Rolling Stone – May 14, 1992

HOT ACTOR – by Jay Martei

Dogging it with Brad Pitt, the good ol’ bad boy from ‘Thelma and Louise’

Last year, Brad Pitt attended the premiere of Cape Fear as the date of his
girlfriend, Juliette Lewis [see Hot actress, page 54]. Pitt was hanging out
on the sidelines while Lewis did her publicity stuff when a bank of harsh lights
zapped him in the eyes. “Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt,” a voice called from
behind the blinding lights, “can we ask you a few questions?” “Well,
sure,” Pitt said. “How does it feel to be on Beverly Hills, 90210?”
the voice shouted. Pitt started laughing and said, “I’m not on 90210.”
The lights shut off as suddenly as they had turned on, and the cameras were
quickly carried away. “I mean, just like that,” Pitt says. “Fade
to black. I got a kick out of that.” Pitt, a twenty-eight-year-old actor
from Missouri, has never played a troubled, good-looking rich kid named something
like Brandon or Dylan; he did, however, play a troubled good-looking cowboy
named JD in the movie Thelma and Louise. JD was on the screen for about 15 minutes,
but everyone who saw the movie remembers the performance, during which JD gave
Thelma her first orgasm and stole her last dime. “The giant step of Brad’s
career,” says Pitt, using a mock narrator’s voice, “was Thelma.”
He returns to his own Missourian drawl: “I figured it would be a role
like JD—something I’m good at, a Southern guy—that would make
the break. It basically opened the door for some kind of respect, working with
all those great people.”

Pitt stars in three movies that will be released in the next six months: Johnny
Suede, a droll, low-budget comedy of manners; Cool World, a live-and-animated
Ralph Bakshi voyage into a parallel cartoon universe; and the screen adaptation
of Norman MacLean’s classic novel about families and fly-fishing, A River
Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford.

“Brad’s a very instinctive actor,” says Johnny Suede director
Tom DiCillo. “A lot of actors are busy putting up clouds of smoke, but
you can see right into him. I think he’s going to go far.”

“Brad is a throwback to what I thought Americans should be like,”
says Ralph Bakshi. “Like the guys who hit the beach at Iwo Jima. He can
also act. He’s going to go places.”

“I keep having this dream that someone wants to borrow my toothbrush,”
Pitt says, peering from beneath the brim of a camouflage hat. He’s kneeling
next to a bathroom sink with a screwdriver in one hand, screwing a porcelain
toothbrush holder into the wall. It’s home-improvement day at the ramshackle
three-bedroom house in West Hollywood that he recently rented with his buddy
Buck Simmons. “No kidding,” Pitt says. “Five nights in a row.
It’s a different person in each dream. I just watch them brushing their
teeth with my toothbrush and cringe.”

Once the blue plastic no-doubt-Freudian symbol sits securely in its holder,
Pitt leads a tour of the house, explaining his vision of things to come while
three happy-looking dogs race around, a blur of pink tongues and skidding paws.
Pitt sees a croquet court in the front yard, an archery rage along the side
and a basketball court in the driveway. “We got the hoop,” he says.
“We’re putting it up this afternoon.” One room is jammed with
musical instruments and recording equipment. Another is virtually empty, except
for a few boxes. Harsh Southern California sunlight glares through the windows.
This turns out to be Pitt’s room. His bed is a foam pad on the floor of
the closet. “It’s still a little bright for me out here,”
he says.

Pitt was born in Oklahoma and raised in the city of Springfield, Missouri.
His mom, Jane, describes the family as “very close-knit.” Brad’s
dad, Bill, worked until recently in management at a trucking firm in Springfield.
In highschool, brad did a little of everything—team sports, debating,
student government, small parts in the school musicals. In college at the University
of Missouri, where he majored in journalism with a focus on advertising, he
acted a little in fraternity “Spring Fling” shows. But even when
he left Missouri to go to Los Angeles in 1986—just two credits short of
graduation—no one really had any idea that he’d become an actor.
“No one was surprised, though,” Jane Pitt says. “He’s
just someone who’s always liked to try new things.”

Leaving his home state was easy once Pitt realized that he could. “You
don’t really get it into your head that you can leave,” he says,
“because… I don’t know. Not too many people leave. Till it
was about time to graduate and it just dawned on me—‘I can leave.’
It would be so simple, so easy. You load up the car, you point it west, and
you leave. And everything’s open.”

From his arrival in Southern California—his pretext for coming was attending
an art school that he never actually set foot in—Pitt was convinced that
he wanted to be in movies. While studying acting, he supported himself by driving
strippers around in a limo, delivering refrigerators to college students and
collecting money for the policemen’s ball. His closest brushes with professional
acting during this time were work as a movie extra and a stint as a giant chicken
standing in front of el Pollo Loco, a fast-food chain [the chicken suit had
eyes in the neck]. “At the time, it was all exciting,” Pitt says,
“though I wouldn’t want to go back and do it now. Even though I
am still sleeping on the floor.”

