AMERICAN IDOL - by Lucy Kaylin

Tucked behind the Chateau Marmont, past the pool, the palm fronds, and the rustling bamboo, sits bungalow 3, a slablike outbuilding for the privacy-minded guest. The entrance used to be a simple metal gate—at least it was back when John Belushi died inside, having succumbed to celebrity’s more noxious vapors well over two decades ago. Now the gate is covered by a gawker-proof tarp with a fist-size peephole cut into it.

Shortly after I ring the bell, a familiar blue eye fills the hole. “Hello!” the person on the other side calls out, unlocking the gate. In the tranquil twilight, there’s a neighborliness to the greeting—which is a bit of a surprise, coming as it does from Hollywood’s most hunted man.

Why Brad Pitt has no majordomo, no solicitous rep stationed at the gate screening guests, I’ll never know. By rights he should be holed up somewhere in a dressing gown and Kabuki makeup, addled by scrutiny that just got worse: A few days ago, Jennifer Aniston, the TV-star wife with the bellwether hair, filed for divorce, providing gobsmacking proof that their union was kaput. So while I stand in this peaceful spot with Pitt, I realize we’re in the eye of a perfect storm, as the unholy trinity of a dying pope, a dead Terri Schiavo, and the Pitt-Aniston demise puts the tabs in an utter froth.

Tall and loose in a white sweatshirt and jeans, sporting his puppy-pelt buzz cut and an easy grin, Pitt leads me toward the door. He’s got a cantilevered stride, recognizable from his shirtless roles, bringing to mind the cunning way his long, hard breastplate of a torso seems to attach to his hips like a snap-on piece. Amid the chirps and tweets and the late-day sun squeezing hard through the branches, we small-talk down the path—me telling him about a funny call I just got from my kid, which reminds him of a phone message he just got from his mom: “I’m disappointed in you, I’m angry with you, but whatever you do I’ll always love you,” Pitt quotes her as saying, which he clearly enjoyed. “All my bitches are mad at me right now,” he says with a laugh, declining to elaborate.

We head into the spare, midcentury-style living room—spindly and clean, like something out of Bewitched—where a Duraflame log is burning in the brick fireplace. Since the breakup of his marriage, Pitt’s been hotel-hopping, trying to duck the special-ops surveillance. And given how much work he has finishing up Mr. and Mrs. Smith—this month’s genre-bending picture about married assassins, costarring Angelina Jolie—the bungalow is more convenient than his vast new place near the beach, which he describes as “something I’m squatting in right now.” As for the elaborately terraced, Wallace Neff–designed $13.5 million spread he lovingly refurbished and lived in with his wife—will they sell? “Well, we’ll see, we’ll see,” Pitt says. “I don’t know exactly, just yet.”

There’s a pile of cash on the table that Pitt pulls from when delivery guys show up, usually bearing booze and food, like the platter of cheeses and prissily cut fruit now sitting next to the money. Over by the couch, there’s an open bag of jelly beans; on the floor by the door, a red motorcycle helmet. Bachelorville, in other words. Naturally, the wedding band is gone, but there is a large silver ring on his right middle finger with a curious space where a gem would normally be—“the anti-ring ring,” as he’ll later describe it. I ask Pitt who gave it to him. “This one?” Pause. “Actually, a friend.”

He starts wrestling with a standing lamp, dragging it closer to the couches, trying to set the right mood. “I’m kind of a lighting junkie,” he says. Chipping some ice from the freezer, he offers me a drink and mixes himself one—a vodka and orange juice, the first of three.

It quickly grows dark beyond the sliding glass doors that lead to a yard shrouded in vegetation. Peaceful, maybe—although sitting here with the equivalent of a fugitive, it’s easy to fantasize creeping life-forms close by. Pitt, infinitely more experienced with this, feels it, too. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re walking this fence line right now,” he says of the paparazzi, motioning at the void. “Outside our house, mine and Jen’s, we had teams there every day. You’d have one team of three cars, a secondary team of three cars. And you’d drag ’em across town, but some days you just don’t want to play.” It feels chivalrous somehow, his uttering the name “Jen”—thus relieving me of having to be the first. In his casual way, Pitt tries to undercut the mythic quality of his life and our equally outsize fascination with it.

“They’re really nasty out here. I mean, some of the things they’ve said during my and Jen’s split—things that are just deliberately said to get a rise out of her, just truly cruel—make me want to punch their lights out. And more toward Jen than me, which made me even more mad, because Jen’s an easier target. Grown men saying awful, despicable things. Things that a normal father or husband or brother would go and kill them for.”

