THE MIDDLE MAN - by
Brad Pitt, one of the all-time hearth-throbs, is happy to hand the baton to a
new wave of leading men and focus on lifting his own game.
Brad Pitt turns 40 this year. It is hard to believe the resident spunk trunk
to at least two generations of female cinema audiences is officially
middle-aged, but there you go: the years tick by for king and pauper alike.
Mind you, Pitt’s 40 doesn’t look much like yours or mine. The perfect chin is
firm, the brow as smooth as a teenager’s, the laugh lines vestigial. That
boyish charm is good for a while yet.
And right now, Pitt is groomed for Achilles, his starring role in Wolfgang
Petersen’s film, Troy, now filing in Malta, which has required him to grow
his surferblond hair to his shoulders and spend a lot of time in the gym.
Looking at him, I’d say there’s not much wrong with any of this; the one
disappointment is that the Greek fought on foot rather than on horseback.
Remember Legends of the Fall? Not the best film of all time admittedly, but
Pitt looks very, very good on a horse.
Ah yes, 40. A couple years ago, Pitt says in that breezy, lazy voice that
places him exactly midway between his Missouri truckin’ past and Californian
dude present, he and his wife, Jennifer Aniston, were arguing about how old
he was. This is hard to believe, but he said it. “I thought I was older than
I was; I had already missed a year,” he says. “We had to call my mum because
even with math and knowing the year I was born, I could not figure it out.”
Which makes him relaxed about the 40 landmark, because in his head he’s
already there. “Certainly it’s not like when I saw my mum go four-oh and I’m
like damn! You’re old! But you don’t feel any older, do you?” Except for the
wisdom, he says, with only the faintest glint of irony. He does feel better
about himself than he used to. Don’t we all? Surely we do.
Pitt reckons he is mid-way through his career. He hopes the choices will keep
getting better as he gets older. “The directions get clearer because new
guys come along and there is not that frenzy or that heat anymore,” he says.
“It’s like the haze clears and you can focus. And I guess I focus on the
work, not the game.”
His initial upswing, he says, happened with Thelma and Louise (1991), in
which he came in as third choice—well after William Baldwin, incredibly
enough, who left to play the lead in Backdraft—to be the hunky drifter who
gives Geena Davis a taste of sex and robbery. “Getting into it, I knew it
was quality,” he says. “It was being let in the door.”
His filmography since, however, has been a motley collection. Just before
he made Thelma and Louise, he starred in Johnny Suede as the eponymous hero,
an amiable but dopey style stud with a fondness for suede, alongside the
then unknown Catherine Keener.
“Then I did just a garbage film called Cool World which was a half-animation
thing. Then I went into a River Runs Through It (1992), which was another
It was, but as he worked across the genres—from Contact to True Romance,
from Twelve Monkeys to Sleepers—he rarely cracked films of the edginess
those first performances suggested. Even in recent years, for every Fight
Club (1999) there has been a Snatch (2000). As for Troy, he thought he had
a better leap in while he could still do a bit of incredible swordplay, not
to mention cutting it as a demi-god. “I do start thinking that way. And
say, ‘Fair enough, so let’s go all the way out on it and have some fun’.”
Fun means learning to fence; fun also, more surprisingly, means reading the
It seems terrible to say this should be surprising in anyone, but Pitt
seems such a midnight cowboy, such an aw-shucks kid come to the big smoke,
that you may forget—if you ever knew—that he was a journalism major at
college. It is great, he says, to have such top-notch material for working
on the character’s backstory.
And in those times between shoots, his big enthusiasm is architecture. It
has been his recreational study for more than a decade. “I’m a bit nutty
with it,” he says. “It’s a little preliminary to really get into it, but
I have what you might call a little Bauhaus group of guys and we’re taking
on some projects.”
It isn’t that he wants to stop acting at any point, more that he doesn’t
want to take up golf, “the sport of the religious right”, as he once put
it. You have to set limits on the Hollywood craziness somehow.
All this is, however, by the way. Pitt is really here to publicise
Dreamworks’ latest animation, Sinbad, Legend of the Seven Seas, in
which he gives voice to the flawed hero. That is one hell of an expensive
voice, given that Pitt’s quoted salary as Achilles is $26 million. It is
also rather a risky one because Pitt says himself that he has never had
that kind of training. “Certainly, voice is not my strong point,” he says,
comparing himself unfavorably to Joseph Fiennes, who voices Sinbad’s
long-lost childhood friend. “people who have worked in theatre, where there
is a lot of emphasis on the voice, have worked out the kinks. I haven’t had
that, so I was surprised when I was asked but I thought what the hell, I’ll
give it a shot.”
