Psychologies – November, 2014

THE FILM CLUB – by Liz Parry

The Oscar-winning producer and actor talks about his love for his children, his relationship with new wife Angelina Jolie and his foray into film producing

The past year has been a landmark one for Brad Pitt. Not only did he turn 50, but he also (finally!) tied the knot with long-term partner (and mother of his six children), Angelina Jolie – much to the surprise of the world’s media. Added to that, he clinched the Oscar for Best Picture as producer and key financier on 12 Years A Slave, proving that he is now a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the camera in the cut-throat Hollywood film industry.

Pitt’s latest starring role is in David Ayer’s Word War Two action thriller Fury, and already rumours abound that he could be headed for another Oscar nod. Set in the closing days of the conflict, Pitt plays the role of US Army sergeant Wardaddy, who commands a Sherman tank and its give-man crew to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany. One wonders whether Fury will match the huge success of World War Z, the zombie movie that Pitt also produced, and which turned out to be the biggest hit of his career, earning $550 million at the box office (despite the substantial negative publicity that preceded its release).

‘I’m glad that we were able to make a film that resonated with audiences,’ says Pitt, referring to the highly succesful movie. ‘It was one of the biggest challenges of my life and there’s a lot of personal satisfaction that comes with knowing that it all worked out in the end.’

Climbing the career ladder

With a film career spanning 27 years – remember him as the sexy cowboy in Thema & Louise? – Pitt has proved that he is one of the most fascinating movie stars of his time. From sex symbol to character actor to movie mogul, Pitt has exceeded all expectations.

There have been plenty of highs and lows along the way, from critically acclaimed roles in the Ocean’s trilogy and 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to the less well-received Interview With A Vampire in 1994, which Pitt himself admits was ‘one of the worst experiences of my life.’ He adds: ‘Six months in the f***ing dark. Contact lenses, make-up, I’m playing the bitch role… Now I’d be able to say, “This is a problem. We fix this, or I’m outta here”.’

Pitt admits that he struggled in the early days of his career and lacked direction and focus. ‘When you’re starting out, it’s easy to feel lost,’ he says. ‘I didn’t really follow my instincts about doing more personal kinds of projects. You get a lot of advice from people who are trying to advance your career and wanting to make money out of you, but who are also trying to help you make a lot of money. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t always going to lead you to make good films.

‘You spend too much time on career maintenance, but then you think “What’s the point?” if it’s not leading you to be doing interesting work – which is why you really became an actor in the first place.

‘Sometimes you think that anyone else could have played that same part – and that just leaves you feeling very empty. Eventually, I figured out that I was in the game to tell personal stories where I can feel that my work as an actor is unique in some way, and that I could add something to a film that would be different from what anyone else might bring to the way the story was told. I like being able to leave my own personal stamp on a film.’

Since turning his talent towards producing, Pitt has enjoyed much critical success, and he is relishing the change of direction in his career, from being in front of the camera to behind it. ‘I’ve spent a lot of my life on film sets,’ he says, ‘and I’ve learnt a lot about how this business works and what kinds of elements enable you to make good films, as opposed to bad ones. I’ve been able to produce a lot of films lately and each time, it’s a learning experience where I’ve able to take that knowledge [from my past experiences] and put it to good use on the next project.’

12 Years A Slave was a particularly important film to Pitt, and telling the history of American slavery was a huge motivation for him to get involved.

‘For me, 12 Years A Slave was one of those rare moments in your career when you get to work on a movie where story, performace and history are all brought together at a very high level,’ he explains. ‘[Watching] this movie is a transformative experience. It’s one of those rare films that displays brilliant storytelling, and also shakes you. My experience with it matches my earlist recollections of great films I watched when I was younger and which inspired me in my career.’

He adds: ‘The great thing about 12 Years A Slave is that it reminds us all of our humanity and responsibility towards each other. We’re reminded that we have to take care of each other in this world, and I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than to tell this kind a story and make people watching it more aware of our obligations towards our fellow human beings.’

Enjoying family life

Another role that Pitt takes very seriously is that of father to his six children with Jolie – three children by birth, three by adoption: Maddox, 13, Pax, 10, Zahare, nine, Shiloh, eight, and six-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox.

