THE NEXT BIG THING - by Chris Heath

He gave Geena Davis the “$6000 orgasm” in Thelma & Louise. He looked good and acted better in Redford’s A River Runs Through It. Now he threatens to take over from Tom Cruise—his co-star on the eagerly awaited Interview With The Vampire—as Hollywood’s most sought after young love god. Chris Heath meets Brad Pitt at a pie shop in Notting Hill…
“So,” says Brad Pitt, holding out his right hand as he sits down and revealing his long, tapering talons, “these are my vampire nails.”

Pitt has come to the Notting Hill Pie Shop, an unassuming family-run restaurant close to where he shoots Interview With The Vampire with director Neil Jordan and co-stars Tom Cruise and Christian Slater. It’s exacting work—he couldn’t meet until late into the evening, since he’s in just about every frame, and is working all day. Six days a week, for six months. It’s a big deal for Pitt, playing the vampire and the role that will almost certainly make him a very big star indeed.

He has come straight from the Pinewood set, taken out the fangs, and slipped out of period costume and into a flannel shirt of an undistinguished green hue, but the vampire fingernails remain. It’s too much fuss to take them off every night and replace them each morning, so he only removes them at weekends.

“I can’t button my fly with these things,” he says. “I have someone to button it for me.”

As for the dressing up, he’s been doing that for years when he arrived penniless in Hollywood, one of his first jobs was to stand at the junction of Sunset and La Brea Boulevards wearing a chicken costume to advertise a restaurant.

“It was nine dollars an hour,” he recalls. “That’s a lot of money when you’re used to making $3.50 for bus boy jobs.”

Didn’t people shout insults at you all day?

“Yeah,” he says, “but I didn’t care. They weren’t yelling at me. They were yelling at the damn chicken…”

Brad Pitt was 30 in December, though he is correct in pointing out (more out of self-deprecation, seemingly, than conceit) that he looks closer to 24. His hair is longer than you’ve seen it on the cinema screen, rolling around his shoulders.

“We’re really doing up this androgyny thing,” he says of Jordan’s adaptation of the Anne Rice bestseller. “I get more hairspray than Johnny Suede.”

And you get Tom Cruise to bite you?

“I do,” he says. “It’s pretty fun. My poor dad.”

Why, will he find it a bit too much?

“I find it a bit too much,” mutters Brad, “but I go with it.”

So is it deeply erotic?

“No,” he splutters. “Not at all. Those things are sharp. I had marks.”

From necking with Tom Cruise?

“I didn’t say that. He’s a good fella. He’s a good egg.”

Have you become chums?

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he considers. “We definitely come from different ends of the planet. But he’s a good fellow regardless.”

There has, of course, been an almighty row about the casting of Cruise as Lestat, with Interview’s author Anne Rice making public her unhappiness with the decision. Lestat, she says, is “an overpowering person”, “very tall, very blonde, very athletic, very full”—just like Brad Pitt, in fact.

“Brad Pitt would have made a wonderful Lestat,” she has said. “They should have reversed the roles. He did that wonderful thing with his hips in Thelma & Louise, remember that? And A River Runs Through It…this is a guy who could play Lestat.”

We order food. Brad, who clearly knows the menu, plumps for the all-day breakfast and a beer.

“Er, no squeak for me,” he requests.

“Extra bacon or extra sausage?” offers the waiter.

“Double up on the beans,” suggests Brad, “and we got a deal.”

He turns to me and says, by way of explanation, “I’ve had squeak. I’ve done squeak. It’s leftovers, right?”

Brad Pitt has plenty of reservations about doing interviews. He is horrified by a recent magazine article, which he says is a re-edited hodge-podge of things he has never said over the past four years. He offers me a friendly warning: “Put your opinion—‘He sucks, he’s great, he’s boring, he smells, whatever’—but don’t change my words. Or I’ll be riding my bike straight over to your door…” Then he offers another warning, that I shouldn’t expect too much: “I couldn’t even tell you what my characters are about. I never can. That’s the first question I always get asked, and I’m, ‘Er…he’s this, er, guy…he’s this…guy…’

“It seems to me,” he says, a little hopefully, “that it’d be better if they didn’t know who you were. Then your characters would be more believable. I don’t know shit about Robert Duvall or John Malkovich, and they’re my favorites. But, to get anyone to see the movie…”

