one of the great storytellers of all time. Jesse James is a complicated film—not a western by the standards of western pedigrees. It’s more of a psychological drama, and it also doesn’t fit the current gestalt in movie pacing and movie editing. It harkens back to films that I love that breath a little bit more. And then of course it’s heavy material. It’s a fall film. When we didn’t make it in time for a fall release last year, we took our time and let Andrew keep cutting as he needed.
CB: Jesse James is a monumental character in American mythology. He’s the criminal here, the beautiful bad guy that this country especially loves. Did you play him as a villain?
BP: I played him on a much more human scale. The film is more a disassembly of the myth. But I’m also a Missouri boy. And I do admit I get great pride knowing that Missouri was his territory too—his hood. And when I see the crawls come up and it says Kearney, Missouri, I get a little twinge of pleasure from that. Because I never got to investigate anything before from my neck of the woods.
CB: Do you ever go back to Missouri?
BP: My family is still there. So we’ve got to get the grandkids back.
CB: You are one of today’s leading Hollywood men. But looking back at your career, some of your best roles have been smaller or darker ones. Is there pressure to take on the blockbuster main roles at the expense of those weirder roles?
BP: When you turn 40, all of the pressure evaporates. And then you become a father and then… forget about it. It’s not an issue. I’m at the point where feel like I understand what I’m doing. I could do and do a number of projects but I don’t have time, so it’s more about what lines up with my schedule. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the most important thing on a project is the people I’m working with. That’s what I remember most about the films I’ve done.
CB: You’re slated to star in a film where you play an actor coming to Hollywood that unfortunately bears a striking resemblance to the actor Brad Pitt. Do you look back on those early days in LA trying to make it as an actor fondly.?
BP: Now that I’ve got enough distance from that time, I can look back fondly-and blissfully forget the struggles of it.
CB: You and Angelina have managed to play by your own rules to a degree. I wouldn’t say you’ve escaped the downside of fame, but you guys are certainly trying to live outside of the Hollywood movie-star trap.
BP: You’ve got it. The focus of that place perverts your view of the world in a diabolical way. It’s nice to be able to check yourself. It’s not the people necessarily, because the people there are some of the most interesting I’ve ever met. There are great people. But the focus on the business itself can be a waste of time when you’ve only got so many house in the day, so many days in the week, weeks in the year, and so many years in your life.
CB: All creative industries seem to attract the best people you’ll ever meet and the absolute worst.
BP: It’s a paradox I haven’t figured out.
CB: In 1997, you told Time magazine, ‘Reporters ask me what I feel China should do about Tibet. Who cares what I think China should do? I’m a f—ing actor! They hand me a script, I act.’ It would be hard to imagine you saying this today with all of the humanitarian effort you’ve been associated with lately.
BP: I have completely changed my opinion on this. I believe you can make a difference. I believe that wholeheartedly. I‘ve seen it in action. My response came from watching most of the guys on the news-they’re just giving their opinions. Most of them aren’t even as well studied as I am. They’re just good at the game. I believe in this place and I believe in contributing to the discourse.
CB: Are you looking to produce films with a more political bent?
BP: I’m looking for both, because I also believe in stepping out for a couple hours and having a good old laugh. I don’t draw the line that way.
CB: When you get back from family time, what are you working on next?
BP: I finish this next film with David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with Cate Blanchett.
CB: That’s the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story.
BP: It’s about a guy who’s born old and grows backwards. As Fincher describes it, it’s a novel of a man’s life and death and the people who make a dent in that journey. I can’t say it was quite what I was looking for, but Fincher has such a great take on it. He’s a great friend and I’d do anything with him, so I jumped at the chance. And it’s a love letter to New Orleans at the same time.
CB: You and Angelina just bought a house in New Orleans.
BP: We’ve made our American base there. We have a place in LA, but it’s become impossible. There are too many paparazzi, too many people outside the gate, too much following, too much sticking cameras in kids’ faces. I want to have some resemblance of a real life. We have managed to find that in New Orleans. People there are really cool. I often laugh at this view my kids have of the world—whenever you go outside the door, there are always people standing around with cameras trying to take your picture. It’s going to be funny when they realize that that isn’t the case and that isn’t the norm. I don’t like it.
CB: As you get older, do you feel like the loss of a ‘normal life’ weighs on you more?
