Oscar nominee Brad Pitt made his first TV appearance in an episode of the hit show “Dallas.” Now, 25 years later, he’s a household name for his work in movies — and for his relationship and life with Angelina Jolie.
Charlie Rose recently sat down with the start to discuss why he says his life in the past year is as good as it gets and why he worked so hard to make the acclaimed movie “Moneyball.” The transcript of the interview follows.
Charlie Rose: This is a story of obsession for you…what was it?
Brad Pitt: It was a story of an obsessive character and I was obsessive about getting it to the screen. It was this idea of value and our self worth and how it is often tabulated by a failure. And you look at the Billy Bean character, he had been completely devalued by his sport. He was playing for a small market team and had to rethink the game. And had to question why we had been doing the things we do for so long. And in doing so, found this whole other talent pool of other people who had been devalued, and they started winning games. They got a second chance, and they started winning games. I thought it was a story we’re telling now about success and failure.
Charlie Rose: You felt a kinship with him.
Brad Pitt: Yes, definitely. He was emotional about the games. He couldn’t even watch the games. He didn’t want to cloud his thinking. I understand that to some degree – there were just attributes about him and this push and this need to make things fair, to find a level playing field. If we’re gonna compete, let’s make it fair. And I’m a bit of a justice nut.
Charlie Rose: We’re now in our fourth or fifth week on this show and we showed this movie to our staff at the beginning just to say here’s someone going against the odds and against expectations.
Brad Pitt: And that you can actually win in unconventional ways…
Charlie Rose: And it didn’t go so well for him in the beginning…
Brad Pitt: No, he was labeled a heretic, a fool…until they started turning it around and started winning.
Charlie Rose: When Billy Bean saw this that you had won an Academy Award, was he pleased?
Brad Pitt: A nomination…
Charlie Rose: Right, yes, a nomination. I’m getting ahead of myself here. What was his reaction, did he think you got it?
Brad Pitt: I think he’s quite pleased. He knows it’s a film and we’re trying to capture the essence of this time and I think he’s proud — it’s given him a chance to reflect on that time. And I think it feels nice.
Charlie Rose: Does the kinship you had make the performance better?
Brad Pitt: Yes, because you feel familiar with it. So you can put a lot of yourself into it.
Charlie Rose: What has a family added to your career?
Brad Pitt: Family has added everything to it. In a strange way, if I look at the work, the work has gotten better because I worry less about it – I mean it’s not as important as family. Family becomes the nucleus, the source of joy and the source of worry. And it takes any pressure of self-absorption you’ve — we can have in our business, and it just evaporates. So it makes it freer.
Charlie Rose: And it also makes the performance more intense because you have less time.
Brad Pitt: That’s right. (Charlie talks over him) Yeah, we gotta get going I gotta get the kids back. We’re gonna get it right and we’re gonna get it right now and let the chips fall where they may.
Charlie Rose: If you hadn’t adopted, it would’ve been a far different life…
Brad Pitt: It certainly would’ve been (Charlie: for you and for them). Yes, absolutely. I mean, absolutely. I don’t know that they would (in one case might not have lived). I hate to say it but may not even be here. And I think of the joy that we have in our family because we are together and I just couldn’t imagine.
Charlie Rose: There is that kind of attitude.
Brad Pitt: She’s still a bad girl. (Charlie: Still a bad girl?) Yeah, delightfully so. Well, it’s not for
Charlie Rose: And she’s still a risk taker — being a director, producer, there’s still this shared attitude about life.
Brad Pitt: Sure. We get one shot at this thing, as far as I know. …I don’t wanna have any regrets when we get to, you know, when the time’s up. We try new things, and the same for our family. She’s such an amazing mother. She’s so inventive at home with them. And I’m just so happy that they have her.
Charlie Rose: I’m so struck by this relationship you both have with your careers, when you’re filming she’s with you, when she’s filming you’re with her (Brad: And they’re with us). Is that easy or difficult?
Brad Pitt: Well they’re quite used to a little jet-lag and moving to a different location and as long as we’re together — you know the home is always intact. (Charlie: Do they take their own blankets with them?) They have their own bags and they’re responsible if they leave their chargers behind and so on and so forth.
Charlie Rose: Tell me about your learning experience, how has the sense of craft changed for you?
Brad Pitt: I feel…by…through experience I can jump into any role I have some connection with and do a decent job, where before it was much more erratic hit and miss because…and you’re still perfecting your craft but it’s much more interesting now and it’s become much more personal. I feel like I have something to contribute.
Charlie Rose: And you’re as proud of your lesser known films as your blockbuster ones?
Brad Pitt: Sure. Sure. Absolutely, and yet I like Jonah Hill’s “Superbad.” I’d put them at the same level.
Charlie Rose: How are your efforts to help victims of Katrina going?
