Parade – September 18, 2011

Inside Brad Pitt’s World

By Dotson Rader

Brad Pitt rushes in from his film set, apologizes for being late, and heads off to take a shower and change. It’s been another long day in a year crowded with them, what with the charitable work he’s done (often with his love of six years, Angelina Jolie), the parenting of their six children, and several movie projects, including May’s The Tree of Life and the film he’s shooting now, World War Z, a zombie thriller due next year. “My boys love the zombies,” he says when he returns to his suite at Elstree Studios near London, hair wet and combed back.

Dressed in blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and a gray windbreaker, the 47-year-old actor looks fit and relaxed on this summer day. He orders us pizza and salad. “I wanted a nice afternoon tea with civility and charm and no pizza box,” he says with a laugh. “Then they called me into work!”

His big release this fall is Moneyball, opening Sept. 23, in which he plays Billy Beane, the baseball player turned Oakland A’s general manager who in the early 2000s used statistical analysis to assemble a winning team without having to shell out star salaries. “I became obsessed with the book [by Michael Lewis],” Pitt says, “and what the guys in Oakland did in reimagining the game—like questioning a religion, in a way. I set off on a four-year quest to make the book into a movie.” During the lengthy conversation that follows, he speaks just as passionately about family and finding time for what’s important in life.

PARADE: Did you play baseball as a kid growing up in Springfield, Mo.?
I played basketball more than baseball. And we had football games in the backyard or in the field behind our house. My relationship with baseball was having a pop fly at high noon in center field bounce off my cheekbone, in upper elementary school. And I still threw the guy out at second. The guy said, “Oh, you’re bleeding.” I got 18 stitches, and my mom was crying. That’s the scar. [He touches a small mark above his left cheek.]

Do you like the game?
You cannot deny the romance of baseball. It’s calming and relaxing, and then suddenly it breaks open and there’s
great drama in it.

Is there a team that you follow?
The Oakland A’s, of course! I’ve got a soft spot for them now. They’re still a small-market team, and I like that. You know, my dad used to complain that [the owners] priced the working man out of buying a ticket, so he stopped watching the game.

Tell me about your father.
My dad worked five and a half, six days a week [as a trucking company executive], and then he would take us fishing. He’d do that all weekend, then start work again. I have immense appreciation for that now that I’m a parent, knowing what you have to do to carve out time for your kids. I know how taxing that was on him.

What did you learn from him?
One of the things was the importance of enjoying what you do. I played tennis in high school. I was in this tournament and I was at my all-time McEnroe best—throwing my racket and saying words that were not acceptable. Then I saw my dad stand up and walk down to the court. He got right up to me and said, “Are you having fun?” I said, “No.” And he said, “Then don’t do it.” He very calmly turned around and walked back to his seat. In that moment, all the pressure on me evaporated. I finished the game—I got crushed, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t play tennis again for maybe a good year.

So finding something you love to do has been a big guideline for me. I think it gave me the impetus to move out to California in a beat-up Datsun with a couple hundred dollars in my pocket. It’s been the impetus to seek out projects that are important to me, and it’s what I want for my kids.

You have six children. How do you and Angelina find time to help refugees and other victims all over the world?
The same way that you carve out time with your kids. At the moment, we’re in a particularly grinding schedule. You see things popping up all over the world that need attention. There’s drought in East Africa, and Angie’s getting called for that or for something else, because she’s proven that she’s committed. She’s made real change. And her response is, how can I not make time for that? For her it’s very, very clear.

Why do you do it?
I’ll tell you why: I hit the lottery—the whole cliché of moving to Hollywood and getting paid silly amounts of money. I’ve traveled the world and seen mothers and babies dying because they don’t have a 30-cent treatment that is available in industrialized nations. I feel like I have to share whatever I can. You’re culpable if you don’t act.

You know, we bitch about raising taxes. I think the argument is that it’s my money, I earned it, why do I have to pay for other people? I get very frustrated with that argument. I don’t mind paying taxes. I live in a country that gave me the opportunity to make money, and most people on this planet do not have that.

You and Angelina have three foreign-born adopted children [Maddox, 10, from Cambodia; Zahara, 6, from Ethiopia; and Pax, 7, from Vietnam]. Why not adopt American kids who need a home?
I can’t place the importance of one child over that of any other. I have seen children suffer far beyond what we experience in America—like our oldest daughter [Zahara]. I know she would not be alive [if she hadn’t been adopted]. I know what care was available to her, and it was nil. I cannot imagine life without her.