BP: Listen, there are a lot of perks to this thing too. It’s an abnormal life but it’s a very interesting one. We just approach the day differently than another person would. We know that when we go outside, we’re going to get followed. So we protect ourselves as much as we can from that. Are we vulnerable to any crazies? We have to think this way every day. But there is a trade-off. Listen, you can do and you can say and you can shoot whatever you want with me. But don’t drag the kids into that. They don’t have anything to do with this.
CB: Has becoming a father transformed your life?
Yeah. It’s hilarious. It’s the funniest, most lovely thing I’ve ever taken on. And the biggest pain in the ass as well (laughs). And I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
CB: There is a popular idea that you lured the paparazzi to Africa when Angelina gave birth to spotlight problems there. Was that really purposeful?
BP: It’s fourfold. For one, we know that’s going to happen to it becomes a plus. It’s all about cost and gain. Plusses and minuses. Two, and most importantly, we loved the idea of our daughter being born on another continent, something she’ll be able to have roots in as well and want to explore when she gets older. That was the preeminent factor for us. Three, we knew they had very strong privacy laws there. And we knew there was going to be a huge bounty on our heads and we were going to get very little peace unless we went to a place like that. And four, it happened to be a place that we loved.
CB: Have you been all over Africa?
BP: Dude, it would take a lifetime to discover that continent. It’s so big and diverse and they have a lot to teach us and they need a lot of help.
CB: When you look back on your divorce from Jennifer Aniston in 2005 and all of that media attention as you moved from one high profile relationship to an even more high profile relationship, do you think you handled the situation well? Do you think of that whole period as utter hell?
BP: I don’t know how better to have handled it. My view was, this is no one’s business in the end-at least in matters of the heart. So you need to protect all involved as much as possible. I don’t know if that cooled things off or exacerbated them, but it was a thing I felt justly about at the time. Again, the thing guiding me then was you don’t know how many days you have and you need life to be everything you want it to be.
CB: I guess even asking you about it now just propagates the sensationalism.
BP: You know, there is one other thing I’d like to say about it, because Jen and I still maintain a deep friendship and have a lot of life together that isn’t erased in any way. Thinking back to that time, the entertainment media was speculating on things very early on. And the most important thing about that time was for Jen and me to figure out if-how do I put it?-if we didn’t want to go on without any outside influence. Is this where we got off? Have we taken this as far as we wanted to?
CB: Do you think all of the outside speculation forced your hand at all?
BP: That wasn’t it. I was just trying to dodge it all and stay true to what I believed in. The most important thing was for Jen and me to answer those questions without being pulled out of that. Those questions had to be answered before an attraction for Angie could be answered.
CB: Do you find it upsetting how the media still has an obsessive interest in linking Jen and Angelina?
BP: It’s so manufactured. We don’t pay attention to it. I hear that they drag my mom into it. She doesn’t deserve any of this. She is the most open, loving woman you’ll ever come across. They make things up and make money off of it. I am surprised about that.
CB: Away from film, you have a big interest in architecture. Are you working on any buildings?
BP: I’ve got some partners that have offices in Berlin, LA, and Beijing. We’ve taken on a few things and I think some of those will be coming to fruition pretty soon.
CB: What are your overriding aesthetics?
BP: I adhere to a leaner, softer, more harmonious style. I’m more interested in the light and materials than anything ornamental. I’m interested in experience.
CB: Of all art forms, architecture reaches us most psychologically and most immediately.
BP: I believe that. There’s a Churchill quote: ‘We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.’ I couldn’t agree more. When architecture is at its best, you recognize the experiences-and when architecture is at its worst.
CB: Sometimes you realize it most when it’s the least effective. When it’s working well, you might not even consciously notice.
BP: I’m very susceptible to my surroundings. And I like to believe everyone else is too. Maybe that’s my own affliction. You’re talking to a guy who, when he got his first paycheck, bought a stereo and a chair. The chair was the big thing.
CB: Do you see yourself abandoning acting to start a design firm one day?
BP: No. I think I’d flatline focusing on one thing entirely. I like extremes.
CB: In the fall you start work on a Coen Brothers film. Please tell me it’s a comedy.
BP: It’s a comedy, but that isn’t to say it won’t be dark.
CB: I was in Ethan Coen’s house once in New York. Their Oscar was on a shelf in the bathroom.
CB: It was the first time I ever picked one up. It’s surprisingly heavy.
BP: I’ve never touched one myself, so I wouldn’t know.
CB: Come on, you must have.
BP: No, really, I haven’t.