BRAD PITT IS AFRAID OF SHARKS – by Lynn Snowden
And he’d love a Tiffany stained-glass window, and he’s been known to steal a sandwich right off a man’s plate. Confessions from the actor’s roof.
It’s a shame that Brad Pitt is about to move into a new house, because, on the roof of his current place in the hills above Los Angeles, he had created a very cool bachelor pad. He’s got a sofa up here, a coffee table, a CD player, a lamp, and some candles.
“What if it rains?” is the obvious question when you this sort of setup.
“It gets rained on,” he says.
He’s brought up some CDs-Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Cracker, Gipsy Kings-which the player occasionally rejects. “Too much rain, maybe,” he says, gently coaxing one in. Always considerate, Pitt keeps the volume down in deference to his neighbors.
On the roof, you learn things that you didn’t know. That Pitt watches Baywatch. He gets into strange positions when he sleeps and often has vivid dreams. Though he’s never had the actor’s nightmare, he has forgotten his lines. He only kills spiders if they’re in the bed with him. He likes to dance. He doesn’t like to eat-it takes up too much time. And he’s really, really afraid of sharks.
“Unbelievably so. They’re just eating machines!” he says, almost shuddering. “They have no idea that they’re takin’ a life, or takin’ some guys leg.” Pitt is really looking forward to Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. “You see a shark bite the half of a surfboard. And the surfer goes down! And his leg…”
“And you’re afraid of this or you’re intrigued by it?”
He considers this awhile. Bob Marley playing low in the background. “Well, I’ll tell you. If I’m floating on top of the water, I’m definitely thinking about it. Ever been diving? I’m talking 120 feet, 90 feet, pitch-black, you don’t know what’s around you! It’d scare me to pieces. I’d be scared shitless! But I’d have to do it! They have these dives where you can go feed the great whites…”
The thought evidently inspires him somehow, because he gets up from the sofa and does a little interpretive dance on the roof. He is quite the dancer.
Pitt is taller than you’d expect, easily six feet, and he’s thinner. He’s trying to keep 155 pounds. He and Ben Stiller have been talking about going on tour with the Rolling Stones. “I’m keeping my weight down for Mick,” he says. “This woman that I’m kinda hanging out with, she thinks Mick is it!”
Pitt is currently sporting long, extremely blond hair that is mostly tied back in a ponytail: The effect is that of a rock musician on his day off. The blond hair came about when he wanted to strip out the dark color it was dyed for Interview With the Vampire. When his hair was leached halfway through the process, he saw it in the mirror, liked it, and called a halt to the proceedings.
He’s in his downtime, having recently wrapped Interview, as well as the western drama Legends of the Fall. A lot is riding on both films; a lot is riding on him to give them a high profile. His commercially successful screen work thus far has been as a costar or less-as Paul Maclean in A River Runs Through It, his fifteen minutes in Thelma & Louise. The films in which he’s starring roles-Kalifornia, Johnny Suede-have not been so successful. Now, as the vampire Louis, it’s Pitt, along with Tom Cruise, who is supposed to carry Interview.
“I don’t know much about acting,” he says. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doin’. I just don’t.”
“He’s telling you the truth,” says billionaire David Geffen, the man behind Interview. “He was insecure on the shoot. He always thinks he’s not doing well.”
Interview director Neil Jordan says that on the set there was a sort of cloud that hung over Pitt: “He was totally immersed in the role. A vampire never sees the light, and that’s how Brad was in this shoot.”
“He has very definite instincts about what he does,” explains Edward Zwick, who directed Pitt in Legends, another physically and emotionally demanding movie. “It’s true that on the day (of the shoot, he would immerse himself in his role). But he didn’t insist on being called by his character’s name on weekends or on riding home from the set on horseback…”
“’You are the devil!’” Pitt rasps. “’We belong in hell!’”
He chuckles and shakes his head. “Do you know how hard it is to say lines like that?”
