With his family, success as a producer, legendary good looks and, of course, acting ability, Brad Pitt seems to have it all.

For a long time, Brad Pitt was not a film festival kind of guy. Yet this year has seen him go into overdrive. He's been skylarking with good friend George Clooney and his Ocean's Thirteen buddies in Cannes, supporting his beloved Angelina Jolie as the producer of A Mighty Heart and presenting his own serious turn as the infamous outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in Venice. And he's been grinning from ear to ear, pleased that, after all these years, he is finally being taken seriously.

And yes, at 43, he looks good too, positively dapper in his vintage-style cream linen suit, complete with waistcoat, maybe that evergrowing brood of kids has given him direction.

"It's the most fun I've ever had; it's also the biggest pain in the arse I've ever experienced," he says of being a father of the adopted Maddox, 6, Pax, 3, and Zahara, 2, as well as his birth child, Shiloh, 1.

"I love it and can't recomment is any more highly but when I do have time to work, then I really have to focus because I know there's a short window to get something done.

Actually, I've become much more efficient; I'm quite pleased by it all."

So as Ben Affleck complains that Bennifer (his relationship with Jennifer Lopez) was his career's undoing, Pitt has thrived on Brangelina, the term given to his relationship with Jolie, whom he met on Mr & Mrs Smith. He has become surprisingly articulate when dealing with the press, he has taken on greater challenges behind and in front of the camera and he shares Jolie's passion for humanitarian causes.

"Brad is political and when I met him, one of the reasons that we came together is that he is very aware," Jolie says. "Perhaps he has been more outspoken than me and I like that. We argue politics at home, about things like justice--I am in favour of taking a harder line than he is. But it is the only time we argue."

Professionaly, Pitt has found inspiration in his friendship with Clooney, who has long had his own production outfit to make adventurous movies. He originally formed Plan B (Plan Brad, believe it or not) together with his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, and another gy called Brad (Grey). Plan B has produced big-budget films like Troy, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed, as well as Ryan Murphy's adventurous flop, Running with Scissors, starring Annette Bening and Pitt's former fiancee Gwyneth Paltrow.

With Aniston long out of the company and with Jolie constantly by his side, Pitt has developed a more hands-on approach with A Mighty Heart, based on Mariane Pearl's book to which he owned the screen rights, and Jesse James, by Australia's Chopper director, Andrew Dominik.

Interestingly, there are also Australian links to his recent Plan B productions: Shantaram is about the life of former Australian heroin addict and underworld figure Gregory David Roberts, who sets up free clinics in India; and The Time Traveler's Wife stars Chopper's Eric Bana, Pitt's fellow hunk in Troy.

"I got into it (producing movies) to be a part of stories that I wouldn't normally be right for as an actor," he says. "I got into it after seeing how films can go off the rails and thinking I have something to offer there, to help support directors I want to work with. Our simple edict has been just great storytellers and great stories and it's proven to be rewarding for us."

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford represents Pitt's greatest achievement thus far. He has nurtured the now well-received film, which is based on Ron Hansen's novel, from its inception and when he took out the Venice acting prize this year for his brooding Jesse James portrayal, that was the icing on the cake.

"This is a very complex, slowburning style of film that is not part of the current zeitgeist of film-making--it's more a throwback to some of the grat films of the 70s," says Pitt of the long gestating project, which went through about 40 edits before arrinv at its current length of 2 1/2 hours.

"I actually liked the first cut, which was 4 1/2 hours long but we didn't think people would have a lot of tolerance for it. I think it's a delicious film that sits and breathes like good wine. It's my favourite kind of storytelling."

The story follows the doomer outlaw in the final year of his life just after the Civil War has ended. Paranoid that someone is going to kill him, he lashes out and shoots men who were once his friends, until, eventually, he becomes resigned to his fate at the hands of Ford (played by Casey Affleck, younger brother of Ben). Not only was Ford after the huge reward but he also yearned for his 15 minutes of fame.

Much has been made of this theme in terms of Pitt's own celebrity.

"I don't think it's the main point of the story but I can certainly understand his feelings of having a bounty on his head to some degree. Fortunately, nobody's pointing guns at me," he laughs, thorugh perhaps a little too soon because the following evening he was approached by a crazed fan and came away from the incident shaken.

"In the movie, Jesse James was certainly caught up in his own celebrity, he was weary of living an alias and had really lost himself in this perpetuation os his outlaw life. Robert Ford represents another aspect of celebrity here with his blind want for fame without really understanding the consequences."

Pitt, who considers the film more a gangster tale than a wester, hand-picked Dominik. "When I saw Chopper, I was really blown away by it. I thought it was a very important film and very authentic, original storytelling. Andrew understands the undercurrents that propel people to behave the way they do and in ways that don't always make sense."

At the recent film festival in Venice, the two blond good-looers resembled a couple of surfers and now it seems the 39-year-old Australian is a new member of Pitt's extended family--the cinematic one, that is.

as Pitt's clout is constantly increasing, it doesn't hurt having friends like Clooney. A frequent visitor to Clooney's Lake Como pad, Pitt is often the brunt of Clooney's humor. Currently, they are appearing together in the Coen brothers' comedy, Burn After Reading. "He's going to steal the film and I'm going to murder him," Cloney said in Venice. "I don't know whether you've seen him in person but he's a tiny little man.."

Together with Don Cheadle and Matt Damon, the stars have raised about $US10 million at their Darfur Not on Our Watch fundraisers. The latest philanthropic deed of the native Southerner has been to pledge $US5 milion to the Clinton Global Relief Initiative for reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where he owns a home with Jolie. The couple also have homes in Los Angeles, England and New York.

Although it's impossible to imagie how he finds the time, Pitt has been busy acting too. He has re-teamed with his Se7en and Fight Club director, Davind Fincher, for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, about a man who ages in reverse, where he's again with his Babel co-star, Cate Blanchett. He re-teams with Ed Norton for State of Play, an adaptation of the British miniseries, and it has just been announced that he will replace Matt Damon in Darren Aronofsky's The Fighter about one-time world champion boxer "Irish" Micky Ward.

There's no doubting that Pitt, who first made his mark seducing Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise and later delivered gnarly performances in Twelve Monkeys, Snatch and Fight Club, remains eclectic in his choices.

"My decision to take on a film is not calculated in terms of its potential success. It's all a crap shoot to me," he says. "I really don't bet on the horses. I just go with the story that speaks to me, that I feel stronly about and, more importantly, with the people I'm surrounded by. I don't even think about aiming for a bigger audience. I come from the belief that all good films find a time and place, whether it's on the opening weekend or sometime later.

"Certainly, that's been true of some of my favourite films which might relate to his film in their cadence--Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid; McGabe & Mrs Miller, Days of Heaven. I found those films 10 to 20 years after they were released. My main concern is quality and I think there's quality in all categories of film-making. That's it for me. I keep it very simple."