It’s hard to imagine dismantling a marriage with any kind of grace amid all that, as tabloids sling facile theories and “truths”—for example, that Courteney Cox is superpissed at Brad, or that he wanted kids and Jen didn’t. “That was one version,” Pitt says, vigorously and absentmindedly rubbing the top of his head, “and total bullshit, by the way.”

There was also the theory that Angelina Jolie was a factor.…

“And it’s pretty much still going that way, is what I hear,” he says, unperturbed by the mention of that radioactive name. “Jen and I have felt pretty impervious to it all. We have not seen a thing, so that we can carry on in this new incarnation with the love we still have for each other. My attitude was, say what you want, we’re not playing.” “So you’ve figured out how to handle it,” I say.

“The only thing to figure out is between Jen and I. And there’s a beauty in that. There’s a beauty in our coming together, there’s a beauty in our time together, and there’s a beauty in this, for us. I’m actually really proud of us. We’ve done it another way—we’ve done it our way, and I love her for that. We’ve kept the love we have for each other.”

“Marriage can be a hard business,” I suggest.

“But it’s fantastic,” Pitt whispers, wide-eyed with delectation.

“Yeah, but it can be a beast.…”

“Anything worth anything is a beast,” he says. “The thing I don’t understand is looking at this as a failure. It’s talked about like it failed, I guess because it wasn’t flawless. Me, I embrace the messiness of life. I find it so beautiful, actually.”

“The idea that marriage has to be for all time—”

“That I don’t understand,” Pitt says, fingering his thigh through a shredded hole in his jeans. “I still really believe in it. I’m sure there are some dark nights coming, but that’s the deal—that’s part of it. A friend of mine wrote to me, ‘Sometimes love changes shape.’ And I just thought, That’s so well put.”

The way Pitt describes it, he and Aniston had “great communication, great honesty—we really put everything on the table. We didn’t hide who we were or what we wanted in any way. I think it was bold on our parts and really successful.” As for the breakup, he pleadingly attributes it to “not one thing; it’s so complex and multifaceted.”

As Pitt talks about this, slouching in a chair, his big feet splayed at childish angles—pulling out the antenna on his cell phone with his teeth, playing with the zipper on his sweatshirt and revealing an AC/DC T-shirt underneath—I’m struck by his appealing ordinariness. Yes, he’s cute as hell, but not buffed to a sheen like Tom Cruise, nor marble-slick like Jude Law. The slack, smiling mouth was made for pulling on beers and backseat snogging, which fits his prom-king manner of speech: a rugged tumble of casual phrasing and sportif shorthand like POV. Pitt doesn’t look styled or handled in the least. He exudes the effortlessness that got him here—an all-star’s easy lope from obscurity to fame. As he rightly describes it, he’s been “lottery lucky”: no image tending, no empire building, no slumps. While other stars are huddling with their advisers, he’s doing backflips off a boat with Damon and fantasizing about working the word bukkake into sound bites.

And yet he knows what he’s got, and he’s happy to share; in the middle of conversation, almost as a gift, Pitt will stand, as if treating you to the sight of him drawn up to his full height. Then he’ll lean against a chair and stretch out a hamstring. He’ll also unconsciously self-caress—his upper thigh, his head, reaching into his shirt for a circular feel of his chest; given the exclusive access he has to his body, why not?

On-screen Pitt seems a little more reluctant, doing the shimmering and chiseled hero thing like a penance, looking like something stamped on a coin—no fun for a guy who describes himself accurately as being inherently “loosey-goosey.” In movies like Legends of the Fall, Meet Joe Black, and Troy, in which Pitt looked so unhappy, all glazed, swollen, and trussed up in his leather mini (“We got into some shallow water in some areas,” as he puts it), tight close-ups are flaunted like the money shot; you can sense directors holding his face in the frame for as long as possible, and the cinematic slavering feels a little like porn.