This sentence, like a disturbingly high proportion, trails off uncompleted. “Boy,” he will sigh, when your reporter draw attention to his mastery of the annoyingly unfinished sentence, “I’m the king of those.” But over an evening’s tuck and several beers, a few facts slowly leak out…

William Bradley Pitt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and grew up in Springfield, Missouri. This is American for the Middle Of Nowhere. He was 22 when he packed up his Datsun and headed to California, three days on the road, “the most exciting time of my life,” driving along to his Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Three Dog Night tapes, stopping over to see the Grand Canyon and the odd meteor crater. He never quite finished his degree in Art Direction (something his parents would only discover when they read it in magazine interviews); he had decided that he wanted to be an actor. At first he did anything, taking all the extra work he could get. He stood in a doorway in Less Than Zero and he was a waiter “in this bad Charlie Sheen movie” (this description, he concedes, doesn’t narrow it down very far).

Meanwhile he earned money in the aforementioned chicken costume and on bos jobs, and by driving strippers around.

“That was a good job,” he grins. “There were some interesting rides home.”

The nightly routine was as follows: “I’d drive them there in my car. We’d have a private room. They’d come out and I’d introduce them and play the music—most of them wanted Prince, whatever the ‘fuck me’ songs were—and they’d take their clothes off and throw them my way and I’d catch them so guys wouldn’t steal them.”

Meanwhile, he acted in various soaps and series. He even appeared in Dallas. “For three episodes,” he says. “Probably for a total of four minutes. I was some reject boyfriend. An idiot.”

What did you have to do?

“Just sit there on the couch, smile and shit.”

He was also on Thirtysomething, briefly…

“I had no lines, I think I had one line. It was ‘No’. Or ‘Yes’. I can’t remember. These are not monumental moments we are talking about.”

So what were you thinking as you made these bit-part appearances—that it was a means to an end?

“No, not at all. I was thinking, ‘This is great!’ I come from the Ozark Mountains! We don’t have that kind of stuff where I grew up. I move out there, and all of a sudden I’m in the middle of it. Fantastic!”

Rather more impressively he appeared as an unpleasant young drop-out in a TV movie Too Young To Die?, on the set of which he met his girlfriend for the next couple of years, Juliette Lewis. Then came Thelma & Louise. Originally the role was earmarked for William Baldwin, but he relinquished it when he signed up for Backdraft.

“I knew that part was going to come along. I can’t explain it, but I knew it. Sometimes I was patient, and sometimes I was anxious, but I knew. And then, when it came along, I knew I was going to get it. I read it and immediately I knew. And I knew this guy to the end. Like with Legends (the forthcoming Legends of the Fall) I felt like I knew. This one (Interview With The Vampire) I’ve been meandering through a bit.”

Other parts came quickly. He disputes the idea that it was the somewhat hysterical reaction to his appearance as the smooth-talking snake-hipped hustler with rippling stomach muscles, who announces that, “I’ve always believed that, done properly, armed robbery doesn’t have to be a totally unpleasant experience” and who gives Geena Davis what became known as the “$6,000 orgasm”, which kick-started his career. The fact that he had done the part was enough: by the time Thelma & Louise came out he had already filmed Johnny Suede and Cool World, and was on the set of A River Runs Through It.

In Johnny Suede he played a vain, confused youth with a preposterous quaff and suede shoes who spends much of the film either wandering around nearly naked with his hands inside his shabby underwear (the underwear in question was custom-distressed by Pitt, who had to be dissuaded from adding “skid-marks”) or bumping into even-more-preposterously-quiffed Nick Cave (Pitt still bemoans the fact that they cut out a scene where Cave, standing at a bar with a shot of tequila and a piece of lemon in front of him, lifts the arms of the woman next to him, licks her armpit, downs the tequila and then sucks the lemon). The film, a surreal moreal fable, is actually rather good.

“I liked it,” says Pitt, “but my folks hated it. I always know. I talked to them on the phone and they said, ‘We’re going to rent Johnny Suede tonight’—these movies don’t make it to where I grew up. And a month went by and I realized they hadn’t mentioned it…” Another time he telephoned his grandparents. “We just saw that movie of yours,” his grandfather told him. “Yeah?” said Brad. “What movie was that?” His grandfather turned away from the phone: “Betty? What was the name of that movie we didn’t like?”

