Hollywood Reporter – February 03, 2012


The superstar with multiple Oscar nominations has everything a brilliant career, a partner he wants to marry and, in Moneyball, a seeming disaster he turned into a masterpiece. Still, Hollywood’s producer-actor confesses to earlier bouts of depression and a relentless need to question just about everything (himself included): ‘This idea of perpetual happiness is crazy and overrated’

Try to set up an interview with Brad Pitt, and you instantly plunge into his almost Dada-esque world.

After all, where do you go? A restaurant rendezvous would devolve into a scrum of gawkers and gapers; his suggestion that we meet at this reporter’s office creates such a stir among jaded journalists, it is rapidly nixed; and Pitt’s house in the Hollywood Hills is apparently out of bounds, reserved for his partner, Angelina Jolie, and their six kids–and those inquiring minds eager to know about a decapitated head found nearby only days before.

So it is, like participants in the witness protection program, that we find ourselves ensconced in a 14th-floor suite at Hollywood’s W Hotel this Jan. 20–chosen because Pitt’s Cadillac Escalade can make a quick in-and-out to avoid the paparazzi thirsting behold him.

Pitt doesn’t blame them. Media reports surfaced hours earlier that police had interviewed his bodyguard about human limbs scattered near the Hollywood sign. Still, he can’t help being bemused. “I was watching CNN, and they said, ‘Brad Pitt’s home! and, ‘Brad PItt’s bodyguard!'” he laughs in disbelief. “I’m like: ‘Why? Why?'”

The report is nonsense, of course: His security chief happened to pass a policeman who asked if Pitt’s surveillance cameras had recorded anything strange, which led to CNN’s proclamation: “Police interview Brad Pitt’s bodyguard, search Hollywood Hills for more body parts.”

Such is the life of a megawatt star, thought Pitt has learned to handle it. Rarely ruffled and polite to a fault, he shrugs it all off, leaning casually against a window and revealing a previously unnoticed tattoo on the inside of his forearm. It’s an outline of Otzi the Iceman, found frozen in the Alps in 1991, some 5,300 years after his death. Next to him, a series of numerals specify the height of the General Sherman Tree, a giant sequoia in Central California. Beside that, there’s an inscription in French: absurdite de l’existence–the absurdity of life.

Pitt knows something about this. He’s a man, after all, who can make $10 million to $15 million a film and has starred in such pictures as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club and Legends of the Fall–work vastly enhanced by his growing stature as a producer, which flowered in 2011 with Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life and the near-masterpiece Moneyball, a movie he saved from the clutches of death.

But he’s also Pitt the celebrity, not once but twice half of the most famous couple alive–first through his marriage to Jennifer Aniston, then through his relationship with Jolie.

Despite a quarter-century as an actor, this Pitt has overshadowed the actor-producer and perhaps factors into his never having won an Oscar, which might change this year thanks to his multiple nominations–two for acting in and producing Moneyball and probably a third as a producing Tree of Life (the academy had yet to determine which producers qualify). “It’s a great honor,” he says later. “And Tree of Life! I’m doubly excited because we felt we were all but forgotten.”

This is the glory, but fame and its consequences have left him conflicted, the acknowledges–though conflict runs through Pitt like a river, to adopt the title of one of his acclaimed films.

“I’ve always been at war with myself, for right or wrong,” he admits. “I don’t know how to explain it more. There’s that constant argument going on in your head about this or that. It’s universal. Some people are better at dealing with it, and they sleep with no pain–not pain, arguments. I’ve grown quite comfortable with being at war.”

His words are symptomatic of the thoughtfulness Pitt brings to everything he ambraces. He’s a man far deeper than most people know–more intelligent, curious and intellectually restless.

He talks about the books he’s reading, Charles Bracelen Flood’s Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War and A.J. Baime’s Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans. He discusses the architects he has worked with to develop low-income housing in New Orleans; the marvel of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove; his struggle to learn French (which he speaks “comme ci, comme ca”); and his love for Egon Schiele, an Austrian artist deemed “decadent” by the Nazis, whose style came to mind when he first saw that image of Otzi.

Even when we broach the subject of Jodi Kantor’s new book The Obamas, which describes Pitt as “awkward” in a meeting with the president (“I probably was–you don’t want to impose on a busy man,” he says), he’s more interested in Obama than himself, particularly whether the commander in chief has stopped smoking, as Pitt would dearly like to do. While backing Obama, he nonetheless was glued to the republican debate Jan. 19. “I’m an Obama supporter, no question,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from the other side.”

All his life, Pitt has learned from the other side. That’s what led him to make a leap of non-faith when he rejected his Southern Baptist upbringing. “I grew up very religious, and I don’t have a great relationship with religion,” he reflects. “I oscillate between agnosticism and atheism.”