It’s the part of this job Pitt has liked the least. Describing 1992’s A River Runs Through It, which required him to pose in golden light, as delicious and doomed as a pinup, he recalls, “I can’t say I had a clear-cut idea of what I was doing in that movie, and that bothered me a lot”—so much so that when it was done, he skipped town and hunkered down in Amsterdam for three months. He was 27 years old. “I rented a little basement apartment on the canal, and that was the extent of it: a bike, a Walkman, and three couch cushions to sleep on,” he says. “Then I came back and did Kalifornia and True Romance”—murderous, bushy-bearded white trash in the former; a dopey stoner in the latter, for which he turned down the lead—“and that was a big turning point.” So this is his pattern: ritually detoxing from the pretty-boy parts with something goofy or grungy—for instance, wearing a comical pompadour in following his madness-inducing hunk turn in Thelma & Louise (think Johnny Depp leaping at the campy Cry-Baby after 21 Jump Street).

But then he backslid again, playing glowering and inert in Interview with the Vampire, offering up a de facto montage of haunches and hair in Legends of the Fall, both in 1994, before regaining his footing a year later as a twitchy loon in Twelve Monkeys. And also in Seven—but only after the studio agreed to not neuter the picture by cutting its grisly climax, in which his character discovers his wife’s severed head. “I had it put in my contract that it stays,” Pitt says, pleased by that good application of cojones. “It’s his wife’s head in the box—it’s Paltrow’s head. Well,” he laughs, “it wasn’t Paltrow’s head; we hadn’t cast her yet.”

He operates on instinct and fights hard to get it right; as the director of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Doug Liman, says, “Nobody directs Brad Pitt as well as Brad Pitt directs Brad Pitt.” He knows what works. When Pitt veers dark or plays one of his bug-eyed, excitable losers—in effect channeling his inner Steve Buscemi—people assume he’s slumming, but I suspect these roles are more Pitt than we know. I’m reminded of Tyler Durden, his redoubtable, cheap-leather-and-shades-wear--ing character from Fight Club, who lustily declaims, “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank, you’re not the car you drive.” Which could be a Pitt mantra: You’re not your blond highlights, you’re not your ice-tray abs, you’re not your Golden Globes spread in Us…

“Did you ever see the letters in the front of those magazines?” Pitt says, referring to the credulous, often sappy, sometimes chiding commentary from fans concerned about their favorite stars: Stay strong, Jen! We’re pulling for you! “This kills me. I’d understand if it’s about Rwanda that people have things to say, but to actually sit down and take an hour out of your life and, one, read something [about a celebrity] and absorb it as truth, and, two, be either moved or really outraged and comment on it...either way, it’s hilarious to me.”

Perhaps, I say, although for people living dingy, difficult lives, possibly going through a divorce of their own, it’s remarkable to know that even someone like Brad Pitt can have a setback—that life can be tricky for us all. It brings perspective, and cosmic comfort.

“You know what?” Pitt says. “That’s a great point. That explains the person writing in, actually. I stand corrected. If you wanna use my thing to make your thing a little better, have at it. I’m fine with it. Really.”

The comparatively mild demeanor of folks from places like Pitt’s home state of Missouri—“the belly button of the United States,” as he calls it—can be misleading. “Usu-ally the moniker we get is stupid, which is really inaccurate,” he says, foraging in the little kitchen for a corkscrew. “You can pull out ignorance in certain areas, but definitely not stupidity and definitely, definitely, definitely not less complicated. Any Sam Shepard play will illuminate that for you.”

And yet Pitt’s been grateful for his schooling in alternatives to midwestern stoicism and reserve, be it from watching the strutting, gold-chain-wearing goombahs in Saturday Night Fever when he was an impressionable seventh grader (“a bambino,” as he says) or drinking in the unbridled chitchat at the sophisticated home of his old girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow. “In Paltrow’s family, I just adored it,” he says. “Bruce,” her father, “was so vocal about everything, and it really taught me something. Ideas, opinions, ailments—such an entertaining, charismatic arena to be sitting in as an observer. I loved him. Bruce was gold.” A different sort than Pitt’s own father, who epitomizes the strong, silent type. “He wouldn’t say much, but when he did, it was a zinger,” Pitt says, clearly relishing the benefits of having remained close, through it all, to his folks, his sister, and his brother. “It would just have the rhythm of truth. He operates from that kind of wisdom. He’d sit back and let me go off the rails, and a couple of times he’s said to me, ‘Sometimes it takes a while, but I always knew you’d figure it out.’ ”

It’s night two at the bungalow, featuring Pitt in a tight denim shirt, unbuttoned to the sternum, sitting at the table lifting the aluminum lids from various dishes that have been brought in from the hotel. With Pitt it is a pleasant enough dilemma, but it feels a little like we’re trapped in here—in a bunker, or maybe a cage, into which food is occasionally tossed. (I sense his enthusiasm for it as he pokes an herb-crusted goat-cheese ball with the edge of the aluminum lid.) Pitt puts another Duraflame log in the fireplace and ignites it with a slender red pistol-style lighter. I ask him about the scar below his left eye, a sideways crescent, visible in his movies.

