Finding a new design for life
By Giovanna Grassi
Photographed by Carlo Allegri and John Russo
He’s the best looking. The best paid. The luckiest guy. This is Pitt the star. But «the sense of adventure that lies within any man of intelligence» provides him with a stimulus for change: «I like the commitment being a producer requires». «And I have a strong interest in architecture». The idea of becoming old? «I’ve no fear of that. My children have seen me looking bent and toothless, and for them I was still just daddy»
He’ll be 48 in December, the lad from Oklahoma whose naked torso entered the annals of Hollywood legend back in 1991 with Thelma & Louise (1991), where he personified a new virile, very physical general ion of actors. It’s now time for him to draw breath, and he tells Style: «My whole life has revolved around change, in the sense of growth, of a quest for identity».
He’s always been a chameleon-like figure, most effectively on the screen, during what has in many ways been an exemplary career, since the days of Johnny Suede by Tom DiCillo, where he was the naive, hopelessly ambitious young guy from small-town America dressing and combing his hair like his idols from the music business in New York: to say nothing of the shifts – in every sense – cinemagoers were treated to years later, in Benjamin Button, directed by his good friend David Fincher, where in a series of flashbacks we see him moving back and forth between old age and youth, between past and present. It is thus hardly surprising that in a chat after the premiere of the film Moneyball, adapted from the Michael Lewis bestseller and directed by Bennett Miller (Truman Capote) – Pitt should say: «I really love this story about baseball, which I was determined to produce no matter what, because it turns losers into winners, and it’s all about how life changes, the rules of a sport, the spirit of a team of players. It’s an authentic story, a story about sport, but above all about people. As the New York Times pointed out. it may also be food for thought for businessmen, predatory managers and politicians, an invitation to relied on the need to change a lot of the rules off the finance and power gamebook».
Have you undergone many transformations during your life?
I’d call them «successions», shifts that have taken me from what I once was to what I am today: the man that shares his life with Angie, the man that cultivates a series of humanitarian interests. A man that’s light years from the newbie I was when I arrived in Los Angeles with a sense of adventure and the desire to turn my life around: I had $300 in my pocket, an ageing Datsun, a rucksack on my back and a philosophy: head West and don’t look back. I’d studied journalism, but I was planning to enrol in an Art College in Pasadena, and I did every kind of temp. job going, including working dressed as a chicken for a restaurant chain. I began volunteering back then too, in a school for Hispanic and black kids who’d grown up in neighbourhoods where crack was part of everyday life.
One of the most talked-about changes in your life was the move from Jennifer Aniston to Angelina Jolie…
Change becomes necessary when you no longer feel fulfilled by the prospects your life as a couple offers.
You and Angelina have six children – is this the shift from Brad the sex symbol to Brad the patriarch?
I can’t imagine my life without them; they’re an inexhaustible source of growth for me too, a sort of mirror I see myself reflected in.
Is it true you’d like to win an Oscar for them too?
I’d like to have won an Oscar as producer of The Assassination of Jesse fames… I lost a lot of money on that film, but it’s one I’m proud of. Sure, if I brought home a statuette I’d make the whole family proud.
In your new film, your character says: «I hate losing more than I love winning». Do you ever think this in your own life?
Baseball’s not like life, where there are no rules governing changes other than time and the passion you invest in it.
How has becoming a father changed your life?
Gradually, and radically. Bringing up children who speak different languages and were born in different cultures is a huge lesson in equality for everyone, starting from myself.
Do dreams about fulfilment and identity change over the years?
When I was very young I believed above all in the American dream, in the privilege of having been born in a country that offered opportunities and continual changes. Now I look at the world without any dividing lines, and this too is a fundamental change to the perspective on life, one that gives you the desire to offer those who don’t have choices the chance to go down a different road.
Now that your 50th birthday is just around the corner, how much has the guy that grew up in Missouri changed, as an actor and as a man?
