INSIDE THE PRIVATE WORLD OF BRAD PITT - by Dotson Radar

'My life has been about big changes,' says actor Brad Pitt. 'It's always been that way. When I go down a path, I take it to the end. Then I take another one. I took the path of not having kids--now it's time for family.' He tells me this during a long afternoon at his home in LA.

'Children are a dominant value in my life right now, and they weren't before,' Pitt continues. 'They were always something I thought I'd get around to having when the time was right. It wasn't what I was really seeking. In a way, I think I had to go and exhaust me before I could be good at being a parent.'

Pitt was a big star before he met actress Angelina Jolie on the set of 2005's Mr & Mrs Smith. But as a couple, they are an international phenomenon--photographed, admired, besieged. Their daughter Shiloh was born in 2006. Last year they had twins, Vivienne Marcheline and Knox. They also have three adopted children: Maddox, 8, Pax, 5, and Zahara, 4.

'I don't think I was all late in becoming a father,' Pitt says. He is 45, Jolie is 34. 'My oldest boy is 8. Man, you just have to stay alert in case one of them has a problem, and then you need to find things to calm you down. I've discovered that classical music works as a great pacifier.' He laughs. 'This family is full of life! There are laughs, aggravations, irritations, but at the end of the day, it's fun. When life is really good, it's messy.'

Pitt is delightful company--relaxed, thoughtful, and unpretentious. What is most disarming about him, however, is his eager hopefulness, his Midwestern good-guy optimism. He resembles one of those average Joes whom Gary Cooper and Tom Hanks played onscreen--immensely likable, good-hearted, and a touch naive.

In short, Pitt is nothing like the man he plays in his new movie, Inglourious Basterds, a World War II revenge fantasy about a squad of Jewish-American soldiers in Occupied France. He's the squad's commander. The film is due out Aug. 21.

Pitt was raised with two siblings in a devoutly Baptist family in Springfield, Mo. In 1987, he dropped out of the University of Missouri and moved to LA.

'I had never been west of the Rockies,' he says.

'I'd never been on a plane before. When this celebrity business happed, it was like I hit a wall.'

After his role as a sexy cowboy in 1991's Thelma & Louise, Pitt found himself in a string of his films, including A River Runs Through It, Interview With the Vampire, and Legends of the Fall.

'I liked to smoke a bit of grass at the time, and I became very sheltered,' he recalls of his early days in Hollywood. 'Then I got bored. I was turning into a damn doughnut, really. So I moved as far away from that as I could. I was done. In Missouri, where I come from, we don't talk about what we do--we just do it. If we talk about it, it's seen as bragging.'

Pitt says he found a new path for himself when, in 1995, he bought a historic property in West Los Angeles that needed work and, by restoring it, discovered his love of architecture and design. He is a whiz at both, and it shows.

Immensely house-proud, Pitt takes me on a tour of his property==two early 20th-century Craftsman houses, a kids' playhouse, two pools, and an artificial waterfall that conceals a secret stone grotto. The last, he confides, 'is great place for sex.' The entire proprty is walled with fences and hedges and overlooks the city.

'This was my first architectural experience where I tried doing something myself,' Pitt says. 'It is something I wanted to do for decades. This is like play to me. It's the only thing that can take me away from any problems I may have. After a few years of work, it came out so nice. Now I've got so many damn kids, it's the only place we could all fit in. We're double bunking rooms as it is.'

He shows me the two-room master suit he created out of stone and elegant hardwood paneling. The bathroom is marble, including the tub and toilet. 'There's something about stone that feels so nice,' he says. 'Everything in this house is custom-made. I went crazy.'

The bedroom's design is austere, paneled in walnut. There is a king-size platform bed and, nearby, framed photographs of the family.

As we leave the house, we run into Jolie and two of the children. Pitt introduces me, and she smiles. Jolie is wearing a black body stocking and an enormous yellow clown wig. The two little girls with her, Zahara and Shiloh, jump up and down and squeal with delight at seeing their dad. Their hair is dyed blue, and they have washable dye stains on their hands. 'We've been to the party costume store,' Jolie explains. She giggles and fluffs her wig with her hands like a flirtatious Mae West, and we laugh.

