USA Weekend – May 26, 2011

What does Brad Pitt want?

By Kenneth Miller

In his latest movie, The Tree of Life (opening in New York and Los Angeles May 27, and nationwide soon after), Brad Pitt plays the domineering father of three young sons in 1950s Texas – a small-town setting that hit close to home, he says.

Pitt, 47, says he was reminded of his own boyhood in Springfield, Mo., while making the film, in which Sean Penn plays his grown son.

“We were out running around until dark, chasing fireflies with tennis rackets, up to all sorts of mayhem,” Pitt recalls of his childhood.

These days, the actor is raising six kids of his own (three adopted, three biological) with partner Angelina Jolie, while roaming the world on movie shoots and humanitarian missions.

He recently chatted with USA WEEKEND about family, eco-friendly housing and other matters close to his heart.

On his folks …

“Both of my parents grew up in poor circumstances. Their whole goal was ‘I just want my kids to have it better than I did.’

My mom is one of those people who wants everyone to feel good: ‘Do you need anything? Can I make you a sandwich?’ My father was the guy who’d sit back and listen to everyone and then come in with the words of wisdom to sum it up. The worse I was, the better he was at handling it. I draw from my dad in everything I do.”

On their support …

“As a kid, I questioned religion. It didn’t feel right. It itched. I’ve constructed an unorthodox lifestyle by choice. But my parents are totally cool with it.

Their message is, ‘We may not agree with everything you’re doing, but first and foremost we love you.’

I’ve been very fortunate to always have that.”

On being a dad …

“I’ve never felt richer – I mean life rich. Kids illuminate you as much as you illuminate them. I’m prouder of the family I’ve built with Angie than anything I’ve done individually.”

On his family’s plans for Father’s Day …

Though the holiday is coming up next month, Pitt says with a laugh, “You have us confused with people who can think that far ahead. You’ve gotta get to us about a week before.”

On reaching middle age …

“I’ll trade youth for wisdom any day.”

On his pet project …

Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is building environmentally sustainable homes for low-income New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve gotten halfway to our goal [of completing 150 houses].

It started as a blank canvas, and now there are kids in the playground and families out barbecuing, and this nucleus of life taking shape. It’s a beautiful thing to see, man.”

Educating the kids:

“We tie their home-schooling to whatever location we’re in — the culture, history. Everybody was born outside the U.S., so we also do family trips to their respective countries.” The kids are taught the language of their respective homelands. “My Cambodian isn’t so sharp,” Pitt says.

On having more children:

“The door’s not closed.”

Committed carnivore:

Pitt scoffs at reports he’s a vegan. “Oh, man, I’ve got to have a steak! I’m trying to eat a little healthier, though, because me and pizza get along so well.”

What Pitt and Jolie tell the kids about being adopted:

“Everything’s on the table,” Pitt says. “We say, ‘Mommy and Daddy are so happy to have found you.’ We talk about their time previously, so they can get their arms around it.”

Why he wants a big family:

“I had a friend in college who had [seven siblings], and we’d go to his home over the
weekends. I remember saying, ‘If I ever find the right partner, I’m going to do it big.’ When Angie and I got together, I didn’t see any reason to wait around.”

On giving back:

Pitt donates millions to humanitarian causes. “Look, man, I hit the lottery. I’ve got a responsibility to spread that wealth.”