Why? Because he could see that animation was hot; that was where the
technical innovation was happening and that good actors were getting
into it as a result. Because he has nieces and nephews he would love to be
able to show something by Uncle Brad. That’s why. Anyways, as he says, there
is room for everything. His next film will be Doug Liman’s Mr and Mrs Smith,
where he co-stars with Nicole Kidman, back in the action genre.
Once he started Sinbad, he says, he realized how easy this voiceover lark
was. Really, he says frankly, doing Sinbad was more like reading aloud than
acting. “It’s right there in front of you. We take several cracks at it, they
throw in ideas and you really just make it up as you go along.” It’s the
animators—400 of them on this film—who do the real work. “I’m sure a more
respectable actor would put a lot into it,” he says, shuffling boyishly in
his chair as if he can’t keep schtum any longer, “But seriously! Me, I
thought we were all just having a laugh, really.”
All modesty, says Dreamworks supreme Jeffrey Katzenberg. “He doesn’t
understand how gifted and talented he is and how big a contribution he
was capable of making. Brad Pitt was the dream persona and personality and
acting quality for that part. There wasn’t a second choice.” But does an
animated Sinbad need a megastar behind him? “I ask you to step back and think
for a moment,” says Katzenberg. “The reason why stars have become such big
names is because they’re the best.”
Goodness me, there is a lot of nonsense talked in Hollywood. And there is a
special sort of nonsense reserved for the likes of Pitt, mostly to do with
being a demi-god in life as well as in art. He has been named one of the top
100 movie stars ever (Empire Magazine), the 50 most beautiful people in the
world (People magazine, two years running), the sexiest man alive (People,
again, twice—you gotta love those guys) and one of the 100 sexiest movie
stars ever (Empire). Yet somehow, he doesn’t actually seem half as nuts as
you would expect.
OK, there was the million-dollar wedding to Aniston and the subsequent
dispute with the jewellery firm that made the rings to Pitt’s design (and
then started flogging replica Brad ‘n’ Jen rings to the punters), stories
that are very much the stuff of a Planet star. On the other side of things,
though, he describes himself as a homebody. He and Aniston are planning to
go to cooking classes together “because we’re both crap in the kitchen” and
he does, he admits, have a bad habit of resorting to snacking on cereals.
And it isn’t so remarkable that he is so settled, he says, because he was
never the rambler people assumed. “I’ve never been that guy. I have a great
base, with great friends and a great wife.” Before he met Aniston he had a
few long-term, high-profile relationships with colleagues. He and Juliette
Lewis, his co-star in the TV movie Too Young to Die? And Kalifornia (1993),
were an item for a few years; in 1996, he was engaged to Gwyneth Paltrow,
whom he met during Se7en. After they split the following year, any question
about him could reduce her immediately to tears, but she never said a word
against him. If he played the cad, nobody is saying so.
Troy is the first film Pitt has made, apart from recording the voice for
Sinbad, in two years. He is finding the business of uprooting to a location
tough. “I like my home. I used to love to travel and explore; I’m in Malta
now and there are 5000 years of history there and it’s fantastic, but it
gets harder as you get older. And I’m sure with kids, I’ll come home more.”
He and Aniston have said how keen they are to have children, so presumably
they have their shoulders to the wheel.
There are rumours, of course, that Pitt has spent good money on prolonging
those youthful looks. He doesn’t quite deny it. Given they are his living,
it would be strange if he hadn’t.
“There are people in this business who run from age,” he says, absentmindedly
stroking his smooth cheek, “and you see the detritus left over from that.
The denial, I guess. I don’t know yet, but there is that time when you gotta
let go, man. Mick, come on! You know?”
In the meantime, thought, there is a Pitt fighting the Trojans in a tunic.
He isn’t letting go yet. “Those Greeks, they liked the mini,” he says,
grinning that sheepish Thelma and Louise grin. “Not only that, but apparently
they fought with all the tackle hanging out. They didn’t mind it a bit.”
So did the costume department make his underwear decisions? “This is not
Caligula. So they got it strapped down.” What he just couldn’t understand,
he goes on with mock thoughtfulness, was how it was that the Trojans got
to wear much longer tunics than he did. He fought his case—“when we’re
debating the old hem lines, I’m throwing everything in, man—but those
designers pulled rank. How and why that should be is the business of
magazines, such as People and Empire, that keep track of sexiness and
starriness and number their stars out of 100. For the rest of us, let’s
content ourselves with saying that even if Pitt isn’t going to be on a
horse this time, there is clearly going to be some compensation on offer.
The Greeks come, as usual, bearing gifts.