He seems happy for a break from the attention. Tonight he’s going to meet some people at a club called LunaPark, to listen to his friend Dermott Mulroney’s band. Pitt’s mode of travel is a “Jeep Cherokee thing. Four-wheel drive. Beat-up, dented up.” He’s parked the truck a little too close to a brick planter, and as I’m gingerly attempting to wriggle in with such limited clearance, he races around to the driver’s
side, dives across the seats, and shoves my door open as far as it will go-smashing it loudly into the planter.
“I was trying not to dent your door!” I say, mortified.
“Screw it! I mean, look at this thing! It’s covered in dents,” he says. It’s true. The paint job has deteriorated to a dull black. The inside is grimy and littered with debris.
“Isn’t it a beaut?” he says, patting the dashboard as if it were the neck of a horse.
“Two, Sweet & Low,” Pitt says at the door of LunaPark. I think he’s making a joke about ordering coffee to go, but he smiles-the Sweet & Low Orchestra is the name of Mulroney’s band. “I’m not that funny,” he says. He steps aside after retrieving his change to allow me to walk ahead through the door, an unconscious gesture of someone who was brought up well. Mulroney, who is married to Pitt’s Johnny Suede costar Catherine Keener, spots Pitt and greets his warmly. Mulroney plays cello and mandolin; his brother, Kieran, plays violin; the band also includes Thelonious Monster’s Zander Schloss and the Pogues’ James Fearnley. Everybody settles in at a table, and Pitt tells Dermot that he’s just come back from Belgium.
“Have any good waffles while you were over there?” asks Mulroney.
“No, man,” says Pitt. “Strictly Eggo all the way.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“Toaster Strudels are good,” says Pitt. “I recommend the cinnamon or blueberry flavours.”
“Mother’s milk,” agrees Mulroney.
It would seem that the Brad Pitt diet relies heavily on a toaster.
“And a Snakmaster,” says Pitt.
“You don’t watch nearly enough late-night TV,” he says. “You take two pieces of bread and whatever else you have in the house and throw it in and smash it down.” He laughs. “I lived a whole summer on that.
” When I mention something about cooking, Pitt nearly jumps out of his chair.
“That’s even worse. First you got to plan your menu. Then you got to go to the store, pick everything out, then you got to buy the groceries. Then you got to take them home. Then, if you’re preparing meat, you got to leave it out maybe a little bit, then you go to make the food, then you got to eat it, then you got to clean it up. Then you got to start it all over! It’s like you’re always foraging for food!”
So if food and cars aren’t important to him, he must get a kick out of buying things for the house.
He stiffens up. “Now someone had to tell you that,” he says slowly. I tell him no one did; in a magazine article he once urged the writer not to make his house sound weird, so I wondered if he really cared about the things inside of it. Pitt is now tapping his lighter on the table.
“Ah.” He takes a swallow of beer, contemplating how this will look in print. He lights a cigarette. “Yeah, yeah, I do. I can’t justify spending twenty grand on a truck. But on a Tiffany stained-glass window? If I could get one for twenty grand? I could completely justify that.”
He says his original goal was to be an advertising art director. But at the University of Missouri, “they were doggin’ all my ideas,” he says of his teachers. “They wanted the straight thing and it was really boring.”
He quickly realized that he wouldn’t make it at an ad agency. When he hit on the idea of becoming an actor, he spared his parents both this news and the fact that he was leaving school two credits shy of graduation, and announced instead that he was moving to California to go to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He endured the usual spate of weird, waiting-for-a-break jobs (driving strippers to work, among them) before landing the role of J.D. in Thelma & Louise. His parents eventually learned the awful truth about his career as an artist, though Pitt has continued to teach himself about architecture and design.
“The quality of things, if they’re handmade,” he says, “really impresses me. Just to have furniture made from first growth-trees, which we don’t have anymore. The texture’s different and the wood’s different. It’s a big difference from the little bitty grain we get here. The home is very, very important, especially now, as this thing,” he says, meaning fame, “builds and builds and gets completely out of hand. Proportion, materials, light, perspective.” Pitt seems to know more about what makes for a solid building than for a solid performance.
