Meet Brad Pitt’s Secret Weapon
By Lili Göksenin
36 minutes ago
Jean Black, a makeup artist who never gives interviews, talks about working with Brad Pitt and his famous face for almost 30 years, and what it is that makes him so special.
You’ve probably never heard of Jean Black but she’s been behind the scenes with Brad Pitt for over 27 years, a quiet cog in the machine that is his career—and an integral part of his personal life. Black is a makeup artist who has worked with Pitt on about 30 of his films (they recently counted it up for fun), all of his editorial shoots, and all of his red carpet events. Needless to say, a working relationship like this in Hollywood, the most fickle of towns and industries, is very very unusual.
Black’s relationship with Pitt is endearing. She talks about him like he’s a real, true friend because, well, that’s exactly what he is. She’s camped with him on a boulder for A River Runs Through It, trudged through mud for Fury, and been with him throughout his incredible personal and professional rollercoaster of a life. She’s had the kind of experience with a celebrity that just doesn’t exist for most normal people. She’s the one in the trailer with him, she’s the one holding cold spoons to his eyes when he’s tired and looks it, she’s there when he’s falling in love, and there when he’s getting divorced. And she has something (many things) to say about why Pitt is so lovable. Furthermore, she’s the ultimate authority on what exactly it is about Brad Pitt’s face that churns us all into a frenzy. Reluctant to take too much credit for her life’s work, Black insists that Pitt’s appeal is largely due to his charm—to some kind of magical charisma that he himself is not aware of. We talked to her about some of his most iconic movies, what it’s like to be friends with the ultimate celebrity, and how working with Pitt is the easiest job in Hollywood.
GQStyle: How did you meet Brad? How did this get started?
Jean Black: In 1990 I got called to do a movie called Cool World and they told me that there was a young guy in it—a young actor—and his name was Brad Pitt. It started a long journey for us together.
I would say you’d never think in a million years that you would be with someone 27 years and almost 30 films. To have travelled the world with him…It’s a whole life that I would never have thought possible. It’s pretty unusual for someone like Brad, or someone in that position, to be so loyal.
Really? Do you know anyone else who’s been with their groomer as long as you’ve been with Brad?
Monty Westmore was with Paul Newman for, oh my God, for like 45 years or something? Julia Roberts had Richard Dean for quite a while. It does happen and when it does it’s lovely. It says a lot about that person.
How did your relationship evolve after that first movie?
After Cool World I did a movie and I think Brad was up for A River Runs Through It. At that time Brad didn’t really have the star power to ask for a personal, or to ask for me to come. But as it turned out, someone dropped out of the film in the makeup department and so they did end up calling me. I went and was the head of the department and then the next movie came up. I haven’t done every movie with Brad but once I really got started with him as a personal, we’ve done pretty much everything we could together. Like I said, his sense of loyalty is quite unusual. He’s had the same manager even longer than me.
Brad and I are both loners. We had kind of a sense of we could enjoy bing in the same room without having to talk all the time. Although now that I think back I did for some reason always want to talk to him while he was reading or trying to sleep. But anyway like I said it’s kind of a rare duo, a rare thing to have someone in his position…there’s so much attrition in this business, it’s so much about personalities and egos. You can easily be with someone great one day and then the next 5 movies down you’re out. It’s a a little bit of a conundrum at times to me, Lili, but you know it’s kind of something that you can’t really explain. It just happens. There was just a real copacetic type of thing in terms of humor and things we like.
[My computer starts beeping loudly, and I apologize for all the noise]
No, I love that you’re having computer problems! Lili, I never do interviews, I’m not that good at it. I try to be. But there’s a reason why I’m behind the scenes and that’s because I really don’t like to draw attention to myself and if there’s a reason why I’ve lasted as long as I have, it’s because of that.
The makeup trailer is like Las Vegas: what happens there stays there. You have to be very careful, um, about things, and all that. When you asked me to do this story, I wrote Brad and he said it was OK, I’m sure because he knows, in a way, I was going to be tortured by it. There’s a prankster side of Brad that loves to put me in the limelight when he knows I’m just mortified by it.
What’s your relationship like?
Brad and I do things in life. He and some friends will come over to the house and have drinks here or I’ll go over there. I’ve spent more time with him and all these years than anyone else including my family. When you’re in a relationship like that you have to have it be sort of a family situation and also a professional situation as well. When I’m working with him I try to be as professional as possible, but it’s pretty obvious to people that he and I are quite close. He’s there for me and I’m there for him. Just recently I had an accident and he was there for me. Those kind of things—especially when you’re away from home and family—are very important. He knows that I’m always there for him should things come up and something always does come up one way or the other!
I’ve transitioned with Brad from his early days through all these years and many things have transpired, and life has brought the greatest things and sometimes the most devastating things. You’re there with that person and there’s just a bond and you’re able to share. You know, it’s beautiful. He’s such a fantastic human being.
Do you remember a turning point for him fame-wise, and I guess also for you?
I remember going to the premiere of Thelma and Louise and sitting there in the audience and thinking wow, I’m really watching a phenomena about to explode. And I remember going to the reception afterward and I was like yeah this guy’s going somewhere. It was like Beatle-mania in the early days. Thelma and Louise was a real Moment. Then came Se7en, Fight Club, True Romance (which I didn’t do) it just exploded.
Brad is one of those people who when he walks in a room you think you wouldn’t notice but you do. It’s a charisma that he never really knew he had. That’s part of the charm of it, that he really doesn’t see him self that way.
What are your favorite Brad Pitt projects?
I did love A River Runs Through It just because we both had our dogs and we camped out on the boulder when we were shooting. And I loved Snatch when we were in Europe. I loved Se7en—that movie I actually headed the department, it was such an iconic movie. I love The Assassination of Jesse James even though not that many people saw it because it was so long. I was bummed that not that many people saw it. Seven Years in Tibet was incredible, too. It wasn’t necessarily a big movie with critical acclaim or whatever, but it was such a beautiful experience.
But on the other hand I loved doing Fury. That was an incredible experience and it really was like being on the battlefield. Slushing through the mud and the rain. He looked like a turtle, he was in that tank and he would stay in there for about 6 hours a day. But you know, it was a great experience.
My colleagues mentioned that on our shoot in the parks, it seemed like you didn’t have to do much more than put cold spoons under Brad’s eyes. Is that really all you have to do?
People have always said to me—which I laugh about, it’s our little secret and Im going to keep it—they say “Jesus, you have the easiest job in all of Hollywood!” And I just smile and say, I surely do. Somehow in a movie he just looks the way he looks.
You won’t reveal how much you have to do with that?
No! There’s so many things that people don’t know. It’s a whole psychology; it’s how you deal with people. I can see Brad from 20 yards away and I can say OK today I’m not going to talk. That’s our job. It’s all about how you can tell a situation and you know how to respect it and how to respect an actor. As long as that’s reciprocal it’s a great job. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be there.