BRAD PITT’S COOL WORLD – by Jeff Giles
Since he played the thief who hitched a ride in Thelma & Louise, Brad
Pitt has been hot property. Now, with three films, the actor proves he’s very
much his own man.
Brad Pitt doesn’t know this, but at one o’clock in the morning, as we were
leaving the swank Atlanta resturant where much of the following interview took
place, our waiter tugged at my sleeve and whispered, "Remember Thelma &
Louise? Remember Brad’s love scene with Geena Davis? Everybody I know wants
to be in Brad Pitt’s shoes or Brad Pitt’s pants."
There may be one or two people who are not aware of last summer’s Ridley Scott
film. For instance, the woman who transcribed the tapes for this interview kept
hearing Thelma & Louise and kept typing down Dom De Luise. Well, you can’t
reach everybody. But in most inhabitable corners of the United States, there
was a buzz about Pitt’s sly and vivid turn as a hitchhiker-thief. Remember when
he said "Well, now, I may be an outlaw, darlin’, but you’re the one stealing
my heart"? Or, "Well, now, I’ve always believed that, if done properly,
armed robbery doesn’t have to be a totally unpleasant experience"?
Pitt’s performance in Thelma led to work in a landslide of films, both great
and small. This summer he stars in Tom DeCillo’s Johnny Suede and appears with
Gabriel Byrne and Kim Bssinger in Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World. The former film
is a surreal, oddly endearing, low-budget outing in which Pitt plays a pompadoured
young singer who wishes he were a teenage idol but is instead a hapless dope.
The latter is a swirling mix of live action and animation in which Pitt figures
as a ’40s-style detective in a double-breasted suit. Pitt has also finished
work on Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It, which is based on Norman Maclean’s
meditation on life, brother love, fly-fishing, and more fly-fishing.
And when I caught up with him in Atlanta, Pitt and his girlfriend, Juliette
Lewis, were shooting Kalifornia, in which Pitt plays a hillbilly serial killer
named Early Grace.
enough already. In person, Brad Pitt, who is twenty-eight and a native of Missouri,
is laid back, charming, and extraordinarily inquisitive. He’s a good deal brawnier
than one would expect, and he has such good posture that he sometimes looks
as if he’s bending backward. Pitt seems modest. He seems to have a healthy capacity
for awe, especially in regard to acting and love. He seems to eat a lot. At
one point I asked him what he thought a person’s goal should be, and he said,
"Killing your buttons," which I think means controlling your temper,
or your paranoia, or your arrogance, or whatever else keeps you up at night.
Pitt seems to have killed most of his buttons.
Where interviews are concerned, Pitt belongs to the Lockjaw Generation, that
great wave of young actors who will hint at psychic baggage but not actually
discuss it. Pitt’s own brand of reticence makes sense, though: He believes one
can know too much about an actor. He wants to disappear into his roles. (When
I visited him, he had gained twenty pounds for the part of Early Grace, and
he was ecstatic that he had just chipped his front tooth on a Mountian Dew bottle
because it made him look more like a serial killer.) In short, Pitt doesn’t
want audiences to get distracted by his true life trivia. One brezzy night,
as he drove me around Atlanta in a rented Mustang convertable, I asked him who
his favorite actors were, and he rattled off John Malkovich, Robert Duvall,
and Christopher Walken. Pitt was wearing torn jeans, a black T-shirt, and a
Ratsa-style knit cap he had found lying on the street in L.A. I then asked what
he knew about his favorite actors, and he smiled, worked the gas pedal with
his hiking boot, and said, "Not a single thing"
Pitt is often evasive, but there’s always a twikling, old-movie-star elegance
to his evasions. His me’tier is the generalization, the intriguing, half-baked
remark that he decides to explain (the phrase "killing your buttons"
comes to mind). At times, I would urge him toward specificity. Other times,
I’d just go with his flow. I’d let the conversation slough off it’s earthly
shackles. I’d watch it float toward some quasi-mystical twilight zone until,
frankly, I had no idea what we were talking about. Listening to a tape recently,
I realized that, at one juncture, I was talking about L.A. and Pitt was talking
about the Afterlife.
Toward the end of my stay in Atlanta, Pitt surreptitiously recorded this message
on my walkman: "Who is Brad Pitt? What is he really like? Is he that bad
boy who stole Thelma’s heart? Is he that redneck, hayseed Okie from Muskogee?
Or is he just that wacky next-door neighbor with a heart of gold? Jeff Giles
finds out in the next issue of Details."
I still got all these scars on me.
Yeah, I’m a little on the baby-butt side, so they had to rough me up for Kalifornia.
This guy’s gotta be scarred. He’s gotta have, like, a road map all over his
Is it fun to play a serial killer?
