HOT ACTOR - by Jay Martei

Dogging it with Brad Pitt, the good ol’ bad boy from ‘Thelma and Louise’

Last year, Brad Pitt attended the premiere of Cape Fear as the date of his girlfriend, Juliette Lewis [see Hot actress, page 54]. Pitt was hanging out on the sidelines while Lewis did her publicity stuff when a bank of harsh lights zapped him in the eyes. “Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt,” a voice called from behind the blinding lights, “can we ask you a few questions?” “Well, sure,” Pitt said. “How does it feel to be on Beverly Hills, 90210?” the voice shouted. Pitt started laughing and said, “I’m not on 90210.” The lights shut off as suddenly as they had turned on, and the cameras were quickly carried away. “I mean, just like that,” Pitt says. “Fade to black. I got a kick out of that.” Pitt, a twenty-eight-year-old actor from Missouri, has never played a troubled, good-looking rich kid named something like Brandon or Dylan; he did, however, play a troubled good-looking cowboy named JD in the movie Thelma and Louise. JD was on the screen for about 15 minutes, but everyone who saw the movie remembers the performance, during which JD gave Thelma her first orgasm and stole her last dime. “The giant step of Brad’s career,” says Pitt, using a mock narrator’s voice, “was Thelma.” He returns to his own Missourian drawl: “I figured it would be a role like JD—something I’m good at, a Southern guy—that would make the break. It basically opened the door for some kind of respect, working with all those great people.”

Pitt stars in three movies that will be released in the next six months: Johnny Suede, a droll, low-budget comedy of manners; Cool World, a live-and-animated Ralph Bakshi voyage into a parallel cartoon universe; and the screen adaptation of Norman MacLean’s classic novel about families and fly-fishing, A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford.

“Brad’s a very instinctive actor,” says Johnny Suede director Tom DiCillo. “A lot of actors are busy putting up clouds of smoke, but you can see right into him. I think he’s going to go far.”

“Brad is a throwback to what I thought Americans should be like,” says Ralph Bakshi. “Like the guys who hit the beach at Iwo Jima. He can also act. He’s going to go places.”

“I keep having this dream that someone wants to borrow my toothbrush,” Pitt says, peering from beneath the brim of a camouflage hat. He’s kneeling next to a bathroom sink with a screwdriver in one hand, screwing a porcelain toothbrush holder into the wall. It’s home-improvement day at the ramshackle three-bedroom house in West Hollywood that he recently rented with his buddy Buck Simmons. “No kidding,” Pitt says. “Five nights in a row. It’s a different person in each dream. I just watch them brushing their teeth with my toothbrush and cringe.”

Once the blue plastic no-doubt-Freudian symbol sits securely in its holder, Pitt leads a tour of the house, explaining his vision of things to come while three happy-looking dogs race around, a blur of pink tongues and skidding paws. Pitt sees a croquet court in the front yard, an archery rage along the side and a basketball court in the driveway. “We got the hoop,” he says. “We’re putting it up this afternoon.” One room is jammed with musical instruments and recording equipment. Another is virtually empty, except for a few boxes. Harsh Southern California sunlight glares through the windows. This turns out to be Pitt’s room. His bed is a foam pad on the floor of the closet. “It’s still a little bright for me out here,” he says.

Pitt was born in Oklahoma and raised in the city of Springfield, Missouri. His mom, Jane, describes the family as “very close-knit.” Brad’s dad, Bill, worked until recently in management at a trucking firm in Springfield. In highschool, brad did a little of everything—team sports, debating, student government, small parts in the school musicals. In college at the University of Missouri, where he majored in journalism with a focus on advertising, he acted a little in fraternity “Spring Fling” shows. But even when he left Missouri to go to Los Angeles in 1986—just two credits short of graduation—no one really had any idea that he’d become an actor. “No one was surprised, though,” Jane Pitt says. “He’s just someone who’s always liked to try new things.”

Leaving his home state was easy once Pitt realized that he could. “You don’t really get it into your head that you can leave,” he says, “because… I don’t know. Not too many people leave. Till it was about time to graduate and it just dawned on me—‘I can leave.’ It would be so simple, so easy. You load up the car, you point it west, and you leave. And everything’s open.”

From his arrival in Southern California—his pretext for coming was attending an art school that he never actually set foot in—Pitt was convinced that he wanted to be in movies. While studying acting, he supported himself by driving strippers around in a limo, delivering refrigerators to college students and collecting money for the policemen’s ball. His closest brushes with professional acting during this time were work as a movie extra and a stint as a giant chicken standing in front of el Pollo Loco, a fast-food chain [the chicken suit had eyes in the neck]. “At the time, it was all exciting,” Pitt says, “though I wouldn’t want to go back and do it now. Even though I am still sleeping on the floor.”

