Brad Pitt is arguably the most famous actor in Hollywood, but one could argue that the source of his fame was not his superb acting talent, but his handsome look and his headline-grabbing romantic entanglements with Hollywood’s hottest female stars. His celebrity status as a hunky Hollywood icon soared into the stratosphere in 2001, after he married the equally beautiful and popular Friends’ TV star, Jennifer Aniston. In 2003, the implosion of that marriage and dating superstar, Angelina Jolie, catapulted him into Hollywood’s ultimate celebrity, generating more tabloid headlines than any other star.
Despite his immense fame and leading man looks, Pitt has spent much of his career trying to eschew bloated box office in favour of riskier, lower profile work. Following an impressive break-through performance in Thelma and Louise (1991), he actively subverted his hunky image by taking on ugly and often crazed characters in films such as 12 Monkeys (1995), Fight Club (1999) and Snatch (2001).
Pitt has also invariably tried to downplay his handsome, heroic looks off-screen. Hence, I was not surprised when he showed up to the interviews, both in Cancun and Toronto, wearing a scruffy beard, long hair and a T-shirt. But however hard Pitt attempts to melt in with the mortals, fans will continue to treat him like a God.
The night before the interview in Toronto, I watched how the crowd erupted in wild screams, shaking the earth beneath them, when Pitt, accompanied by his partner Angelina Jolie, disembarked his limo and walked down the red carpet to attend the premiere of his new movie, Moneyball. Pitt was visibly enjoying the adulation of the masses, bumping hands, signing autographs and exchanging words with swooning adorers. These moments, Pitt told me, remind him of the days when he waited, like his fans, to see his idols in the early days of his career.
“I remember, when I first started, that seeing people I respected suddenly made me feel special or something good was going to happen,” he smiles, reminiscing.
The superstar finds that invoking such joyous feelings in the hearts of his fans is very liberating. But he admits that fame, which opens so many doors for him wherever he goes in the world, can also be confining.
“I haven’t seen a hotel lobby in 15 years,” he exclaims. “I got to go up the ass end of the a hotel and out the same way. I’ve been in Toronto for 48 hours and I’ve only walked across the street to the premiere.”
“It’s a trade off, but we get our moments. It’s just the good and the bad,” he adds.
Indeed, unlike many of his peers, the 47-year-old actor is rarely spotted in Hollywood parties. Probably because he needs an army of bodyguards every time he ventures out of his home. But he says that he would rather devote his time to his young family.
Pitt is famously the father of six children with Angelina Jolie: Maddox, aged nine, who was adopted from a Cambodian orphanage when he was seven months; daughter Zahara, six, who was adopted from an Ethopian orphanage; biological daughter Shiloh, five, who was born in Namibia; Vietnamese Pax, six, and twins Knox and Vivienne, who are three.
“My concerns deal with family and safety and doing what is important to them,” he enthuses. “Angie and I talk about it. We made a commitment to raise a family together so everything else is secondary.”
His family, however, has not been a distraction from but a catalyst to performing in and producing high-quality movies.
“I actually enjoy it more than ever now. It’s been kind of freeing. It forces you to find projects that are worth investing your time in if it’s going to take you away from your family.”
Pitt has recently starred in Terrence Malick’s epic “The Tree of Life,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the true-life drama, Moneyball, which he has also produced. Moneyball has received glowing reviews and is already predicted to feature prominently in this year’s awards season.
In Moneyball, Pitt inhabits the character of Billy Beane, the manager of the embattled Oakland A’s baseball team. Faced by a certain demise of his club due to the loss of his best players to bigger teams, Beane, with the help of a Yale-educated economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), utilizes statistical analysis to recruit overlooked and undervalued players to his team. The outcome of his method changes the way the game is played and permeated other competitive sports and even businesses.
Penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, Moneyball changed directors several times before it was green-lit by Sony Pictures. In fact, the studio pulled the plug on the project after the first day of shooting with director Steven Soderbergh. But thanks to Pitt’s dogged support of the project, the studio agreed to give it another chance with a new rewrite by another Oscar-winning screenwrtier, AAron Sorkin, and a new director, Bennett Miller.
“We remounted and rebooted and started again,” Pitt smiles. “Being an unconventional story, complex material with sabre metrics and economics at the forefront of it, which is not necessarily nail biting, edge of your seat material, it was complicated to crack and it took this evolutionary period.”
Pitt’s passionate support for the movie stemmed from his determination to play Billy Beane, a fiercely competitive middle-aged family man, who, driven by a desire to win and reinvent himself, turned to management after failing to live up to expectations and become a baseball superstar.
“The film is about how we value things,” Pitt enthuses. “How we value each other and ourselves; and how we decide who’s a winner based on those values. The film questions the very idea of how to define success. At the end of the day, we all hope that what we’re doing will be of some value, that it will mean something and I think that is this character’s quest.”
Beane’s story resonates deeply with the Oklahoma-born and Missouri-raised actor, who dropped out of college in the early eighties and headed to LA with only $300 in his pocket to pursue his dream: a career in acting. Pitt took extra jobs in small movies before offers of small parts in TV shows gradually trickled in, which eventually lead to meatier roles on the big screen. Success, he insists, came after a long string of failures.
“I see failure as the next step that leads to the next win. I don’t hang on it too much because I see things as seasonal. I’m in a cold, hard, dark winter and then it’s spring again. I won’t make that mistake again. Right that and it leads to something else.”
The Troy star believes that he learned to navigate the maze of the film business through trying and failing.
“When we are starting out, we rely on the advice from people who have been in the business. Sometimes it’s good help and sometimes it’s not because only you can decide what’s best for you. I’d made a couple of decisions that I was told were in the best career-maintenance-wise. It was all the best intentions but because I wasn’t into it, I couldn’t service or help the project. In fact, I became a weight, a hindrance to the project.”
Pitt has just wrapped shooting his first zombie movie, World War Z, in the UK. Remarkably, the only zombie movie that he has seen is Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.
While not making movies, Pitt, along with Jolie, spends his time championing charitable causes around the world. They regularly visit and donate millions of dollars to victims of natural catastrophes or military conflicts around the world, including the hurricane in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan.
Speaking to Pitt, it’s evident that he loathes the vacuity of frivolous fame and wants to be remembered not for his sultry look, but for being a great actor, a loving family man and a generous philanthropist. It’s also evident that Jolie, who has infused his life with substance by introducing him to the troubled world beyond Hollywood, is the crux of his existence.