It’s dandy. Remember when you were a little kid? You get with a couple of buddies
and you hide behind a tree. Then, when cars go by, you throw eggs at them. Or
Yeah, I did that.
And if they drove on, you were kinda disappointed. But if they stopped-and
they chased you-there was that thrill, that excitement. I see a parallel there.
I noticed that in three of your movies you’ve played characters who beat their
Have I really?
Yes. Isn’t it difficult to understand a character like that?
No, I don’t see it as difficult. So what am I? For the record, I never partook
in slapping my love around. But you’ve got to know moments when…
When you get to that point. When the rage builds up and you take it out on
what’s there. You know? You may kick the wall, you may hit whoever’s closest.
What did you think of Johnny Suede?
I liked it.
You’re serious? It’s not a film for everyone. It takes more of life’s pace.
I mean, it’s not "Lethal Weapon 8." It walks uphill. It rolls downhill.
It stops and thinks for a bit.
If you become much more visible as an actor, you’re not going to be able to
do offbeat, low-budget films, are you?
I don’t see why not?
Aren’t your agents going to say that you’re worth more?
Let me tell you something. They’re always telling you what you’re worth. And
it’s usually a lot more than you feel like you’re worth. Know what I’m saying?
They told me not to do Kalifornia. I just knew it was right.
They must be thinking that you’ll never be this hot again and that you should
be cashing in.
You can’t just "cash in." It seems to me that you take a role…you
take a role because there’s something you kinda want to check out. You know?
In your own mind.
Can you give me an example?
No, I’m going to leave it there.
No, I think I dove too deep right there.
What did you want to check out about Johnny Suede?
I can’t believe how good this streak is.
What intrigued you about playing a killer like Early Grace?
O.K., I’ll tell you about Early. I haven’t had thoughts about hacking people
up or anything. But I did want to do a guy who had, like, a pinball machine
up in his head.
In general, you seem interested in characters who can’t get their shit together.
It’d be logical to assume that, on some level, you can’t get your shit togethr.
Do you see what I’m saying?
No, I don’t.
You don’t see my point?
This has gotta be fustrating for you.
Well, I don’t want us to start getting off on little life philosophies.
Do you have a life philosophy? Can you trace it back to your childhood?
Oh, yeah, completely.
Tell me about it.
I’ll tell you this, I love this steak, but I hit a chewy part. God, that’s
Brad, I don’t mean to badger you.
Oh, I know that. I can tell you’re a sweet guy. It’s just that a lot of things
are…sacred, almost. I will tell you that everything stems from growing up
There’s one from left field, huh?
Are your parents very religious?
I don’t like that word. They’re very dedicated, and I completely admire them
for it. What I’m talking about is growing up with someone else’s views. You
grow up believing certain things: Doctors always heal, or whatever. Then, one
day, some things don’t add up and the next day you lose your faith. It’s a scary
place to be.
Did that happen to you?
Yeah, I would say that it did.
Oh God, I don’t want to do this. It’ll break my mom’s heart. We’re very tight,
and we’ve spent a lot of hours talking about this. I think it would break her
heart to have it floating around out there, like garbage.
O.K. I respect that.
Another chewy part, amn. I was doing so ell before these last few bites.
Let’s change tack. What were you like in high school?
I was into everything, really.
Were you a good student? A troublemaker?
Were you a great guy? An asshole? A womanizer?
All of the above. You now: on the class cabinet, but getting suspended.
You left the University of Missouri right before graduation. How come?
‘Cause I was done. In my heart, and in my head, I was done.
Was your family supportive?
Well, they didn’t know that I didn’t actually graduate. They just found out
last year when they read it in a magazine article.
Why didn’t you tell them yourself?
Oh, you know, they plunked down all this money for my education. I didn’t know
if they’d understand that what I got out of college was very valuable, even
if I didn’t have the piece of paper to prove it.
After you left school, you drove out to L.A. and worked. You chauffeured strippers
around at one point. How did that happen?
I went to this place that had all these odd jobs, but they had flexible hours.
And they paid cash. But all that’s boring.
We’ve read this a million times about other people. It’s a cliche`. Everyone
has had to do silly little jobs. I remember when I first got to L.A., I read
about Michael J. Fox and how he had to answer a pay phone because he didn’t
have a phone of his own. I mean, everyone’s been through this. What’s interesting
to me now is that a kid who had never been farther west than Wichita, Kansas,
loaded up his car until he couldn’t even see behind him and drove to that crazy
city. I remember going to the Grand Canyon. I was thrilled by the whole journey.
Then I got into L.A., and there was so much smog, and I realized that I didn’t
know anyone. And I was like, God, this is kinda depressing. So I got a Quarter
Pounder with cheese and a large fries. And I got the newspaper and looked for
work as an extra. The first couple of nights, I had to crash in the car.