“He doesn’t know how good he is, which is probably a good thing,” says Geffen. “Brad will be bankable after this. Redford did a lot of films, but it took Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to make him a star. With Tom Cruise, it was Risky Business. Interview will be Brad’s movie.” He pauses to deliver final confirmation. “His price has more than doubled since the picture.” Another dramatic pause. “I hear it’s up to three and a half million dollars.”
“Oh my God!” I exclaim. “Have you seen his car?”
I suggest a word-association game. Pitt smiles, lights a cigarette, and whispers, “Go.”
“Born with it,” he laughs. “Oh, in my youth! Many beers ago.”
“The new James Dean.”
“Blue screen,” I say, a reference to Cool World.
“How about, Never again.”
“The $6,000 orgasm,” which is the way his part in Thelma & Louise has been summed up.
“How about, I wish.”
Pitt was a young thing in Springfield, Missouri, the first time he saw a naked woman. “Somewhere in early elementary school,” he says, “we found a house that was being built, and we found a stack of the old Play-bonys at the site. Well, I was very impressed. I was just so overwhelmed.”
Not long after, he got the talk. “Two little kids up the street kept using the word fuck, and I asked my mom what it was, and that’s how we got into that whole sex talk. She told me, ‘We don’t use this word, this word is slang, but we do use the phrase “sexual intercourse,” and here it is.’ With the diagrams.” He takes a sip of a beer. “I remember vividly, at that time, being horrified.”
By the seventh grade, young Brad became the host of make-out parties in the Pitt basement, fixing up the place with a couple beanbag chairs. “The girls usually overdid it with flavoured lip gloss,” he says. “But we didn’t know it at the time. We thought it was fine!
“My mom always made a lot of noise before opening the door to the basement. She’d call down, ‘Brad? Can I come down and get something out of the freezer?’ He grins. “Of course, you had to wonder why Mom needed a frozen steak at 10 o’clock at night…”
I ask him if he was the type to dance only to slow dance numbers at school dances. “Oh no,” he says. “I did ‘em all. ‘Cause
that’s your first initiation into…” He smiles and flicks his finger on and off repeatedly. “Yeah, I have some vivid memories. That’s your first closeness.”
“So how old were you when you lost your virginity?”
Tap, tap, tap goes the lighter. Pitt laughs and fidgets. The subject is closed.
Pitt is going to eat dinner tonight, an exciting possibility, since it’s been three days and I’ve yet to see him consume anything other than bee and cigarettes. “Yeah, it’s pretty strange,” says his actor friend Michael Rapaport, who met Pitt when they work together on True Romance.
“One time, I went to his house and all he cooked were these tiny little steaks and cut-up tomatoes.”
The clock radio clicks over to 7:59 as Pitt arrives, prompt as always.
“You like barbeque?” he asks. The plan is to pick up some food and take it back to his house so that he can show off his 30-odd chameleons.
He drives past a restaurant with outdoor tables. “See that place? I once stole a sandwich from there, right off a guy’s plate! I had just moved to L.A., and I was driving with a buddy of mine when we saw this guy getting a big pastrami sandwich. It sure looked good, and I said to my friend, ‘Let me off down the street.’ Well, I walked really slow past his table, then grabbed the half of the sandwich that was still on the plate, then dove back into the car! It was the funniest thing! The guy just looked so surprised!”
At the barbeque place, Pitt gets two slices of cream pie (“one for breakfast”), along with a large barbeque sandwich and a side order of beans. He darts into a liquor store, emerging with a pack of smokes, a bottle of Evian, a couple of wineglasses. “I haven’t done dishes in a while,” he says.
The sun has already set as we pull into his driveway, so he digs up a light and several extension cords and we head out to the wooden enclosures on the side of the house. “Chameleons get dull in cages,” he explains, shining the lights on the sleeping reptiles. “But out in the open, oh my God.”
Isn’t it obvious, I say, for an actor to own chameleons?
A shadow of confusion crosses his face.
“You know, the ability to change.”
“But these don’t do that,” he says. “Their colors just get brighter.”