The name was Cool World, the disastrous attempt at mixing animation and actors, co-starring Kim Basinger. “They all hated that one,” he mutters.

In which case they rather echoed the mood of the nation, didn’t they? “Yeah,” he answers. “Dog shit, wasn’t it?” He chuckles once more. “I like bad movies, because I like to yell at the screen at home. I saw one on TV like the other night, The Pope Must Die.”

He had read Norman Maclean’s novel A River Runs Through It a couple of years before the film was cast. His first audition with Robert Redford was, he says “Shit”, so he and his friend Dermot Mulroney (Bridget Fonda’s boyfriend in The Assasin) made a videotape of a couple of scenes on their own and sent it to Redford: “I think it kept me in there.” More than any other, it was his performance in A River Runs Through It that suggested Pitt might be able to progress rather more seamlessly into major roles than some of his twenty something pieces.

“That was a beautiful crafted movie,” he says now. “Chisseled, you know. I’m not as satisfied with that performance as much, but the movie is so well done it’s bigger than any one performance.”

And there were, of course, the comparisons with the young Robert Redford, with Pitt described as the ultimate young sex symbol.

“It doesn’t amount to much,” he had told Empire when presented with his reality during the desert location shooting of his next movie, Kalifornia, released in the UK next month. “Just what we need, hey, another sex symbol…Brad symbolizes sex? I don’t think so. They’ve never even been to bed with me…if that was all I was known for when it’s all said and done, I’d be disappointed. But hopefully I have more to offer than than…”

Luckily, of course, he has. The highlight of his recent work must be his cameo in True Romance, the Californian waster flatmate of Christian Slater’s buddy. He read the script and told Tony Scott he liked the character Floyd “because he gets everyone killed”.

“I said, ‘Can I make him a stoner? A pothead?’ And he said, ‘Do whatever you want’.”

It is a masterful study of an out-of-it couch-ridden hippie demanding, “Get some beer and some…cleaning products” and memorably complaining, “Don’t be condescending me, man.” Brad Pitt confirms what Tony Scott told Empire last year: that the character was partly based on a friend of Pitt’s who came to stop for a week and stayed two years. Has the friend seen it?

“No,” says Pitt. “He’s in an asylum, actually.”

He lights another cigarette.

“Last cigarette!” he sings to himself. “Last cigarette! Last cigarette! The one before I go to bed!” In a few minutes he will buy another pack. The pie shop owners ask what music Brad would like to hear. He inspects their cassette selection, spurning pie shop suggestions of Cleo Laine [“Next time”] and Shabba Ranks [“Fake reggae”]. In the end none of their music selection passes muster, so eventually he asks what I have in my bag, and plumps for the new Lemonheads album. Brad Pitt likes his music—while he is not one for huge method research on the characters he plays, he does like to prepare himself by playing appropriate music before certain scenes.

“That,” he says, “is what works best for me.”

For bits of Interview With The Vampire he explains that Mazzy Star and The Doors have been useful, and also some Blind Melon and Smashing Pumpkins.

On Legends Of The Fall, Stevie Ray Vaughn was good. Kalifornia?

“That was more heavy metal,” he chuckles.

Kalifornia, in which Pitt plays a skuzzy, deranged serial killer, is the film which Pitt is notionally supposed to be getting people to see right now, but by and large he doesn’t mention it unprompted. I suspect that for Brad Pitt blatant promotion would be out of character whatever the film , but it must be particularly strange, trying to talk up a film which died a speedy death in the US.

“I went to bed one night and it was out,” he laughs, “and I got up the next morning and it was gone.”

It’s nearly two years since it was filmed. He chose it, he explains, because it was “something different…cops and robbers, and rubber guns, and fake blood. I get to be a dick. It’s definitely a flawed movie, but it’s a good time too.” In the finished film the violence is graphic, often without enough justification in the story telling to pull you along with it, but Pitt had fun making it. In his first big shooting scene he had to chase and shoot two policemen, The sound man kept re-filming. Eventually they—and he—realized that the problem was. Each time he pulled the trigger, Brad Pitt was going, “Bam! Bam! Bam!” “I had no idea,” he says, “I was like a little kid.”

His costar was his girlfriend, Juliette Lewis. Though they are now apart he praises her talents. He says he’d work with her again “in a second”, and rues that they haven’t done a film where they’d play two characters who relate to each other.

“You could have got some powerful stuff out there.”