When did things start picking up?
It was all very gradual. But even getting work as an extra was exciting to
me. Looking back, it all seems very sweet. Real innocent, you know?
You met Juliette Lewis two and a half years ago, while you were playing an
abusive junkie on a TV movie called Too Young To Die?
My agents had been pushing me toward sitcoms. I knew that I had to find something
ugly and real so I could prove to them that they were pushing me wrong. When
Too Young To Die? came along, I knew I was going to get the part. And I knew
that I was going to be very good friends with whoever played the young girl.
It was just a feeling I had. Sometimes you get those little whispers in the
Not long ago, there was a gossip-page item that said you’d moved out on Juliette,
but you two have never even lived together, have you?
No, never. I honestly don’t know where they get that stuff. I wish they’d come
up with something original, like BRAD PITT: FORMER SKINHEAD.
Living together is a big step, because you can’t just move out if it doesn’t
work; you have to break up.
Yeah, you can jump into it too early because it looks all fun and grown-up.
But a lot of responsibility comes with it. I think we’re ready. We really surprise
me. You know all the pretty things that come with a relationship, all the things
you think you just gotta put up with? Out the window.
You’re not trying to tell me that you don’t fight, are you?
Oh, we fight. We’re staying in the room next to yours and were going to stage
a fight for you tonight. We were gonna throw things and scream, "Get out!
Get out! Get out!" Of course we fight. But I’m talking about getting around
it. I just see a more mature, dedicated love than I’ve seen around me, and I’m
quite impressed by it.
Is your age difference ever an issue?
I don’t see ages as relevant. You’ve got to see past the surface, you know?
Different people go at different speeds. Juliette, man – I’ve never seen anybody
sit more comfortably in a chair.
Do you sit comfortably in a chair?
No, I pace better. Juliette – she wants to make artichokes for the world. Sincerly.
She enjoys them, so she wants to make thm for everybody. Me, I’d rather munch
on my own in a corner somewhere.
How do you and Juliette feel about each other doing love scenes?
I don’t want to do anything that…that goes against me and Juliette. I mean,
they want you to bounce around naked and it’s just not needed half the time.
Watching porn is not sexy for me. Watching two people who love each other and
wondering whether or not they’re gonna get to it-that’s sexy. A coach I work
with, Roy London, says that in a movie about a child killer the scariest thing
is not watching the guy kil the child but watching a child sit on the guy’s
lap. ‘Cause you’re wondring if it’s coming. that’s scary. In Cape Fear, when
De Niro was sticking his thumb in Juliette’s mouth, that was scary.
How do you draw the line about how far you’ll go in a love scene?
Well, you live and learn. I read a lot of scripts, and I just don’t like where
some of them are going. People are always cutting some guy’s finger’s off. People
are talking about you, you know, "pussy." Most of the time, all that’s
just not necessary. I don’t havwe a problem with nudity in film, if it’s needed.
But I do have a problem with an actor and an actress just bouncing off each
other naked for no reason.
Why get naked if you’re not going to bounce off somebody?
Listen, nudity can be antiglamorous. Just look at Johnny Suede’s underwear.
I ripped forever to get those things to look like that. I stretched for hours.
I even wanted to put a skid mark in them, but they wouldn’t let me.
Your character in Thelma & Louise wasn’t exactly anitglamorous.
No. that’s why you follow a role like that with a role in skidmarked underwear.
You had a small part in Thelma, but it turned a lot of heads, didn’t it?
Yeah, Ridley really did me right when he gave me that role.
What did you think of your character, J.D.?
I loved the guy. He just had it figured out. He knew what worked for him, and
he was so damn nonchalant.
What did you make of all the buzz about your stomach muscles?
I just saw it as irrelevant. I thought it was silly.
Didn’t it have something to do with getting the public’s attention and getting
No, just the general buzz. It gave you an instant image, right?
Yeah, but as soon as you get an image, you gotta break it.
When critics wrote abut the movie, a lot of them obviously liked J.D. against
their better judgement.
Well, he fulfilled a lot of woman’s fantasies. Uh-oh. Can I say that? I’m saying
the character fulfilled their fantasies, not me.
You must have had people throwing themselves at you.
I guess I don’t get out very much.
Tell me about L.A. What’s your house like?
Kind of a Southern house. Hardly anything in it. Good porch.
Have you had problems with the paparazzi?
Not really. You give them time and you give them respect. Once in a while,
though, people will get greedy. they start going through your trash and you
want to punch someone in the throat.
Someone’s gone through your trash?
My buddy came home and found this guy in the trash. And the guy’s wearing a
suit jacket. So we’re not talking about someone who needs food. I mean, come
on. Punch him in the throat.