Pitt and I end the afternoon in his studio. He makes us drinks. 'This isn't our primary home,' he says, almost regretfully. 'It's one of our base camps.'

Pitt and Jolie have homes in France, their principal residence, and in New Orleans, where he is involved in rebuilding an earea devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It is only one of the many humanitarian causes to which the couple give time and millions of dollars.

'A while ago, when Angie returned from visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, she told me about these injured young men there who'd come back from the war,' Pitt says. 'There was one guy who lost all his limbs and one of his eyes, and Angie told me about his great spirit, his cravery. So each day I can't help but think about him waking up with the same injuries every morning, dealing with his war-damaged body for the rest of his life. I don't know the answer for the kind of hurt he has suffered. I'm always amazed by people's stories and the pain that they carry--such real need and such courage! I feel fortunate I can try to help.

'I travel a lot,' Pitt says about his itinerant ways. 'I don't feel restless, I just like to travel. I like to see it all. We're trying to spend more time in the South of France, because our kids have a more normal life there.

'I don't believe there is any way around our kids being international,' he says. 'So we have projects in each of their respective countries, and we put a big emphasis on their learning their native languages.'

Each of the adopted kids hails from a difference country--Cambodia, Ethopia, Vietnam.

'I wish there had been an emphasis on leaning a foreign language where I grew up,' Pitt says. 'It frustrates the hell out of me. I've studied French. I don't speak it. I'm working on it. It's real slow going. Oh, how I suffer! Those synapses never formed!' He laughs, and his eyes crinkle up in delight. He suddenly looks like a 15-year-old boy who just stole third base.

I tell him that he seems happy. He grins again and nods. 'I guess so,' he replies. 'I have love in my life, a soul mate--absolutely.' He is referring to Jolie.

Pitt had been engaged twice--first to Juliette Lewis and then, in 1996, two Gwyneth Paltrow, and in 2000 he married Jennifer Aniston instead. He was 36. The marriage lasted four years. They were still together when he met Jolie.

'When someone asked me why Angie and I don't get married, I replied, 'Maybe we'll get married when it's legal for everyone else,' Pitt tells me. 'I stand by that, although I took a lot of flak for saying it--hate mail from religious groups. I believe everyone should have the same rights. They say gay marriage ruins families and hurts kids. Well, I've had the priviledge of seeing my gay friends being parents and watching their kids grow up in a loving environment.

'Would it bother me if a child of mine turns out to be gay?' he asks. 'No, not one bit. Listen, I want my kids to live the lives they want to live. I want them to be fulfilled. I hope to teach my kids to be who they really are.'

He gets up and begins pacing the room. He is dressed in tan slacks, a black T-shirt, and an unbuttoned white dress shirt that flutters like a silk flag.

'Man, I resent people telling others how to live! It drives me mental!' he declares loudly. 'Just the other night, I heard this TV reverend say that Angie and I were setting a bad example because we were living out of wedlock, and people should not be duped by us! It made me laugh. What damn right does anyone have to tell someone else how to live of they're not hurting anyone? How many times do you think real love comes to someone in a lifetime? If you're lucky, maybe two or three.'

Pitt shakes his head in exasperation.

'Do you know how you tell real love?' he asks. 'It's when someone else's interest trumps your own. I like to put it that way: trumps your own. Love of somebody else--of family, of your kids--becomes the most important, most worthwhile thing in your life. It's what you foster and protect.

'You have to recognize real love when it's there,' Pitt goes on, 'and know that in going after it there is always risk. To live with love, you have to chance losing it. That's also true when you decide to have kids. It's the risk you take for love.'

He sits down and leans towards me. 'As I've gotten older,' he admist quietly, 'I've become aware that time is fleeting. I don't want to waste whatever I have left. I want to spend it with the people I love, and I want to do things that really mean something.

'Angie's mom died a couple of years ago of cancer.' Pitt says 'I haven't had to face a lot of death. I'm untried in that way, and I don't know how I will deal with it. My real fear at this point is the safety and healthy of Angie and the kids. The fear of losing them is what keeps up at night.'

Pitt sits back. After a moment, he says, 'I don't know who or what is meant to be in my life, but this is certainly where I want to be. Here with them. I think this is the pinnacle. Even as I'm bound to this thing, in a way I'm freer than I've ever been.'