‘You learn to value that basic beauty of family, of watching your children grown and evolve,’ he says. ‘It’s the most beautiful thing you can experience. Being a father has changed me on so many levels and made me more generous and alive.’

He adds: ‘I see my children as an essential part of my life, and it means so much to me to be able to educate them and help them make their way into the world, as they grow up. I love being a father and all the responsibilities that entails. I feel like the richest man alive since I’ve become a father.’ It’s obvious that Pitt relishes his role as a father and new husband, following previous unsuccesful romantic relationships with actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston – although he and 39-year-old Jolie have not been without their own problems to contend with. In 2013, Jolie underwent a preventative double mastectomy after being told by doctors that she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer, and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer due to the fact that she carries a faulty BRCA1 gene.

It’s therefore unsurprising that Pitt is always concerned for his wife and children. ‘I worry about them all the time,’ he admits. ‘That’s the emotional bond and responsibility that sweeps over you when you have a family to look after. I care about them more than I care about myself, which I think is the real defenition of love. You see past yourself and become so much more generous and giving, and wanting only the best for your family.’ The couple currently divide their time between their main home in Los Angeles and their estate, Chateau Miraval on the French Riviera, where they recently tied the know.

‘Life is so much easier at Chateau Miraval,’ says Pitt, ‘because we have more privacy and the people who live in the area are incredibly respectful of us; we can move around pretty freely in the villages. The best thing about our home there is that the children enjoy a far more normal environment and we don’t have to hide as much or strategise as much to get about. In France, we feel like a much more ordinary family and we don’t deal with as many distractions.’

Making it work

So how do the couple find quiet time amid the chaos that comes with raising six children? ‘It’s crazy but I kind of life a little chaos,’ says Pitt. ‘I miss it when it’s quiet. When I get that first moment of quiet I go, “oh man, this is great!” And then, within 30 minutes, I miss then, man, I miss them! I miss that crazy running back and forth and sounds in the house with someone fighting, and someone banging into a wall over here, and someone calling for dad.’

‘Angelina is just amazing,’ he adds. ‘I’ll be tired and lie down on the sofa and then she’ll keep going until late at night. And that makes me feel like, “why am I take it easy”” so I’ll go help out and play with the boys and get them to bed. You realise that you always have the energy inside you and, as a parent, you need to have a lot of willpower.’

Growing up and growing old

Pitt comes from a fairly conservative Midwestern family, where he was raised to surpress his emotions, but he is keen to adopt a different approach with his own children,

‘When I was growing up, you weren’t encouraged to talk a lot about your problems or frustrations,’ Pitt says. ‘You were expected to be tough-minded and rely on your own strength and determination, and not complain or look to others to help you. There’s still a lot of that in me, but I’ve become more open with my feelings and I want my children to grow up to feel they can talk to me about anything and not keep anything bottled up inside them.’

The Hollywood icon admits he still has difficulty articulating and expressing himself. A life in front of the lens has made him perhaps overly protective of those around him, not to mention the Pitt ‘brand’. But you sense age has started to wear down the sort of protective armour that some A-listers cling to so strongly.

Of course, age is a topical subject – the actor/producer reached his half-century in December last year; a milestone he took with all the effortless calm we have might have come to expect with a man who exudes style and control in equal measure. ‘I’ve give a lot of thought to turning 50,’ he says. ‘You become very conscious of time. As a father, I’ve become much more acutely aware of spending my time wisely and doing the things that are important to me.

‘In a way, getting older is liberating because you have a lot more clarity about how you want to live and there are fewer doubts about everything. I also feel that I have more doors open to me as an actor, because I’m less of a commodity and audiences can accept me in a variety of guises. Now people can see past my image and look at the work.

‘I feel that my life has reached a point where I can look back and see that I’ve accomplished a lot of my goals as an actor,’ he says. ‘So I feel freer to be able to do pretty much anything I want as a producer and, on occassion, as an actor. I’m also able to spend as much time as I like with my family, which is really my main concern. I think when you get older, you just naturally think much less about yourself, and you can see everything in terms of what you can do to make your family happy… at least until they become wicked teenagers and don’t want anything to do with us.’