Brad Pitt: I keep saying this — it keeps exceeding my expectations. We got in there as a justice issue at a rage…people were put in a dangerous situation living behind inadequately built walls and told they could live there and build on a slab and people were killed because of it. And we felt a need to make that right – to just do it right. Do it right the first time so we won’t suffer from these kinds of catastrophes – and by the way it’s a lot cheaper. So we got into low income housing and saw a great injustice in there — toxic materials and shotty appliances that ran up a utility bill. So we wanted to address this was well with a sustainable kind of home of dignity. And now what we see, there will be millions of these families that’ll want to return. The neighborhood’s vibrant again. But these families who once experienced $300 utility bills are now $30, $7, a processing fee to tell them they owe nothing. And it’s amazing what it’s freed up for their family to invest in (Charlie: So it’s restored confidence about living) Absolutely, but there’s something bigger that’s happening there now, it’s that we’re building these homes at a competitive price for any substandard home. So, there’s no reason to build any differently. So now we’re at a point where we’re launching another fundraiser to complete New Orleans – or at least our initial commitment, and to expand this and take this into other areas. And we’re looking — we have a project in Newark now, and looking at other places in the United States.
Charlie Rose: The project is to redefine low income housing in a way that does what?
Brad Pitt: That it’s built sustainably and at a competitive price. I mean you talk about a game changer — I think that’s a game changer. And it’s time for us to – we’ve learned so much on this project to build other nucleuses around — I mean this is where we gotta go.
Charlie Rose: But you’ve had this passion for architecture before Katrina. I’ve heard stories.
Brad Pitt: Yeah, I’m a bit of a fanboy…especially with Frank.
Charlie Rose: But what about architecture has made it fascinating to you?
Brad Pitt: It’s a sculpture at a scale that we can actually be on the outside of it and the inside of it. It defines how we live and move through a city or move through our homes, how our lives function. There’s a great science behind it, and – which is why I was able to call on all these great architects to come down to New Orleans and address the real problems of the area, from the climate to housing conditions. And it’s been a great success.
Charlie Rose: When you called, were they responsive?
Brad Pitt: Yes, and you know it’s part of I think the architects quest — not just to build amazing iconic things for rich people, but to answer the needs of anyone and everyone is the true call of architecture.
Charlie Rose: You’ve been to the White House. You know the President. You support the President.
Brad Pitt: I wouldn’t say I know him. I’ve been able to meet him (Charlie: You’ve had a conversation). Yes, I am absolutely a supporter.
Charlie Rose: Is there a role for the federal government here?
Brad Pitt: Well, you know, HUD helped us out a lot. HUD is doing some great uh…uh…things in this direction, but I think it’s gotta be the national program. Let’s just make the shift. Why are we still paying – you know, exporting so much of our GDP, half a trillion dollars to support this dependency on oil? Why are we still fighting it with our military? Why are we still polluting the environment? It just makes no sense anymore.
Charlie Rose: Do you have those kinds of conversations with politicians as well as friends?
Brad Pitt: Yes, I had a great conversation a couple weeks ago about it with the vice president actually.
Charlie Rose: And he’s responsive to the idea?
Brad Pitt: Very much so.
Charlie Rose: You’ve mentioned in the next few years experimenting with other art forms.
Brad Pitt: Yes, maybe architecture is one of them if they let me in. But yes, I’m looking…you know I’ve – my nature is to try different things, and I’m happy with that exploration. I’m happiest. There’s just some other things I wanna dabble in.
Charlie Rose: But you’re also a guy that doesn’t like five-year plans…
Brad Pitt: Oh yeah, it’s not specific. (Charlie talks over him) Not at all. Not at all.
Charlie Rose: If someone said tomorrow you’ve got to give up acting that would be a hard day for you?
Brad Pitt: Yes it would, because I’m on the producorial side now. I’m developing stories that I think resonate with our time in some way and I feel like I’m now more than ever clear about what I can add to this great art of storytelling that I get to participate in.
Charlie Rose: Explore that a little bit with me.
Brad Pitt: Well, you start learning vernaculars – a film’s tone, language of film, and what stories are personal to me. And if they’re personal to me I know they’re going to be personal to someone else out there. I don’t know how many people, but I have more to offer now than ever. So I wouldn’t wanna jump out (Charlie: And this is why “Moneyball” spoke to you?) Yes, yes Michael Louis’ book.
Charlie Rose: How did you decide to get off the couch and be different?
Brad Pitt: You get so sick of yourself. You see the beauty and opportunity out there. You see — witness the hardships and the suffering of people, and that we gotta participate.
Charlie Rose: Was there ever a point when you thought people were admiring you as much for the craft as the way you looked?
Brad Pitt: Oh I don’t know. I never really dissected that one that much. I never really thought about it.
Charlie Rose: Is it easier for men to age than it is for women in Hollywood?
Brad Pitt: Career opportunity wise, I think there’s a longer shelf life for majority of men than women. I think it’s — I think they have struggles that we don’t. But then you look at Meryl and she’s (Charlie: Unbelievable) as great a work as any man or woman out there. And she’s doing it now.
Charlie Rose: Do you have a role model — Paul Newman for example?
Brad Pitt: Yeah, I think we can learn a lot from his example. And if I get anywhere near that I’d be pretty satisfied.