Pitt sits at the kitchen table, filling the frequent pauses in the telling
of his Midwestern-boy-makes-good-in-Hollywood saga by restlessly changing the
CD playing in a nearby boombox. “There’s another cliché,”
Pitt says. “I was in an acting class. A girl in the class needed a scene
partner for an audition for an agent. So I was the scene partner for the audition,
and I ended up getting signed.” The dogs’ paws click on the kitchen
floor as they stampede through, and housemate Simmons brings over a plate of

“This is the guy who’s got the story,” Pitt says. Simmons,
on a break from college, was traveling through Montana last summer when he saw
an ad looking for a fly-fisherman who could act. Simmons auditioned along with
hundreds of Montanans and landed a speaking role in A River Runs Through It.
Since then, Pitt and Simmons have been hanging out a lot, and now Simmons is
in Hollywood, trying to make it in acting, too. “Right place at the right
time,” says Simmons, bringing over a plate of fried eggs.

The three dogs—Deacon, Earl and Maggie—charge back through the
kitchen, growling and sniffing at each other. “Look at these dogs,”
says Simmons.

“Yesterday, Deacon had to wear the Shoe of Shame,” Pitt says. He
caught Deacon chewing one of his shoes out in the yard, so he tied Th high top
around his neck. “He was completely humiliated in front of his buddies.”

“All the other dogs were like—“ Simmons says.

“’We don’t want to hang out with this guy,’”
Pitt says.

“So he goes and hides in a room till we took it off,” Simmons says.

“Now Earl here,” Pitt says, “his tail is exactly at coffee-table
level. Everything you leave on the table gets knocked off.”

“Earl’s got no legs, but he’s got a big ol’ head—“
Simmons says.

“A short man’s complex,” Pitt says. “He sniffs Deacon
and goes, ‘I used to have those.’ Deacon hangs his pride in front
of Earl and makes him feel bad. Maggie could care less.”

You get the feeling that Pitt and Simmons could talk like this for hours about
nearly anything. “That’s what happens when you go for a long time
without a TV,” says Pitt.

Pitt’s first “real job” was as “an idiot boyfriend
who gets caught in the hay” on Dallas, a role that was followed by other
bad-boy episodic-TV appearances, such as a guy who takes advantage of a girl
on Growing Pains and motivates the moral of the final five minutes. In 1989
this trend toward male scalawaggery reached its villainous pinnacle in the role
of a white-trash pimp-druggie named Billy in the tabloid-style NBC movie of
the week Too Young To Die? Billy takes advantage of a young teenage runaway
named Amanda [played by Juliette Lewis], hooking her on drugs, beating her and
selling for sex. In one typical scene, Billy slaps Amanda and snarls at her,
“You run from me again, I’ll kill you!” It was the beginning
of a beautiful relationship—Pitt and Lewis have been involved ever since.
“Yeah, it was quite romantic,” Pitt says, deadpan, “shooting
her full of drugs and stuff.”

Pitt sounds a little awe-struck when he speaks of Lewis’s talent. “She’s
got an amazing range,” he says. “Real powerful.” Although
he and Lewis share a cutthroat profession, Pitt says there’s little competition
between then. “Our lives are not our work,” he says. “Don’t
get me wrong—I’m not saying it’s not difficult, ‘cause
your ego will slip in. But you can catch yourself and cut it off. You communicate.
You say, ‘Hey, I gotta tell you, I’m having this problem here.’
It takes it all away.” Lewis and Pitt’s relationship seems to be
on a firm footing: They’ve signed on to appear in the same movie, which
in Hollywood is a sign of commitment that exceeds buying a couch together. In
the movie, titled Kalifornia and directed by Dom Sena, Pitt will play, surprisingly
enough, a good-looking scoundrel.

Pitt says he was the third choice for the role in Thelma and Louise that would
change his life. [The first choice for JD, William Baldwin, left to star in
Backdraft.] Pitt was called in by director Ridley Scott, read with Geena Davis
[“I just sparked,” Pitt says] and three days later was on the set
with a cowboy hat on his head.

“Ridley would let us play around a lot,” says Pitt. “He’d
just say, ‘Okay, we got that one, now let’s try something else.’
And the final product was almost entirely based on the paying-around stuff.”
Even though Thelma and JD scatter a lot of little liquor bottles in the course
of their torrid onscreen lovemaking, Pitt scoffs at the notion that there was
anything truly bonerific about shooting the sex scene. “You’re on
the set,” he says, “and it’s like ‘Cut! Come here—you
got a zit on your butt.’ And I’d be like ‘Aw, gawd.’
And you’re standing there”—he stands with his hands on the
kitchen counter, his backside sticking out—“and this makeup lady’s
going like this with a toothbrush”—he bends over and scrunches his
face, dabbing meticulously with two fingers extended at the place where his
butt used to be.