“Fourth grade, pop fly, center field, midday. Caught a ball right in the face; twenty stitches. I’ve got a lot of scars. You should see my knee now—pizza leg. You can’t really see it in this light,” he says, setting down a glass of red wine and hiking up his trousers. “These are from the last wreck”—a projectile spill from his motorcycle during a ride in the desert on Oscar night. “My ass looks like this, too; the right cheek took a lot of gravel. I’m not gonna show you that, but I’ll show you the top”—and here Pitt stands, pulls up his shirt, and shoves down the waistband of his trousers, revealing two long red streaks, like an ass mustache, while pivoting in front of a mirror. (Funnily enough, Pitt doesn’t have a single tattoo.)

“This was my worst accident on Troy,” he says next, serving up his shin. After arriving at a hotel near the set in Mexico, he and Aniston were checking out some paparazzi who’d materialized on a roof across the way when Pitt’s leg got caught on the treadmill Aniston was using. “We looked at the machine, and there was literally like an apple peel of skin with hairs on it. It was gross, man. It’s funny that my biggest scar on Troy was from my wife.” Still and all, Pitt shoots down my theory that the constant presence of paparazzi strains a marriage unduly. “It can also galvanize you,” he says, “because you’re in the fight together, and you get quite protective of each other.”

The scar display is exuberant and forthcoming perhaps because Pitt has never been comfortable with the brain-dead designation of hunkiest human. Not the stuff of serious actors like Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke—back in the day—whom Pitt invokes with a measure of awe as the standard-bearers of his generation. In the happy tracking of his various nicks and flaws, he proves that he has taken his licks, too—that life hasn’t been one long victory lap, despite his having a face that looks virtually immune to disappointment. Crawling into his forties advances the cause; as he says, “I’ll take wisdom over youth.”

Now Pitt’s warming to the idea of putting away childish things, like his former preoccupation with contemporary music. Probably the last pop-cultural juggernaut he was onto was 50 Cent. “I was there for Fitty,” Pitt says, mock-proudly. “I was like, ‘Ooh, that’s good, that’s badass.’ ” And he still makes the occasional discovery on KCRW—most recently the post-post-punk band Moving Units. But to a degree, the thrill is gone.

“Songs about getting poon just don’t speak to me anymore, you know?” Pitt says, spinning the red lighter around his index finger like a six-gun.

So he’s no longer interested in getting poon?

“Well, sure. It’s not the interest; it’s the talking about it. I guess I just put that kind of obsession into architects now. Guys who reinvent how we live and think about things. A piece of art you get to walk through and experience. It drives me crazy”—particularly the modernist, Zen-like self-containment of the Bauhaus style. “It’s all about beauty being in the material, and you don’t have to go decorate it like a cake. There’s much more honesty and purity in that. The Bauhaus sensibility speaks to me as a religion even more than as an aesthetic.”

Of course, given the demands of form serving function, architecture is governed as much as anything by limits—an interesting obsession for someone cursed with unlimited opportunity. When Pitt says, “Playing within parameters leads to great discov-eries—getting everything you want can actually hurt the project,” I like to think he’s riffing on a life lesson that’s dear to him.

So passionate and expansive is Pitt on this subject—“I love a construction site,” he says with a moony look; “I guess it’s the possibility of what it could be”—that I can’t help but wonder if he’d ever give up acting.

“I don’t think I’ll do it forever,” he says. “It’s a younger man’s game. I’ve got a few years left of a good run. And truthfully, I’m interested in other things now. Like family.”

So we’ve heard. And what kind of father would he be?

“I’ll be able to figure it out when I get there. I have great faith in that. I’m just really aware of the responsibility of putting your life second, and your job is to show this little one around the world,” which reminds me of the best moment in the truly bad Legends of the Fall, when he joyfully somersaults a child from the ground all the way up to his shoulders. “It’s what makes sense to me. It would have been harder for me when I was younger, because I’ve always been Shackleton, in some way. Always wanted to explore and go on the drift.…”

Presumably, I suggest, having a family would entail remarrying.

