Hounded for years by celebrity-chasing photographers, Brad Pitt can't escape his star status in real life.

He tries to on film, though, forgoing leading-man roles to subsume himself in ensemble pieces such as `Snatch' or to play subordinate roles in films like `12 Monkeys' and `Interview With the Vampire.'

After a couple years of burying himself in what he calls `more obscure and subversive things', `Fight Club,' `Snatch' and `The Mexican', Pitt chose some more commercial and accessible projects.

He co-stars with Robert Redford in the espionage thriller `Spy Game' and plays one of the marquee-name cogs in the casino-heist remake `Ocean's Eleven,' featuring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia. And there's his Thanksgiving night guest spot opposite wife Jennifer Aniston on ``Friends'' (playing a high school enemy of Aniston's character).

`You could call it shameless self-promotion in conjunction with a film release, and that's part of it,' Pitt said, referring to the TV episode airing a day after `Spy Game' opened. `On the other hand, it's working with my wife, which I wanted to do, and working on this show that has this incredible ability just to make you happy.

`The third factor is, I see laughter as very important in this time' considering the terrorist attacks, Pitt said. `If we're entertainers, and some would argue with that, but if we are, let's get out and entertain.'

Pitt, 37, spoke over a burger, fries and a couple of cigarettes, after requesting this interview to respond to fallout from recent comments he made in print.

In its December issue, Vanity Fair ran a cover story on Pitt in which he discussed going into therapy off and on for a year and a half. Misreading his quotes, some TV and online outlets reported that Pitt admitted having a nervous breakdown. Vanity Fair issued a news release stating that Pitt did not have a breakdown and that news organizations had misinterpreted his statements.

Such misinterpretations are `reckless journalism,' said Pitt, who studied journalism in college. `I know it's a competitive market and everyone wants the scoop. But to me it's a dangerous road we're going down. I don't see a bull's eye on my back. ... But it's OK for me. I'll be the fruit loop of the month, if you want me to. I don't mind, really.'

Another magazine article early this year, when Pitt's `The Mexican' hit theaters, had the actor calling former President Clinton a phony over how he handled his extramarital flings.

For the record, Pitt said he remains an admirer and that his comments were taken out of context. The `Clinton is a phony' quote came during a discussion of how Americans do not `want our leaders to be human or completely honest,' Pitt said. `We need them to fake their way through it.'

`The last thing I wanted to do was participate in any kind of Clinton bashing,' Pitt said. `He's been my absolute favorite as long as I can remember. Out of respect to him, I want to set that straight.'

And for the record, Pitt said he did not have a nervous breakdown. He intended his comments as a positive discussion about how he benefitted from therapy.

`Nothing more than taking a class on yourself, a semester. It doesn't mean you have to be in some psychological peril or have these problems from childhood that are dictating your life,'' Pitt said. `I found it actually a very positive experience, and I chose to talk about it because I believe if everyone did it, we'd have very few conflicts. I certainly don't think we'd be at war right now if everyone had a couple of semesters on themselves.

`I found it as something very exciting, a redirection of understanding,' Pitt said. `The other issue is this. As I begin a family, as my wife and I begin a family, I don't want to pass on any dysfunctions, no matter how minor or innocuous they might be. I don't want to pass that disease on to my kids. I want to get as clean as I can for them.'

Which begs a side trip to another false news report last summer, that Pitt and Aniston, who married in July 2000, were expecting a baby. Pitt said they plan to have children, but that's down the road.

`I don't know how near that is and won't know any time soon,' he said. `I don't want to go there till I'm absolutely ready to put them first. On the other hand, I keep saying anything that will take the focus off myself, I'm all for.'

Pitt was referring to the media microscope he's been under since shooting to stardom with a supporting role in `Thelma & Louise,' following up with one of the leads in ``A River Runs Through It,'' directed by Redford.

His past romances and breakups, notably with Gwyneth Paltrow, have been steady tabloid fodder, and reporters and photographers staked out the site of Pitt and Aniston's wedding for days.

`Brad has it worse than me about being chased,' said `Ocean's Eleven' co-star Clooney. `I get followed around pretty good. But I think he gets it worse. It depends on how you handle it. He's a gentleman. He's a nice man, so he handles it really well.'

Pitt found it creepy, when camera-toting paparazzi first began chasing him. He's learned to accept the photographers as part of his daily routine.

`It's just become another fixture in the life,' Pitt said. ``My day starts out, I have my coffee, kiss my wife goodbye, hop in the car, head down the hill. Then I look out for the guys, I know where they park, where they're watching. Sometimes, I don't catch them till I'm down on Sunset somewhere. I see them in the rearview mirror. Always minus their license plate in front. They follow, they're all on cell phones. There's usually a team of three different vans or SUVs, tinted windows. The M.O.'s pretty cardboard cutout really.

`It's this game most of the time. It's just waving and like, `Come on, boys.' That kind of thing, driving across town.'

As Pitt learned from `The Mexican,' superstar status generally prevents him from satisfying his indie-film sensibilities.

Playing an Irish bare-knuckle fighter in `Snatch,' Pitt was able to disguise himself well among an ensemble of co-stars. `The Mexican' was meant as another independent-minded film until Pitt and Roberts signed on. Their star power overwhelmed the project, raising expectations to impossible heights for what, at heart, was a quirky art-house film about a road trip in search of an antique pistol.

`I think that was our mistake,' Pitt said. `I don't call the film a mistake. I call a mistake our attempt to think that we could do something along those lines and keep it small and gonzo and let whatever happens happen. You know, just too much baggage. Too much importance was placed on it because of our participation.'

Still, you won't hear a lamentation over the horrors of life as one of Hollywood's top stars from Pitt.

`Let me say, I've got a fantastic life,' Pitt said. `I've never enjoyed it more than these last few years. I want that clear. It's not difficult to take millions of dollars and get to work with interesting people.'