“It just makes me laugh,” Pitt says. “It’s the classic
thing—you know, before a school picture you get a zit. That sums it all
up for me. That’s how sexual, romantic and passionate it is. I mean, how
serious can you take it all?”

Pitt experienced a similar less-than-glamorous movie moment during the shooting
of Johnny Suede. One scene required his character, Johnny, a pompadoured rock-star
wanna-be, to pee in a bucket. Pitt faked it for the cameras, but when the shooting
was done, the soundman still needed the sound of piss hitting the bucket. Pitt
volunteered. “There’s fifty crew members standing around,”
says director DiCillo, “and a boom girl standing there next to the bucket
with a microphone. And Brad just pulled out his pecker and pissed for twenty-five

“I still didn’t get the sound I wanted,” says Pitt, ever
the perfectionist.

Because Thelma and Louise had yet to be released and JD had yet to slink into
the hearts of millions, DiCillo went against the wishes of his “money
people” when he cast Pitt in the lead role of his movie. So did Ralph
Bakshi when he went with Pitt for the lead role in Cool World over many Hollywood
“names.” “I had seen about 200 actors for the part,”
says Bakshi. “Like, everyone. Brad walked in the room, did a reading and
blew me away. I thought he was the only one who could do this part.”

Shooting Cool World provided its own challenges, like acting with invisible
costars who would be drawn in later. “If you have an ego,” Pitt
says, “You’ll lose it, just having to do this”—he puts
his arm around an invisible girl and kisses the air—“with all these
people standing around. Pitt had to act love scenes and fight scenes all by
himself. “It just became a dance,” he says.

After shooting an entire movie in a studio, it was a relief to play a fisherman
in A River Runs Through It. Pitt plays Paul, the brother who’s great at
fly-fishing but bad at fitting in. Pitt, who’d had plenty of experience
playing misfits, mostly needed to work on the fly-fishing. He started practicing
his casting with a fly rod on top of buildings in Hollywood a few weeks before
leaving for Montana. “I’d hook myself in the back of my head all
the time,” he says. “One time, they had to dig the barb out with

Beyond learning such essential skills as fly-fishing, Pitt says that he doesn’t
believe in excessive preparation for a role. “Most actors can get kind
of silly,” he says. “Wackadoos, most of us. Part analysis, part
preparation—I usually end up throwing most of it out the window. Once
you get on set, you go on instinct, on impulse. You have all these grand theories
about your character, but I never really understand them until I see the movie,
and then I say, ‘Oh, that’s what that was about. That’s who
he was.’”

Pitt as been reading a lot of movie scripts, looking for that rare well-written
character who tries. “The typical hero with the cool one-liners just doesn’t
interest me,” he says. “I’d rather see people dealing with
problems, trying to get around them. There’s places for both kind of roles,
but what respect is this thing of seeing people trying.” After about a
year of reading scripts, he has finally found a couple of movies that he would
like to act in. If one of them works out, it will be his first job in almost
a year. “I’m in no hurry,” he says. “You start thinking
that you gotta start picking the best of what’s available. Tricky business.

“A funny thing happens that I just now became aware of, and I really
believe it’s why some actors don’t keep doing what they started
out doing,” Pitt says. “All of a sudden, these people are telling
you you’re worth this, you’re worth that. You’re worth more
than you feel and what they’re telling you is that now you have something
to lose. And so actors start operating out of fear; they’re scared to
do that, they’re scared to do this, emphasizing all these other elements
that have nothing to do with the art. It’s a business, bus business can’t
be the main emphasis.”

Part of the business, of course, is hype. Pitt has had to deal with the James
Dean comparison, which haunts every wiry young Midwestern actor with cool hair.
Some people have even gone so far as to speculate that the dead icon is alluded
to in the initials; JD. And how about that peeing thing? Didn’t Dean take
a leak on the set of Giant to prove he wasn’t intimidated by Elizabeth
Taylor? Pitt shrugs off such comparisons, saying, “I don’t know
why you’d want to pattern your life after someone who’s not a survivor.”

“People have been asking me, ‘what is it like to be a star?’”
he says. “That’s when you gotta get all coy and humble and say,
‘Gee, I don’t feel like a star.’ It’s work—that’s
all it is. You’re still stuck with yourself.”

The basketball backboard isn’t going up as easily as the toothbrush holder
did: The flimsy metal brace that came with the kit is sagging under the weight
of the backboard, and the hoop hasn’t even been screwed into it yet. “It’s
no good,” says Simmons. “Flimsy piece of shit.”

“Very disappointing,” says Pitt, slowly bouncing the basketball
on the dirty cement driveway. Then, suddenly, he charges down the driveway toward
the hoopless backboard, dribbling maniacally. Simmons guards Pitt closely, practically
pushing him into the fence while trying to swat the ball away. Then, with an
abrupt move that scatters tools and metal parts, Pitt whirls to the backboard
and slam dunks the ball through the invisible hoop. Without even trying.