Pitt sits at the kitchen table, filling the frequent pauses in the telling of his Midwestern-boy-makes-good-in-Hollywood saga by restlessly changing the CD playing in a nearby boombox. “There’s another cliché,” Pitt says. “I was in an acting class. A girl in the class needed a scene partner for an audition for an agent. So I was the scene partner for the audition, and I ended up getting signed.” The dogs’ paws click on the kitchen floor as they stampede through, and housemate Simmons brings over a plate of pancakes.

“This is the guy who’s got the story,” Pitt says. Simmons, on a break from college, was traveling through Montana last summer when he saw an ad looking for a fly-fisherman who could act. Simmons auditioned along with hundreds of Montanans and landed a speaking role in A River Runs Through It. Since then, Pitt and Simmons have been hanging out a lot, and now Simmons is in Hollywood, trying to make it in acting, too. “Right place at the right time,” says Simmons, bringing over a plate of fried eggs.

The three dogs—Deacon, Earl and Maggie—charge back through the kitchen, growling and sniffing at each other. “Look at these dogs,” says Simmons.

“Yesterday, Deacon had to wear the Shoe of Shame,” Pitt says. He caught Deacon chewing one of his shoes out in the yard, so he tied Th high top around his neck. “He was completely humiliated in front of his buddies.”

“All the other dogs were like—“ Simmons says.

“’We don’t want to hang out with this guy,’” Pitt says.

“So he goes and hides in a room till we took it off,” Simmons says.

“Now Earl here,” Pitt says, “his tail is exactly at coffee-table level. Everything you leave on the table gets knocked off.”

“Earl’s got no legs, but he’s got a big ol’ head—“ Simmons says.

“A short man’s complex,” Pitt says. “He sniffs Deacon and goes, ‘I used to have those.’ Deacon hangs his pride in front of Earl and makes him feel bad. Maggie could care less.”

You get the feeling that Pitt and Simmons could talk like this for hours about nearly anything. “That’s what happens when you go for a long time without a TV,” says Pitt.

Pitt’s first “real job” was as “an idiot boyfriend who gets caught in the hay” on Dallas, a role that was followed by other bad-boy episodic-TV appearances, such as a guy who takes advantage of a girl on Growing Pains and motivates the moral of the final five minutes. In 1989 this trend toward male scalawaggery reached its villainous pinnacle in the role of a white-trash pimp-druggie named Billy in the tabloid-style NBC movie of the week Too Young To Die? Billy takes advantage of a young teenage runaway named Amanda [played by Juliette Lewis], hooking her on drugs, beating her and selling for sex. In one typical scene, Billy slaps Amanda and snarls at her, “You run from me again, I’ll kill you!” It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship—Pitt and Lewis have been involved ever since. “Yeah, it was quite romantic,” Pitt says, deadpan, “shooting her full of drugs and stuff.”

Pitt sounds a little awe-struck when he speaks of Lewis’s talent. “She’s got an amazing range,” he says. “Real powerful.” Although he and Lewis share a cutthroat profession, Pitt says there’s little competition between then. “Our lives are not our work,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying it’s not difficult, ‘cause your ego will slip in. But you can catch yourself and cut it off. You communicate. You say, ‘Hey, I gotta tell you, I’m having this problem here.’ It takes it all away.” Lewis and Pitt’s relationship seems to be on a firm footing: They’ve signed on to appear in the same movie, which in Hollywood is a sign of commitment that exceeds buying a couch together. In the movie, titled Kalifornia and directed by Dom Sena, Pitt will play, surprisingly enough, a good-looking scoundrel.

Pitt says he was the third choice for the role in Thelma and Louise that would change his life. [The first choice for JD, William Baldwin, left to star in Backdraft.] Pitt was called in by director Ridley Scott, read with Geena Davis [“I just sparked,” Pitt says] and three days later was on the set with a cowboy hat on his head.

“Ridley would let us play around a lot,” says Pitt. “He’d just say, ‘Okay, we got that one, now let’s try something else.’ And the final product was almost entirely based on the paying-around stuff.” Even though Thelma and JD scatter a lot of little liquor bottles in the course of their torrid onscreen lovemaking, Pitt scoffs at the notion that there was anything truly bonerific about shooting the sex scene. “You’re on the set,” he says, “and it’s like ‘Cut! Come here—you got a zit on your butt.’ And I’d be like ‘Aw, gawd.’ And you’re standing there”—he stands with his hands on the kitchen counter, his backside sticking out—“and this makeup lady’s going like this with a toothbrush”—he bends over and scrunches his face, dabbing meticulously with two fingers extended at the place where his butt used to be.