As regards the cinema, I’ve always adopted a chameleon-like approach: I’ve always made the variety of characters played my trademark. That’ll probably be less the case from now on. although at the moment I’m acting in a film about zombies, World War Z, which all my kids are thrilled about, because they’re really into that kind of «creatures». Much as I still love motorbikes and Valentino Rossi, I’m now a guy with a white beard, physically very different from the tireless actor I was on the set of Seven Years in Tibet. Basically, I consider myself – as I did when I was younger – a free man, even as regards my inner conflict.
Foundations is a term that also links up with your passion for architecture. Where does this interest come from?
Houses rest on stable foundations, they’re the living materials our lives are based on. Many great architects have been and continue to be a model for me, because they have constructed living space. Architecture is both a conceptual and a concrete art, it’s an expression of life. I’m thinking of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Steven Ehrlich and John Lautner, to name but a few.
Have you ever bluffed your way through any stages and changes in your life?
No. Like the manager I play in Moneyball, I’m capable of making difficult choices. I believe I’ve shown humility and courage at the various stages of my life. The revolutionary fervour of my character resembles my own, and a lot of research went into it.
You led a very different life before your arrival in California…
When I was a boy I never thought I’d make it as an actor. I wanted to go to college, study, develop all my interests, such as those regarding social issues. In the last few years I’ve gone back to doing that to a full extent, and it’s wonderful to be able to share my life and my interests with Angelina.
Which directors played the biggest role in shaping Brad Pitt the actor?
Each of them made their own contribution: Tony and Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. Robert Redford was certainly fundamental for me in 1992, because the person I was at the time was virtually one and the same with the character I played in A River Runs Through It. Above all there was that exceptionally close relationship with nature, which is very much a part of my life.
Has your belief in friendship remained the same as it was?
Definitely. I’ve never been a rival for my friends; I think it would be great to be in the ninning for the next Oscar awards together with George Clooney, and in Toronto, after the showing of Moneyball and The Ides of March, the film he directed and acted in, when we read that we were rivals in the movie business, we had a good laugh, as old friends do.
You’ve travelled all over the world with the cinema, and then with Angie and your children. Where would you most like to live?
I’m happy in Los Angeles when it’s not overrun with paparazzi: it’s a big city that offers a huge range of stimuli from both an architectural and a human perspective. There are lots of neighbourhoods I love, starting with Los Feliz, where I bought my first home. I also feel at home in New Orleans. The first time I went there was for the film Interview with the Vampire, and it was thrilling to explore the place, to start falling in love with it, and to dream, years later, of homes with solar panels, built with ecosustainable materials.
What is it about New Orleans that appeals to you so much?
I went back to shoot other films there, including Benjamin Button, and I found my relationship with the city hadn’t changed. There’s something mystical and mysterious about it that wins me over every time.
What are you most afraid of losing as a result of the changes life might have in store for you in the future?
The stability and the health of my family.
What do you find least appealing about today’s society?
Those people who peer into the lives of others, and those who discriminate on the basis of race, culture, religion or personal choices. It saddens me greatly to see thousands, indeed millions of people in the so-called civilised world dying of hunger, or because they don’t have access to the right medicines, or because of contaminated water.
What are the most important things in your life?
The ability to love totally and the opportunity to be with the people I love.
Moneyball is based on the story (and on the victory) of your character, the manager, and his young assistant fresh out of Yale (played by Jonah Hill). What qualities do these two men have that you can see in yourself?
Their determination to change the rules of the game and their ability to be there on the field yet at the same time off it.
Do you really believe, as you said at the start, that your life has been a continual succession of turning points?
Yes. but I think I’ve always been able to complete each stretch of the road before changing direction and going down a new one.
You grew up in a Baptist family. Are you a practising Baptist?
Yes, I am, and I respect all other religions.
What is it about your work in the cinema you still get a kick out of?
The contribution I can make to creating a film: it’s like building a house, like laying the foundations of something destined for the community. And what really fills me with pride is when the audience, in all its variety, ends up accepting and adopting this great collective effort.
Is there an episode you think sums up the way in which you’ve matured?
The day my children came to see me on the set of Benjamin Button and I was doing a scene in which I was made up to look very old: white-headed, toothless, bent by age. The kids didn’t bat an eyelid when they saw me like that: to them, I was still just their daddy. It was an extremely happy «a-ha» moment for me. because we should never, ever be afraid of change.