“I can’t even think that way,” Pitt says, more quietly now—“trying to decipher what this new incarnation is, and still feeling the aroma of what was, and my Jen, and what it’s gonna be. I’m not ready to think that way yet, and I think she’d say the same.”

At which point I offer idiotic reassurance that he’ll surely find a way to make it happen for himself. “Hey, wait, no confusion here,” Pitt says. “I’m not worried that it’s not gonna happen. I’ll make it happen. You go make the things that you want.”

Then here’s a thought: Maybe it would be easier with a nonactress—at least the klieg wattage would be a little less blinding. Does he ever think about that?

“No,” Pitt says, “because I like so much the people I’ve spent time with. I’ve had great experiences, great schooling, great laughs. It is true that Jen and I were times four. It’s one thing to go, ‘Is that Brad Pitt?’ It’s another to go, ‘That’s Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.’ There’s no ducking or hiding or confusion. Get us together, we’re four times the money.”

Pitt is so determinedly accessible, you might imagine him briefly dating the cute, Kentucky-bred waitress from Norm’s diner, but I don’t think that’s possible for him. He’s not been unaffected by the fame; although he hides it well, there’s a smidge of the naked, quietly vibrating artiste who finds comfort in being surrounded by people who…understand. “I’m not sure what I really mean by this, but there’s just a few of us…like when you go to the Golden Globes and you look across the room, it’s like a convention for all of us who’ve been cut off, in a way. We can relate to each other because we’ve all experienced the same thing. It’s a different life.” Ballyhooing his kinship with the Hollywood fraternity, Pitt zeros in on their frailty, sketching an unlikely picture of thespy, chain-smoking, “wanting” freaks whom he calls “a really fucked-up bunch, and a fascinating bunch—the most interesting people I’ve ever met.”

And yet there’s a preciousness to all this that isn’t him—Pitt doesn’t want to end up unfit for this world, or walled up somewhere like Brando or Elvis; simple pleasures are just too damn tasty. “I do want to get back out on my lawn, sit in a lawn chair, and crack a beer,” he says, pleased by the California law that now prohibits people from using high-tech gadgetry to photograph subjects on their property. “That just passed a few years ago, because our forefathers didn’t foresee telephoto lenses that can shoot up your ass from half a mile away.

“I’ve been feeling it a lot lately, with all the scrutiny, and being followed,” Pitt continues, assuming a wide stance in front of the burning Duraflame. “It’s why I got on a bike again. Because I can be on the streets with everyone else, and I’m in a helmet so no one knows it’s me, and I can be right next to a car with the windows down, and I hear their music, and I don’t have to sequester myself. That’s how I grew up, and there’s something really important about that. And it’s a great way to lose the paparazzi, ’cause we can split lanes here. That means you can go between the lanes down the white line, especially at intersections. So when there’s suddenly this thing where I have three to seven cars on me, all on walkies, Nextels, communicating with each other—‘He’s going, he’s moving, he’s on the move!’ ” he says, in a strangled screech…“I don’t expect anyone to have any sympathy, but they’re horrendous, man, and I take great pride in being their nemesis.” The tense jaw, the cerulean blue stare, just don’t look natural on anyone so easygoing. It’s the only topic that threatens to knock Pitt off his game. “There’s no respect. It’s blood sport: They hate us, and we hate them.”

And they’ve done their damage. Can Brad Pitt even stroll into a store on his own steam anymore?

“You just gotta keep moving, like a gazelle at the water hole. You can’t stop and read the labels. You figure that stuff out when you get home.”

Amid global concern over the marital fallout, Pitt seems just fine, thanks, and ready for change. He intends to stay off cigarettes; he’s probably the only man in America who, facing the stress of a divorce, actually kicks a vice. He’d also like to streamline a tad. This occasionally drawling good ol’ boy is also a design queen who wants to pare down his wardrobe and offload a few homes. “I collect homes—it’s so sad,” he says, with a plummy laugh. “No, it’s disgusting.” But he’s willing to sacrifice; right now he’s forgoing the urge for a ’70s muscle car in favor of a fuel-efficient Prius (his second). Pitt also wants to have some cathartic fun at his own expense—that is, throw a few rocks at the dirigible his image has become. The highlight of this year’s Super Bowl halftime might have been the Heineken commercial in which Pitt appears, beset by paparazzi when he goes out to buy beer—a clever swipe at the absurdity of his life, directed by his friend David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club). “A funny, funny fucker,” Pitt calls him. “He’s been around me for a long time, and he’s seen how we’ve been harassed, and he definitely saw a window for some humor.” Showing up in a beer commercial during a football game is about as populist as it gets for a big star—a clear plea to be regarded as one of the guys.

