Vogue – April, 1992

BORN TO BE BRAD – by Shane Watson

The making of an American classic actor Brad Pitt.

Everyone thinks an actor has a story to tell. If he’s blond haired and blue eyed, unshaven but not too rough, dimpled but not too cute, with a look like he’s chewing on a matchstick and a bashful, half-shielded grin—then you can guess most of it already. He’ll be older than he looks [twenty-seven]; raised in the Midwest [born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, moved to Springfield, Missouri]; working class [Dad runs a trucking company, Mom keeps house]; he’ll play guitar [and mandolin]; love his dog [red coon hound], and really was christened Brad Pitt.

This is a boy with the power to steer a woman off course. “I was looking for a ‘male’,” says Ridley Scott, “whom Thelma would see as an outlet to a world of freedom that she had never experienced. Someone that she would see from the safety of her car at a traffic light and think, ‘What if…?’ Or, ‘I wonder what that would be like…?’” Thelma and Louise was the road blockbuster of ’91 and, along with Wild Turkey, indigo skies and the ’66 T Bird convertible, it brought back the good old-fashioned lure of the cowboy drifter in the tight jeans and cap-sleeved T-shirt, tipping his Stetson and scuffing his snakeskin boots. “Uh-huh,” grins Thelma. “I just love to watch him going.” Brad more than played the part—he cruised it, sashaying in front of the camera, pretty as you please, making his night with Thelma one all of us would remember. Then the name-calling began: James Dean, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman in Hud—Brad, shrugging and pouting, was primed for the part of brooding American youth. He was signed up by Robert Redford, by Ralph Bakshi, creator of Fritz the Cat, by aspiring downtown auteur Tom DiCillo. Meanwhile he landed the boys’ own equivalent of the Lancôme campaign; to be the face—and the fit—of Levi’s. Rescued once again by a flirt in a convertible, Brad undertook the requisite reverse striptease outside a Mexican jail, and sped off into the sunset to the strains of Twentieth Century Boy… “You’re my toy, my Twentieth Century Boy.” Only originals stand the test of time, reads the slogan over the rising dust. But what Brad’s got has been tried, tested and reconceived as frequently as face cream… the all-American good bad boy.

This year’s model answers the door of his rented Amsterdam hideout looking suitably rough and unready. The responsibilities of being cast in the wild-cat mould have not been lost on Bad, who has rigorously perused the textbook of gestures and behaviour patterns that separate the drapes from the squares. Wandering through the detritus of a night spent jamming with the boys, wearing only the long johns he slept in, he scratches absentmindedly at his washboard torso.
The furniture extends to some cushions on the floor and various abandoned instruments.
He was once quoted as saying that he set up a tent in his LA apartment and slept on the floor because the bed was “mushy” [shades of Crocodile Dundee].
Here there’s a mattress, but we’ve got the message. “I surely don’t mean no disrespect to Mr Dean,” he drawls in a voice too slow, too tactile for everyday purposes. “The thing about LA, any new guy that comes along, they compare him to Brando and Dean… They don’t get real inventive.” What Dean had besides his looks was the intractability of the delinquent child: he might love you till sun up or he might break your furniture and then sob himself to sleep on your knee. Brad’s got the will, if not the wayward soul. He flexes restlessly like a kid called in from a good game, and stares long and often into the middle distance, conveying the impression of someone anticipating great difficulties or, perhaps, having some immediate problem remembering the question. Dean was what you saw in him. But now, since the US has given its movie stars unprecedented diplomatic status, they are required to be not just perfect physical specimens with the stamina of racing camels, but thinking, caring, intelligent, real people.

The strain is telling. Brad furrows his brow, draws his head down between hunched shoulders and checks his notebook for “things he wants to get across” should the conversation stray in the direction of his career “because it’s about so much more than just some movie, y’know.” There’s the way animals behave when confined in small spaces, and the “real interesting” implications of that for the human conditions. There’s the necessity for honesty in relationships [his girlfriend is Juliette Lewis, much feted for her role in Scorcese’s Cape Fear, who likes to tape their arguments on a Camcorder]; the importance of accepting that happiness is not a destination but a way of traveling. “When you’re sitting here, y’know, you have a real responsibility—there’s people listening to what’s coming out of your mouth.”

So here we have Brad the troubled hero. In Johnny Suede, released here in June, an offbeat production by Jim Jarmush’s former cinematographer Tom DiCillo, he plays a dreamer with an image problem. Suede punches his girlfriend, cries like a baby, reveals his inexperience in bed, his awkwardness with women, things that DiCillo found other actors weren’t prepared to do; at times he seems almost retarded. Brad’s character in Robert Redford’s film A River Runs Through It is similarly confused, the blackhearted boy from the Blackfoot River. Then, in Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World, he’s the clean-cut World War II veteran who, unable to cope with reality, flashes out into a place of suspended animation where he gets an untouchable doodle for a girlfriend—Kim Basinger impersonating Jessica Rabbit. Cue more angst and confusion. “But he’s always a man about it,” says Bakshi. “Not like that affected stuff you get from the brat pack.” Brad brings us back to the American Classic. “When he came into the room,” says Bakshi, “what I saw wasn’t a Mercedes Benz or a Cadillac… it was closer to a Chevy. He reminds you of a kid in a convertible, driving down a strip—he reminds me of what America’s lost. Everyone else is into shopping centres and fast Corvettes, but he’s a real guy—he’s out there driving round the country in a station wagon.”

Brad shifts in the driver’s seat. “I’m not a hundred per cent happy with my record, you know. I’ve got a lot to learn,” he says. “Actually— don’t wanna talk about it.”