NEW YORK -- It's the call of every studio executive's dreams. Six little words float across the phone lines: "Brad Pitt wants a nude scene."
This brings us to the $200 million epic "Troy," which opens Friday. Hollywood's golden boy plays a certain legendary Greek warrior, and he didn't want to just flash his Achilles heel.

"Brad basically said, 'Let me have a nude scene, and this is not a man known for taking his clothes off,'" says director Wolfgang Petersen. "Brad said to me, 'I worked eight months to get this body. It's part of the story.'"

But more of that story in a minute. On a sunny, spring morning in New York City at the Essex House Hotel, the only thing naked is Pitt's head, which has been recently sheared for "Ocean's 12," which has been shooting in Chicago for the last couple of weeks.

Going from Our Town to the Big Apple hasn't been an easy move for the former Sexiest Man Alive. Studio executives have to sneak him into the hotel through the kitchen to avoid fans who have stopped traffic by standing in the middle of Central Park South.

"We want to see 'The Bradiator,'" a woman in her 30s screams; it's an early homage to Pitt pulling his own "Gladiator" by donning a leather skirt and picking up a sword for "Troy."

The only one unaffected by this entire drama is Pitt himself. He hasn't become some self-obsessed, entourage-heavy, photographer- bashing jerk. He's surprisingly calm, increasingly humble and resoundingly normal. In many ways, he's still this guy from Missouri who took a weird turn and became one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.

"I think what's kept me sane in this business is that I've always been a questioner," he says. "I question how certain people lead their lives and I look at that and think, 'Maybe I'll do it differently.' So, to me, it's about my questions. Those questions drive me crazy and also keep me sane."

The question these days is about "Troy," and whether it be able to do battle at the box office this summer. Pitt plays anti-hero and Greek killing machine Achilles, who invades Troy, which is defended by a king (Peter O'Toole) and his sons, Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom).

Pitt says that the message of "Troy" is very current. "The idea of it is that war is tragedy," he says. "We can be really impressed with might. Might can be beautiful. Might can be impressive. And power is certainly sought after. But at the end of the day, war is strictly tragedy."

Achilles is a one-man army who can finish any battle, except the one that rages inside his own head. He isn't exactly loyal to his king or to Greece. His biggest affinity is to himself and the ladies he seduces in his tents. Of course, this presents several problems that were delicious for Pitt.

"I didn't see him as an anti-hero. I saw him as extremely human," Pitt says. "He's also a man with an immense talent for fighting.

Pitt approached the role by going through several physical trials. And for the record, the buff bod is a little less so these days.

"Dabbling in the gym for two hours a day isn't really my thing," says Pitt, who bulked himself up to the tune of a six-pack, perfect pecs and thighs of steel for "Troy."

Pitt spent the better part of a year getting himself in shape to play Achilles. "Ever since De Niro put on 60 pounds to do 'Raging Bull,' he set the course for the rest of us. He screwed us all, really," Pitt adds, laughing.

"I really hit it hard. Maybe it was an impending mid-life crisis," says Pitt, who turned 40 recently. That was a great motivator as well.

"Achilles was a very internal part. He was a very isolated character, which is why it was good that I was living alone in Malta. I got an old stone house that was centuries old. The only thing next to my house were a few horse stables, and that didn't smell so nice. We're talking flies as big as birds. No air conditioning.

"I lived a real monastic life in that house," he says. "It put me in a mindset of loneliness. That was perfect because I believe acting isn't just how the lines are read. It's the tone of the thing."

By now, it's legend that the man playing Achilles was injured on the set. "That injury was a bout of stupid irony," Pitt says. "I tweaked my Achilles tendon, which is bizarre."

One day he was shooting in the sand doing a fight scene, and he just felt his ankle go. "The bad news is I still had one big battle scene left with Eric Bana, who plays Hector."

Shooting on the film shut down for six weeks in order to allow Pitt to heal. He came back a few days before Christmas last year to do battle with Bana. "He nearly took out my nose, but we agreed to just go for it," Bana says, adding, "Maybe that wasn't such a good agreement because there was fire in Brad's eyes."

And why not? Achilles fought so hard because he wanted everyone to know his name. He wanted to die a legend.

In other words, he wanted to be the Brad Pitt of ancient Greece.

"I guess there are parallels, but I think it goes a little deeper," Pitt says. "Achilles was fated to live his life, and I'm fated to live my own."

How deeply does Pitt believe in fate? "Oh, it's pretty deep," he says. "I believe that you make your day. You gotta make your whole life, but I accept that you work within the confines of your fate."

Perhaps it's his fate to have the National Enquirer digging through his trash.

"That type of fate, I don't appreciate," he says. "I guess my only answer to that one is that I ignore certain aspects of my life and always keep my eye on the bigger picture."

The big picture includes his marriage to actress Jennifer Aniston, whose TV series "Friends" ended its 10-year run a few days ago.

Ask him how it feels to have his wife unemployed and he laughs. "Unemployed?" he repeats. "That unemployed woman makes more money than I do!"

He does mention that the last few weeks of the series were rough on the actress.

"She's saying goodbye to an era that meant very much to her," he says. "There's a sadness to it, but Jen is accepting it. There's also this excitement in her about going into a new era. It's exciting to stop and ask yourself, 'Where will I go now?'"

There have been rumors the two will work together.

"We would love it, but when you look at the history of famous couples in movies, well, the odds aren't with us," Pitt says.

Perhaps another project is on the horizon: Baby Pitt. "Yeah, it's time for me to be a father. It's time. I finally think I'm at a place where I won't mess them up too much."

Is Jen in agreement? "Jen's in agreement that I won't mess them up too much," he says, laughing.

Now that "Friends" is no more, Aniston has plenty of time to spend with her hubby.

"I loved the fact that I was basically off for two years before filming 'Troy,' so we spent a lot of time together, which was a blessing."

As for their life, he says it's just the same as most of America.

"I don't know if people would find our lives that exciting. Jen and I just like to stay home, maybe order out a pizza or some Mexican food. It sounds simple, but we love it. We like the peaceful moments. We like nothing more than a lazy summer day with the dog on the porch."

Pitt is about to wrap a comedy called "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" with Angelina Jolie, due out next year. He's currently filming "Ocean's 12" with George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Catherine Zeta- Jones. Next up is a Western called "The Assassination of Jesse James," based on a best-selling book. But since that script won't be ready for a year, he plans to relax after "Ocean's 12" wraps.

Pitt has also been giving advice to young actors like Orlando Bloom, one of his "Troy" co-stars.

"The best advice I gave Orlando was simple," Pitt says with a devilish smile. "I told him to keep his pants on."