I guess I just don’t see America as separate from Vietnam or Ethiopia. We’ve got to start looking at things differently. This mentality of “Our team’s better than yours”—it’s a high school idea. Why do we need that in order to feel better? My kids don’t see those dividing lines, and I don’t want to either.

Then how do you decide who to help?
I believe in the kismet of the run-in. You run into something, you make a connection, and you have to answer it. You can’t help everyone, but I can help these people. Angie taught me that.

How have your kids changed you? [The couple also have three biological children—Shiloh, 5, and 3-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox.]
Oh, listen, I’ll just tell you—I’ve never felt more enriched. I’ve learned so much about myself through them. I’ve become a better person because of them. They are so sharp.

Was it difficult learning how to be a parent?
I was surprised at how automatic it is, how much of it is instinctual. And now I have a great confidence and trust in those instincts. I mean, one sound at night and you’re awake and up because they may need you. Or when they start to have a tantrum, you know to divert them from spinning out by helping them focus on something. It just goes on and on. I tell them, “You can make a mess, but you’ve got to clean it up.”

How is Angelina as a mother?
One of the greatest, smartest things I ever did was give my kids Angie as their mom. She’s such a great mom. Oh, man, I’m so happy to have her. With a partner like Angie, I know that when I’m working, the kids are happy, safe, and prospering. And when Angie’s working, she knows she has the same.

Who disciplines them?
We both do that, if they’re not being respectful.

In your younger days, you were not known for charitable work or, frankly, seen as much of a family man. Was there an event that changed how you saw yourself in the world?
I spent the ’90s trying to hide out, trying to duck the full celebrity cacophony. It wigged me out a bit. I started to get sick of myself sitting on a couch, holding a joint, hiding out. It started feeling pathetic. It became very clear to me that I was so intent on trying to find a movie about an interesting life, but I wasn’t living an interesting life myself. I think that my marriage [to actress Jennifer Aniston] had something to do with it. Trying to pretend the marriage was something that it wasn’t.

What about the celebrity cacophony today? You and Angelina have been subject to fabrications about your personal lives.
I mean, how many stories have you read that aren’t true, stories about me and Angie being married or fighting or splitting up? And when we don’t split up, there’s a whole new round that we’ve made up and we’re back together again! We’ll get married when everyone can. We’re not splitting up. And we don’t have a seventh child yet.

How will you protect your children from the pitfalls of celebrity?
I don’t have the answer for that. I think as we get older, we’ll get less interesting to the tabloids. I’m not worried about it yet.

With all the traveling, what do you do about the kids’ education? You’ve said you’ve been using the curriculum of the Lycée Français. …
Right, and now we’re moving more into our own home schooling. We have social things for them during the week with other kids, and they have their friends. If we’re gone for a long time, we’ll fly their friends out so they can be together. [The family’s principal home is in L.A., but Pitt says they would like to spend more time in Europe.]

Our kids can get through the normal school day—what took me eight hours in a public school—as well as homework in four hours or so in home school. It allows extra time to develop their other interests—music, sports.

Let me turn to acting. Why do you play so many different kinds of roles?
It’s an opportunity to surprise people, and I’m good at surprises. The minute you categorize or pigeonhole me, you’re wrong. I’m already two moves ahead.

Why not really surprise people and enter politics? You’re already involved in advocacy.
I have no desire to be in politics because I want to live free, and I don’t know how you can do that as a politician. It wouldn’t be good for me, and I wouldn’t be good for it. For one thing, I would be making Bushisms, like, every third day. [He laughs.] One malapropism after another.

What work appeals to you, outside of acting?

Building is what I’d be best at, and I should be doing it. [Pitt and his Make It Right foundation are constructing new, green houses for hurricane victims in New Orleans.] Not that I would be at the level of my architect heroes, but that’s what I’m trying to get into. I’ll build houses, anything. I actually have some partners, and we’ve done many architectural designs, conceptuals, really interesting stuff. I’ve got hundreds of furniture designs that I have full-scale models for.

What attracts you to architecture and design?
I speak best in shapes. It’s my best vocabulary. Much better than English.

Are you a happy man?
I put much more emphasis on being a satisfied man. Happiness is overrated. There has to be conflict in life. You get to a plateau, and you’re spurred on to the next plateau, the next direction, the next season.

I’m satisfied with making true choices and finding the woman I love, Angie, and building a family that I love so much. A family is a risky venture, because the greater the love, the greater the loss. You’re putting yourself on the line. That’s the risk we take. That’s the trade-off. But I’ll take it all.