He oscillates, too, on the subject of whether he’s get married, and it’s clear Pitt has shifted from his promise that this won’t happen until gay marriage is legalize. “We’d actually like to,” he says of his seven-year partner, Jolie, “and it seems to mean more and more to our kids. We made this declaration to do it till everyone can. But I don’t think we’ll be able to hold out. It means so much to my kids, and they ask a lot. and it means something to me, too, to make that kind of commitment.”

Has he asked Jolie to marry him? “I’m not going to go any further,” says Pitt. “But to be in love with someone and be raising a family with someone and want to make that commitment and not be able to isludicrous, just ludicrous.”

It’s an unexpected confession for a man generally rather private. Indeed, throughout our conversation I’m surprised by his willingness to discuss almost anything–from religion to relationships to Republicans–always in a manner that seems temperate and respectful, possibly shadowed by the awareness of how far he’s moved away from the thinking of his youth.

“If you look at where Brad came from and charted the transformations he has realized, you’d recognize this is a person who’s staged multiple revolutions in his life and career,” says Moneyball director Bennett Miller. “There’s a revolutionary spirit there.”

Pitt resists that notion at first. Then the next day he calls to say he has lain awake late into the night, mulling Miller’s words.

“There were many revolutions,” he agrees.

The idea of making a movie about math, as Pitt jokingly describes Moneyball, is one of them.

The project began its long journey five years ago, when Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal showed Pitt Michael Lewis’ 2003 nonfiction book about baseball team GM Billy Beane and the statistics wunderkind who helped him transform the Oakland Athletics. At the time, writer stan Chervin and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) were developing it with a decidedly comedic touch. Pitt looked at the screenplay, and at Beane himself, and wanted to go in a different direction: “I read the book, and this idea of second chances and how we sometimes let ourselves be rated too much by others–we put so much emphasis on a paycheck or what a magazine says–made me think, ‘Oh my God, there’s something much bigger here.'”

He offered to leave the film with Frankel, but the director graciously departed, allowing Pitt to develop the story as he saw fit. Not a baseball fan (though he says he loves sports, especially football and soccer), it was the nuances of Beane’s character that intrigued him. And so, working with producers Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz, he brought on Steven Zaillian (schindler’s List) to script and asked his friend Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven) to direct.

Pitt comes alive recollecting the enthusiasm he felt at getting them all on board, literally rubbing his hands with glee, but after Soderbergh reworked Zaillian’s screenplay, Sony had second thoughts. “We were supposed to leave on a Sunday to start shooting, and steven handed it in on a Wednesday or Thursday, and the studio was not feeling good,” says Pitt. “It’s not that they didn’t like the idea; they did not like the price”–about $60 million.

What happened next has been amply recounted: how Pascal pulled the plug; how she gave Soderbergh and Pitt several days to shop the project; how everybody passe. “Nobody wanted to buy disgraced goods,” he adds. “It was dead.”

But Pitt refused to let it die, calling Pascal and urging her to stick with the movie. “There would be no Moneyball without him,” says producer Scott Rudin. “He saved it single-handedly, and he deserves the credit for its existing at all.”

Pitt now approached Miller, the relatively untested director who had made only one feature, 2005’s Capote (along with the 1998 documentary The Cruise), and who flew from New York to meet him, sitting with the star in a modernist house on his compound, surrounded by tools and models and outlines for his architectural ventures.

Pitt was cautious, given that Miller had made nothing since Capote. “It’s usually a warning sign when a director doesn’t work for many years,” he explains, “but it’s because he’s so choosy. The fact he had such an investment in the material–which was apparent in our first meeting–was a big green light for me.”

Now he had to persuade the studio. “There was a lot of disagreement about where this should go,” he admits.

With Aaron Sorkin brought in to rewrite while Zaillian moved on to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and with Rudin added as overseer, Pitt and Miller reworked every element during the following nine months.

“We talked a lot about documentaries and 1970s films and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest–and how the character in that movie is the same beast at the end. That was relevant, because some people involved wanted to have a big epiphany and change, which wasn’t true to life.”

The filmmakers resisted attempts to reduce Beane’s journey to the “arc” of a conventional Hollywood script. “I had some sleepless nights,” says Pitt. “It was not without its pressure.”

His determination to buck tradition continued even when he began preparing to shoot the film, having long conversations with Beane and hanging out to talk ball with the players. It carried into the shoot, when Pitt backed Miller’s decision to use long shots rather than close-ups, letting them play without quick-cutting, an “elegance” Pitt admires.

None of this was accidental; none of it would have been possible without Pitt’s willingness to challenge authority. “I do have a kind of knee-jerk reaction to go the other way than I’m supposed to,” he notes slyly.

The result is a best picture nomination, along with the one for Tree of Life, which Pitt also made through Plan B Entertainment, the company he runs with Dede Gardner. Together, they show Pitt the producer and Pitt the star working spectacularly in tandem, with a boldness and depth nobody could have imagined when he started acting some 25 years ago.

Says one friend, “He’s fully matured into a man.”