“It just makes me laugh,” Pitt says. “It’s the classic thing—you know, before a school picture you get a zit. That sums it all up for me. That’s how sexual, romantic and passionate it is. I mean, how serious can you take it all?”

Pitt experienced a similar less-than-glamorous movie moment during the shooting of Johnny Suede. One scene required his character, Johnny, a pompadoured rock-star wanna-be, to pee in a bucket. Pitt faked it for the cameras, but when the shooting was done, the soundman still needed the sound of piss hitting the bucket. Pitt volunteered. “There’s fifty crew members standing around,” says director DiCillo, “and a boom girl standing there next to the bucket with a microphone. And Brad just pulled out his pecker and pissed for twenty-five seconds.”

“I still didn’t get the sound I wanted,” says Pitt, ever the perfectionist.

Because Thelma and Louise had yet to be released and JD had yet to slink into the hearts of millions, DiCillo went against the wishes of his “money people” when he cast Pitt in the lead role of his movie. So did Ralph Bakshi when he went with Pitt for the lead role in Cool World over many Hollywood “names.” “I had seen about 200 actors for the part,” says Bakshi. “Like, everyone. Brad walked in the room, did a reading and blew me away. I thought he was the only one who could do this part.”

Shooting Cool World provided its own challenges, like acting with invisible costars who would be drawn in later. “If you have an ego,” Pitt says, “You’ll lose it, just having to do this”—he puts his arm around an invisible girl and kisses the air—“with all these people standing around. Pitt had to act love scenes and fight scenes all by himself. “It just became a dance,” he says.

After shooting an entire movie in a studio, it was a relief to play a fisherman in A River Runs Through It. Pitt plays Paul, the brother who’s great at fly-fishing but bad at fitting in. Pitt, who’d had plenty of experience playing misfits, mostly needed to work on the fly-fishing. He started practicing his casting with a fly rod on top of buildings in Hollywood a few weeks before leaving for Montana. “I’d hook myself in the back of my head all the time,” he says. “One time, they had to dig the barb out with pliers.”

Beyond learning such essential skills as fly-fishing, Pitt says that he doesn’t believe in excessive preparation for a role. “Most actors can get kind of silly,” he says. “Wackadoos, most of us. Part analysis, part preparation—I usually end up throwing most of it out the window. Once you get on set, you go on instinct, on impulse. You have all these grand theories about your character, but I never really understand them until I see the movie, and then I say, ‘Oh, that’s what that was about. That’s who he was.’”

Pitt as been reading a lot of movie scripts, looking for that rare well-written character who tries. “The typical hero with the cool one-liners just doesn’t interest me,” he says. “I’d rather see people dealing with problems, trying to get around them. There’s places for both kind of roles, but what respect is this thing of seeing people trying.” After about a year of reading scripts, he has finally found a couple of movies that he would like to act in. If one of them works out, it will be his first job in almost a year. “I’m in no hurry,” he says. “You start thinking that you gotta start picking the best of what’s available. Tricky business.

“A funny thing happens that I just now became aware of, and I really believe it’s why some actors don’t keep doing what they started out doing,” Pitt says. “All of a sudden, these people are telling you you’re worth this, you’re worth that. You’re worth more than you feel and what they’re telling you is that now you have something to lose. And so actors start operating out of fear; they’re scared to do that, they’re scared to do this, emphasizing all these other elements that have nothing to do with the art. It’s a business, bus business can’t be the main emphasis.”

Part of the business, of course, is hype. Pitt has had to deal with the James Dean comparison, which haunts every wiry young Midwestern actor with cool hair. Some people have even gone so far as to speculate that the dead icon is alluded to in the initials; JD. And how about that peeing thing? Didn’t Dean take a leak on the set of Giant to prove he wasn’t intimidated by Elizabeth Taylor? Pitt shrugs off such comparisons, saying, “I don’t know why you’d want to pattern your life after someone who’s not a survivor.”

“People have been asking me, ‘what is it like to be a star?’” he says. “That’s when you gotta get all coy and humble and say, ‘Gee, I don’t feel like a star.’ It’s work—that’s all it is. You’re still stuck with yourself.”

The basketball backboard isn’t going up as easily as the toothbrush holder did: The flimsy metal brace that came with the kit is sagging under the weight of the backboard, and the hoop hasn’t even been screwed into it yet. “It’s no good,” says Simmons. “Flimsy piece of shit.”

“Very disappointing,” says Pitt, slowly bouncing the basketball on the dirty cement driveway. Then, suddenly, he charges down the driveway toward the hoopless backboard, dribbling maniacally. Simmons guards Pitt closely, practically pushing him into the fence while trying to swat the ball away. Then, with an abrupt move that scatters tools and metal parts, Pitt whirls to the backboard and slam dunks the ball through the invisible hoop. Without even trying.