Well, only in his new film, you understand. In the quirky road movie Kalifornia, Brad stars with ex-girlfriend Juliette Lewis as a low-rent trailer park drifter with a serious attitude [and a seriously scary beard]. Edwin J. Bernhard talked to him on location. Photographs by Phillip Dixon.

Lone Pine, California [pop 2,000] languishes in the cool shadow of Mount Whitney in the Sierra Mountains range. Humphrey Bogart filmed High Sierra here. John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood and countless other Hollywood idols have been making movies at this eerie desert location, just four hours from LA, for more than 70 years. Now it’s Brad Pitt’s turn.

This year we’ll see Brad Pitt in transition. In what could possibly be his final anarchic and quirky, violent road movie, Kalifornia, and, along with Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer and Dennis Hopper, in Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent road movie, True Romance, due out this autumn. Directed by Tony [Top Gun] Scott, True Romance makes Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs look like 101 Dalmatians, with Gary Oldman getting his face blown off and Val Kilmer playing the ghost of Elvis Presley.

By next year Pitt will be a fully-fledged Hollywood star, pitted against the likes of Cruise and Gibson. In the first of his double whammy deals, Legends of the Fall, Pitt will play son to Anthony Hopkins’ father in Ed [Thirtysomething] Zwick’s movie about two generations of Montana ranchers fighting in World War One. He’ll then be doing some major necking with Tom Cruise in the much-anticipated screen version of Anne Rice’s homoerotic horror/brutal love story Interview with a Vampire, written and directed by The Crying Game’s Neil Jordan, Risky Business indeed.

Today, though, in the heat and dust of a California summer, close to an abandoned mineshaft on a mountainous plateau which feels like the edge of the world, the Kalifornia film crew is taking a break. Close by, a scarred, tattooed hobo with a straggly beard and dirty shoulder-length hair takes a drink from a paper cup, wipes his mouth with the neck of his T-shirt and tosses the crunched-up cup into the bushes. This is Hollywood’s megastar of tomorrow? Pitt smiles, revealing a chipped front tooth, as he sticks out an arm. “I’m all dirty,” he half-apologizes. “You might not want to shake my hand.”

I don’t. Instead I ask him about his character, Early Grace, an amiable serial-killer who has hitched a ride across America for himself and his childlike girlfriend, Adele [played by Pitt’s former real-life girlfriend Juliette Lewis] with an unsuspecting couple—Twin Peaks’ transvestite FBI agent David Duchovny and former soap star Michelle Forbes—who just happen to have an academic interest in grisly murders.

“I guess he’s pretty wacky,” says Pitt, while I try not to gawp at his beard. “What do you want to tell you about him? He likes Lynyrd Skynyrd, drinks a lot of beer, spits a lot…” Sounds like fun to play. “Yeah, he’s a blast. Are you kidding? It’s like cops and robbers again, right? It’s fun as hell. Sure, there’s a very dark side to it, but, whatever… I wanted to do it because I wanted to play a guy who was all up in the air. I recently got off this real heavy drama [A River Runs Thought It], and I wanted to play a guy who was bouncing around like a pinball up here,” he says, pointing to his head. “I’ve read a lot of scripts with killer idiots and they’re just black and white, TV fodder. I liked hearing everyone’s analysation [sic] of serial killers. It’s a given. I don’t know why. You look at a litter of puppies and you see their personalities in the first week. I don’t know why some people become killers and some become doctors. He’s a pig; real white trash. You know, people annoy you but if you watch them on the screen you see why they’re that way.” He continues, shielding his eyes against the sun, “I remember I started reading a book, a psychology book on killers, and I got to page 23 and it just bored the hell out of me. You just kinda go on automatic, whatever works for you. I got better things to do with my time than live like a bum for two months to get into the role. You just drop your morals. Seriously. It’s that easy.” As he’s first to admit, there’s not much Method in Pitt’s madness.

Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis were still hot and heavy, as they say, when they made Kalifornia together. Director Dominic Sena, best known so far for his stylish Janet Jackson videos, didn’t actually intend to cast Hollywood’s then hottest couple in his first feature film. Impressed separately by Lewis’s work in Cape Fear and Pitt’s Thelma & Louise, he was surprised to discover they were actually going out together. “The next day when the word came back,” says Sena, “I thought, that either great or terrible.”

Fortunately, they didn’t break up until March this year, ironically during the very same week they were vote male and female “Stars of Tomorrow” at the NATO/ShoWest Awards in Las Vegas. Since then Lewis has been linked with Johnny Depp [her co-star in the forthcoming Gilbert Grape], and Brad with Julia Ormond, his co-star in Legends of the Fall, currently shooting in Canada.

Not that there was any indication when I talked to them on the set of Kalifornia that their romance would ever end. “It’s very serious,” Juliette had told me earlier that day. “We’ve been together three years now. So we’re not rushing. Five years maybe, we’ll start then, you know? We’re totally in love. Some people call love that arguing, tense, weird relationship thing, but I don’t think that’s love. When you can work together as a team and help each other and be considerate of each other and things like that, that’s love and that’s what we do.”

“The thing about Brad is he doesn’t know how beautiful he is,” she continues enthusiastically, “and I have to tell him that he’s just distractingly beautiful. He doesn’t know that. He’s totally oblivious to that. So he doesn’t care. And he’s really innocent and kinda sweet. He’s from Missouri,” she adds, vaguely, as if that somehow explains everything. “He has some other thing from growing up there.”

Later, Juliette Lewis sidles up to Brad as he’s having his tattoos and scars retouched in the make-up tent, puts her arms around him and looks very meaningfully into his eyes whilst fondling the straggly hair on his upper lip [like, yeuch]. It’s true, then, when they say that love is blind: Pitt is grungy and caked in dirt and dust and sweat; Lewis is wearing disgusting pantaloons with a lime green polyester floral dress. Call the fashion police!

Actually, the real police [well, the movie police] are already there. It’s near the climax of the film and the shoot-out between Early and the cops. Watching Pitt rehearse is pretty funny. Without his prop gun, he points his finger and goes “Bam! Bam! Bam!”—just like cops and robbers. He looks over at Juliette and they giggle. Another rehearsal. This time, Pitt’s handed the prop gun, which is already primed with blanks. He walks around weighing it up, feeling the power of it in his hand. They eventually shoot the scene seven, maybe eight times. During the second take, the gun doesn’t fire, so Pitt improvises and goes “Bang!”

As the scorching sun slowly sinks over the desert, though filming is declared over for the day, Pitt stays behind to talk some more. We chat about Amsterdam, his favourite European city; about camping in Yosemite, which he plans to do when the movie is over. I remind him of a conversation he had with some members of the crew earlier that day about jazz legend Miles Davis, and how he’d like to make a movie about a musician.

“You know, I always wanted to be a musician, but I couldn’t play for shit. I couldn’t sing for shit either, so I said, ‘Oh, acting, that’s what I’ll do…’ Seriously,” he says, “I want to do music. I like music better than movies.”

It strikes me that Brad Pitt has none of the pretensions of many less obviously talented actors; he’s very much a natural. Maybe that’s why, when I ask him about his best performance in a film so far, he replies, “I’m not happy with any of them. Truthfully. But that’s a perfection thing. I don’t take it seriously.”