I mention that like his current co-star The Cruiser, Juliette Lewis is a practicing Scientologist.

“Oh boy,” he says. Drawing on his cigarette. “Don’t get me started. I’d go on for a couple of hours about that. The 30-second version is; I’m not big on anything that tells you how to live your life.”

Were you ever under any pressure to get involved?

“No, I wasn’t under any pressure at all, but you’ve got to see what’s going on if your love’s into it, because you respect your love. I mean, whatever helps you sleep at night, whatever helps you get up in the morning. As much as I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life I can’t tell someone to live theirs.”

So, do you think Scientology is a bad thing?

“That’s a hard one. It’s bad for me. I know it made my girl feel better. See?”

To the outside world Pitt is one of a broad generation of young Hollywood actors: the Christian Slater and Keanu Reeveses and Johnny Depps of this world. It’s an idea he doesn’t encourage.

“I don’t feel part of any generation,” he says. “I don’t feel part of any group, I don’t feel part of any faction, I don’t feel part of any religion.”

But the world’s perception of American actors of your age has been rather twisted, hasn’t it, by the death of River Phoenix?

“Yeah,” he says. He exhales slowly, before recalling the first time they ran into each other at the Toronto Film Festival. His phone rang and the voice went, “Pitt? River!” He thought that was very funny. River told Pitt to call him back in Los Angeles—“Don’t be shy!” he said—and so Pitt did.

“I’ll tell you this: I only knew him well enough to know that I wanted to know him better, and I was really looking forward to it. That was just the wrong kid for that to happen to. It just didn’t really work with his nature. Very sweet. Very much an innocent, actually. It’s not like it’s going to change anything. It’s just a waste. I think he was the best.” He pauses. “Is.” Tries again. “Was.” Reconsiders. “Is. The best of the young guys. I’m not just saying that now—I said that before he died. He had something I don’t understand.”

If Brad Pitt isn’t keen to see himself as part of a new generation of actors, it is probably because he has speedily overtaken them to land the kind of roles which don’t seem like twentysomething actor vehicles at all.

“I’ve yet to do a movie where I haven’t lost sleep, weight, integrity. So if you’re going to invest that much it’s got to be a movie that’s worth it. This is what I was working for, to get in the spot where I can take movies that just move me. As opposed to movies that don’t. Honestly. It’s as simple as that. I think of the 70s movies, the ones I grew up with. I remember Dog Day Afternoon. I remember Cuckoo’s Nest. I remember Butch and Sundance. I remember a movie on television called The Jericho Mile; this guy in prison who just ran, and it turned out he could be competing with the fastest men in the world but that wasn’t why he did it…”

Pitt stops himself—I have not said a word during this whole reminiscence—and exclaims, “Awww, man! Now we’re getting all analyctical,” as though he has been tricked into a trap, and changes the subject. Weird, though not quite as weird as what happens when, for no particular reason, we are discussing My Life As A Dog, and I tell him it made me blub. When I ask him whether he cries at films he seems mortified that I should have asked.

“Wouldn’t tell you. Wouldn’t tell you,” he repeats, refusing to be drawn.

Brad Pitt has been living in London since November in a house which, quite accidentally but nonetheless serendipitously, used to belong to peter Cushing. He details London’s pleasures: the architecture [he particularly rates The History Museum, The Michelin Building and the exterior of Harrods], cycling around at night, going go-karting and “passing out in a couple of good bars.” And, he says, “you have beautiful women here.” Other things he likes are British words [he is fond of ‘dodgy’ but his new favourite is ‘plonker’. “I like that. This girl on set told me”], British newspapers [“They’re more entertaining”] ad British television.

“In America we’re packed with commercials, and they’re all in your face—‘Next one! Hard copy!!! Yeah! And here they show a nice little picture and a sweet lady comes on with a soft voice and goes, ‘Next on BBC2…’ I love that. It’s a relief, the television here. Much quieter.”

He was also very impressed that on “this dating show, blond-something”, they had couples of varying skin colouration.

“I’d never seen that in America,” he says, recalling a tale about the bed-and-breakfast place he stayed in when they were filming Interview With The Vampire’s exterior scenes in New Orleans last autumn.

