LOS ANGELES - The house in the Hollywood hills that Brad Pitt shares with Juliette Lewis probably never belonged to Errol Flynn or Rita Hayworth or any of the legends of the silver screen.

If it did, they wouldn't recognize it now.

In need of fresh paint, lavish it is not. Except for the de rigueur southern California swimming pool outside, this looks like the crash pad of penny-pinching college students. The dining room table is a green '50s dinette set. On the living room floor is the broken door of an armoire.

`I've sunk everything I've earned into land in the Ozarks,' Pitt says. `It's on a lake with bluffs and caves and a stream going through there. Next year I'll start building.'

The prospects for plenty more land look promising for Pitt, who grew up near the Ozarks. After scoring last year as the sexy thief who seduces Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise, he is now winning critical praise as the doomed younger brother in Robert Redford's retelling of Norman Maclean's autobiographical novella, A River Runs Through It. Industry betting is that he has a big future. Meantime, Pitt, 28, and girlfriend Lewis (Cape Fear), 19, live in a small rented home in which the coziest room is a den with a grand piano neither of them can play. `It came with the house,' he shrugs.

`They're like two 5-year-olds playing house,' says Tom DiCillo , who directed Pitt in Johnny Suede and calls him an actor who'll `take any risk. He doesn't want to get pigeonholed.'

Pitt is the perfect host, offering milk, water and Mountain Dew . Lewis gives him a big kiss and excuses herself, slipping into another room.

`She's good,' says Pitt, admiring his young love. He lights a cigarette, noting how the public has turned on those who smoke. `That makes me want to smoke more - when people get self-righteous.'

Three cats dart in and out, and it's clear that he is no fan of felines (`Juliette's cats, I'm dogs'). But since the couple moved in together 2 1/2 years into their three-year romance, his two dogs have moved out.

His prized coonhound is with a buddy, but it's painful to talk about the other: `I went away to do a film and I couldn't take him with me and I left him with people I thought were responsible but who weren't. I think they lost him. Idiots. Irresponsible idiots.'

This black moment dissipates once Pitt starts talking about River and all he went through to get the film, in which he was cast just as Thelma & Louise was coming out, before anybody knew what a showcase it would be for him. `I don't think it would have mattered to Redford, anyway.'

Lewis, currently in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, re-enters, whispers in Pitt's ear, and the two lose themselves in another long kiss. She grins and disappears again.

Unfazed, Pitt starts talking about Cool World, the summer's failed Ralph Bakshi film, which featured Pitt as a '40s-style detective. He's grateful to Bakshi for showing Redford reels from the movie, something he thinks led to interest in him for River.

When he auditioned for the film, however, Pitt thought it went badly and asked Redford if he could do it over. He got actor friend Dermot Mulroney to do the scene with him while friends videotaped it and Mulroney's pal Melissa Etheridge played background music. `We were up all night, but that kept me in the running.'

Working with Redford was not daunting, Pitt says. `I look at it like tennis. If you play somebody better, your game's better.'

Redford urged his cast to play scenes in an understated way. ``That's tough because we grew up watching (Jack) Nicholson, who was completely entertaining. But here's another style.'

Despite some excellent reviews, Pitt thinks his `creativity was low' on River. He has the flashy part, but he says co-star Craig Sheffer, who plays his stoic older brother, is `damn strong' in the movie and isn't getting credit.

Lewis is back in the room.

`I'm sorry,' she says. `Any coffee? It's really yummy coffee. Did I interrupt your statement?'

`Yeah, hon. It was really deep.'

They kiss some more. And some more, until she excuses herself to make phone calls.

Pitt, whose unpretentious warmth suggests he's not comfortable with the prospect of superstardom, explains why he and Lewis make few forays into the glitter scene. ``There's other stuff that's more fun,'' he says. `Just sitting here.'

Born in Oklahoma and reared in Springfield, Mo., he started life as a Southern Baptist, but his family became non-denominational. `I'm very strong in my beliefs,' he says, but he's not part of any group. `I don't want to get into this because it's something my mom and I talk about a lot.'

He came to L.A. in 1986, one credit short of graduating in journalism from the University of Missouri. An advertising major, he told his parents he was going to art school in California. ``Who you going to tell in Missouri that you're going to be an actor?'

His first night in L.A., he pulled into a McDonald's, got a paper and saw ads for movie extras. `By the end of the week, I did an extra part for some training film.'

Harder was getting an agent, but the excitement of being in Hollywood made even that fun, he says. His first part was an episode of Dallas, followed by several little-seen films.

`I did one in Yugoslavia for 3 1/2 months. It never made it over here. I've never seen it. But I got to live on the coast of Yugoslavia and I was thrilled to death.'

Thelma & Louise changed everything. So has Lewis, who walks into the room just as Pitt is asked if the two of them are ever competitive.

`Are we competitive, hon?'

`Oh, God,'' she says. `How would we compete? We're like boy ... girl. And we're equally as talented. That's the answer.'

She's gone again.

`We compete in cards and wrestling,' Pitt says.

In River, fly-fishing has a mystical pull on Pitt's character. There are things that tug at him in real life, he says. Being outdoors is as much as he'll say. His character is also undisciplined, but whether he's undisciplined is debatable.

`We knew you were coming over, so we had to pick up,' he says, like it wasn't fun. `I'm disciplined in what I feel is important to me, but I'm not disciplined in a lot of areas that people feel you should be.'

She's ba-a-a-ack.

`I don't want to stay in my room,' says Lewis, sitting on the arm of a chair close to Pitt. The two star together in Kalifornia, due next spring. He plays a hillbilly serial killer. `People are going to be blown away,' says Dominic Sena, the film's director. Instead of the `clean-shaven cute guy with the butt'' that audiences saw in Thelma, Pitt gained 20 pounds, dyed his hair dark, and had a front tooth ground down `because this hillbilly wouldn't have perfect teeth.'

The two, who met on the TV movie Too Young to Die, don't like separations, Pitt says. And doing love scenes with others is taxing, as well. `We have a deal we made with each other which is private. There's a line, that's all.'

Marriage looks likely. `I don't see any reason not to at this point if we keep headed where we're headed,' says Pitt, though he rules out children for now.

Lewis can't stop thinking about competitiveness: `I bring home a new card game and teach it to him and then he wins more,' she says. `That's really annoying.'