Cool World might make you an even hotter commodity. Is it a sort of Roger Rabbit
It’s like Roger Rabbit on acid. It’s much more twisted. It’s got an underground-comic-book
You play a detective who patrols the cartoon world.
Yeah. Cartoons and humans cannot have sex because it would throw off the balance
of the world. So my job is to stop them. I know this sounds crazy. Sounded crazy
to me, too.
Was it fun?
It was fun. But I got into some bad habits because I did most of the film by
myself. Behind a blue screen, you know? Acting’s magical when it’s fresh. Someone
throws something your way, and you catch it and you throw it back. It’s hard
to be impulsive when you’re working with a blue screen.
You’re not fanatical about "character work," are you?
Well, you can do all this stuff, but it’ll just end up in the toilet. I had
this crazy woman play my mom in a movie once. One night, she wanted to go out
for a walk and do some kind of character exercise. She wanted to be the mom
and she wanted me to be the kid. You nkow? I figured I’d give it a shot. We
start on this walk. She starts going, "So how’s little Betty? Have you
been wearing a condom?" I had to walk around three hours with this lady.
Biggest waste of time in my life.
You went right from Cool World to A River Runs Through It. I just read the
novella that the movie is based on.
When you got to the last page, it tore your heart out, right? Here’s a good
example of what we were talking about before. Here’s a kid who grew up in a
religion, who grew up with someone else’s views. But then he starts to find
contradictions and he eventually self-destructs. River just makes me so sad.
The guy needed so badly for his family-for his older brother-to understand him,
and they never could. You got a brother?
I have a sister.
You guys tight?
Tighter than we used to be.
I always had these dreams growing up. I’d wake up in a sweat, crying my head
off. You know? I’d be crying in my sleep, and it was always because something
had happened to my brother. But I used to terrorize that kid. I’d lock him outside
naked. I’d make him go get things and I’d time him. I’d say, "If you can
make it by twenty…" And then, just as he was running down the stairs,
I’d say, "Twenty-one, Aw, too bad. I woulda given you a prize."
So he must have been surprised to learn you were crying in your sleep.
He didn’t know. No one knew.
You shot A River Runs Through It in Montana.
Yeah. It was great. I camped out on the river. See, I can’t even do it justice.
I can’t tell you about…I’d get some food from the set and I’d go up to my
camp and make a fire. You know? And I had my dog with me.
Was it hard being away from Juliette? I find I can only stay away from my girlfriend
for so long.
Really? That’s beautiful. Really?
I’m not trying to impress you.
No, I know you’re not. Juliette and I talk constantly. I mean, sure I get an
ache to see her, but I really value the time away and I really value coming
What was wroking with Redford like? Were you intimidated?
No. Earlier on, I might have been. I might have felt a little bright-eyed and
green. But now it’s like a tennis match, where you want to play against someone
better. Now I just want to improve my game.
Did you tell Redford that you worshipped Butch Cassidy, or anything like that?
No, I never did. I didn’t have to. The truth is, hell, I grew up on his movies.
I remember seeing Butch Cassidy at a drive-in. I cried at the end, when they
died. I just remember that so vividly. I was really embarrassed and I didn’t
want my parents to see me crying, so I ducked down in the back seat and pretended
I was asleep.
What other actors do you like?
I love Malkovich. Robert Duvall. Christopher Walken.
Will you always be an actor?
I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll always enjoy it. I just want to enjoy things.
I want to enjoy my dog. I want to enjoy people-even silly, stupid people. I
respect that so much more than getting angry about things. I remember when I
first started out, I was real critical of some people’s acting. I’m talking
about a couple of actors who are huge at the box office right now. Anyway, I
couldn’t stand them. I thought they were just butt-awlful.
I still think they’re butt-awlful, but the thing is, who cares? Obviously the
public likes them. If they can make money and enjoy their lives, more power
to them. They might be doing butt-awlful acting, but it’s not for me to say.
Are you religious in any day-to-day sense?
I definitely have strong beliefs.
How would you raise your kids?
I think the key is not to treat them like kids. I think it’s gonna be the hardest
thing in the world to watch your kid fail at something, but I’m a firm believer
in trial and error. Every trial I’ve ever been through has made me all the better.
You know? I respect those trials. They were an alarm clock going off and saying,
"Get your shit together!"
As far as acting goes, do you have any thoughts about how big a star you’d
like to be?
And the answer is?
The answer is that I’d rather not talk about it. I’d rather just do it. You’re
beating your head now, I know. But L.A. is a town of talk, talk, talk. So many
people talk shit about what they’re gonna do. It never amounts to anything,
and I never believe it until I see it. So I’m a little apprehensive.
You must have thought about where all this will lead.
Oh, I have, completely. Let me tell you.
I’ll tell you that I’ve thought about it completely.