“She was an old plantation owner. She had hired black help, right? And she said to me [Pitt puts on a heavy New Orleans drawl]: ‘Now Brad—I tried to read that book Interview With The Vampire, and, Brad, I thought it was pretty good, but I got to the point where the niggers take over the plantation and, now, Brad, I just had to put it down…’ She had gotten past men biting other men’s necks and sucking blood, and vampires and stuff, and when she got to that point she said she just couldn’t believe the book any more!”

He has been filming non-stop for nearly a year. “Before this I did Legends Of The Fall for four months—a very tragic character, very tormented—andthis guy’s even more tormented.” Though he raves about his current director, Neil Jordan, he seems rather more obviously fired up about Legends Of The Fall than Interview With The Vampire, enthusing about the Jim Harrison story on which it is based [which he had also read before: Pitt seems more enthusiastic talking about his favourite authors—Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas McGuane, Richard Ford—then almost anything else] and about the opportunity to appear as Anthony Hopkins’ son.

“He’s the king, let me tell you. He’s the king. Sometimes you get to watch great acting, and you don’t say a word, you just watch.”

But all this onscreen angst is getting to him. He’s hardly seen daylight for ages.

“I wake up and feel good, and I gotta go to work and feel bad,” he laughs. “I gotta find a comedy next, man, or I’ll break out the razor blades, Jesus Christ.”

In fact he is planning to take most of 1994 off and travel Europe alone.

“I have to go to Spain and see the Gaudi…and go to Belgium, and back to Amsterdam, Scotland I got a real itch for, I’m going to Paris. And I want to see Italy. I’m just going to do all that. Fill up again.” Perhaps he needs it. When he talks about why he acts he says, “I wanted to get involved in something I love” and that it’s “the greatest job in the world” but adds, “though actually, it’s faded some. It loses some of its magic, doesn’t it?” he says he is planning on doing something else creative—though despite determined questioning he won’t say what—something over which he can exert more personal control.

Then he tells a story which further suggests some disenchantment with acting. The mother of one of the people on the Vampire set died recently.

“And I was thinking about that. We do death every other day in the movies, you know, but you’ll never be able to do it to the full impact of what it is to have someone die. It’s pretty much bullshit really, what we do. I was sitting there on set and someone was dying in front of me, and I was supposed to be tormented by it, and I’d see him—the person whose mother died—and he was going through something much much more. And I felt like a phoney.”

We are the last to leave the pie shop. Outside, in the street, Brad Pitt unlocks his bicycle from the railings.

“I have bicycles locked up all over the world,” he says. “When I leave a place I find a good hiding place and lock it up, and I figure that when I go back maybe it’ll be there. I have two in Amsterdam, a bike in Canada, a bike in Oregon, New York, New Orleans and Vegas. So I have all these keys and I can’t remember which bike goes with which.”

As we stand there, two girls, who were in the pie shop earlier, approach.

“I just want to say,” says one wrapped into a fluffy fake leopard-skin coat, “it’s really nice to see you the flesh. Can I shake your hand?”

“Yeah, absolutely. Awwww. Thank you,” says Brad, all humility and charm. “That’s a real nice coat,” he tells her. “I was admiring it in the place. Did you get it today?”

“No,” she answers, clearly a little bit taken aback to be discussing, her wardrobe with Brad Pitt. “About two weeks ago. You should have seen my last one.”

“Really?” says Brad. “Rough?”

“Yeah, but it was nice. It looked like a Christmas tree.”

“Ornaments?” he asks.

“Well,” she says, “at fancy dress parties I used to put baubles on it.” Brad looks puzzled.

“What are baubles?”

“You know,” she says. “Things you hang on a Christmas tree.”

“Ornaments?” he repeats.

“Yeah…What are you doing here?”

“Living,” he answers. “Riding my bike.”

“You’re living here?” she says. Suddenly she and her friend have their doubts. Maybe this is some anonymous smooth-talking American exploiting their gullibility. Why should Brad Pitt be in a pie shop? “Are you sure you’re…?” she mutters, and we start walking, Brad wheeling his bike. Finally she decides that he probably is, after all. “I just had to do that, you know…” she says—meaning asking to shake his hand. “I’m sure you get that a lot.”

“Only from Chris,” he says, nodding towards me.

He walks me to my car. In a moment he will cycle off and, minutes later shoot by in the opposite direction, his wooly hat trailing behind his head. It’s around midnight, and brad Pitt has a 5.30 a.m. call. He needs to sleep.

“I’ve got to kill someone tomorrow…”