For anyone as analyzed and objectified as Pitt, playing himself in that manner and offering up a spin of his own must be incredibly satisfying. He’ll do it again in the meta-sounding movie Chad Schmidt, in which he’ll appear as a working actor who bears an unlucky resemblance to another actor, Brad Pitt. “He’s a little bit heavier, a little bit rougher around the edges,” Pitt says of Schmidt. “In the beginning, he sees Pitt at auditions and actually beats him out a couple of times. But somewhere along the line, Pitt gets ahead, Pitt gets Thelma—and for the next decade, Pitt becomes his nemesis: Chad Schmidt can never get out from under the shadow of Brad Pitt.”

Yes, the winking self-reference is a little worrisome, and famous people talking about themselves in the third person is just schizo. But in Pitt’s case, it might be justified. There is him, and there is the cartoonishly mutating phenomenon of him. Preserving the former means gaining some ironic purchase on the latter.

Then there’s Pitt’s growing commitment to the cause of alleviating poverty and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere, the enormity of which reduces his issues to dust; much of Africa doesn’t even know what a Brad Pitt is, as he discovered on his first trip last November. “Some areas I was in never heard of the United States, never heard of England, Tony Blair, Bush. God, how refreshing,” he says. “I got to be an observer—an active observer. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t about me.”

He saw emaciated men, three to a bed; a woman who grabbed his arm and said, “Please get us the drugs.” And the orphans—“I’m telling you, you just wanna take ’em up in your arms and take as many with you as you can.”

An obvious question, then: Could he imagine adopting?

The suave, lazy features reorganize themselves into a round-eyed mask of chastened concern.

“I don’t know how I can’t now, seeing what I’ve seen. Yeah—it makes all the sense in the world to me. I’m going back in a couple of weeks. There’s some kids I want to visit; it’s as much for me as them.”

It’s lovely to see, and sort of a miracle, that anyone so privileged, so potentially corrupted by a glamorous day job playing make-believe, can still recognize real life, with its drama and characters that put screenwriters to shame. Of course, he’s not the first famous person to have been through it.

“Was Angelina influential in getting you involved with this?”

That name again. It floats like a curl of singed bark into the air.

“Ummm,” says Pitt, “I certainly respect what she’s done, but many people have been. Bono especially—and yeah, her as well. And a host of others. She contributes staggering amounts of money—staggering amounts. In fact, she probably makes money so she can give more away. That seems to be more her concern than films.”

Films, presumably, like the superswank Mr. and Mrs. Smith, whose strongest suit, according to Doug Liman, is the chemistry between its two stars. “There’s no way to manipulate or direct that,” he says, “and they were amazing from day one.” Rumors that their good chemistry was a factor in the big breakup were inevitable, as were the adamant denials from both camps. “It’s a love story,” Liman says, “and it lives or dies based on whether that relationship works.” Just like a marriage.

Pitt always saw his as a journey of indeterminate payoff and length—a delicious unknown of surprising complexity, much like his restless body of work. Even though we’d imagined him an Olympian leading man with a honey-hued marriage, free of the strife that erodes mortal unions, things are rarely what they seem—especially in the chimerical freak zone of celebrity, where even Brad Pitt can’t help the way he looks. In the end, the way he looks is more our problem than his, and maybe we’ll get over it someday.

Until such a time, Pitt will cope with his customary aplomb. Tonight, for instance, he’s been nothing short of gallant—ignoring, for the most part, his cell phone for several hours. But the limits of the night are pressing in, as are the demands of the vast, solicitous human apparatus that trails along invisibly behind him. The calls are coming more quickly now—people hoping, sensing, that he’s finishing up—he’s going, he’s moving, he’s on the move!

Before we part, Pitt offers a long-armed hug. Yet more gallantry—he well knows you’ll need that for the gang back home. And as I imagine him wading into that dark and lawless night where camera-wielding aggressors will make a tidy buck off his face, I don’t worry for Pitt. Probably because of something he said earlier—laughably modest, and yet somehow just right: “I like my place,” as he put it. “I don’t want to be first; I don’t even want to be second. I just like being in the game.”