THE CURRENT golden boy of Hollywood smiled and shook his short-cropped head, vowing that `Seven'' is no sell-out number for him.

`The script had been around for over four years,' Brad Pitt said. `At first description, I thought it was just another cop-buddy flick, but upon reading it, I knew it was different. People are going to love it or hate it, but they'll be talking about it. It's going to get some sparks going.'

Pitt, complete with flowing blond locks, stole female hearts around the world earlier this year in the breakthrough role of Tristan, the wild brother in ``Legends of the Fall.'

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, he was quite a different fellow. The hair had been cropped. The stub of a goatee jutted out from his chin. He was in a grunge mode for `Seven,' the all-important follow-up film, which opens locally Friday.

In `Seven,' Pitt plays a no-nonsense, gritty homicide detective who's willing to do whatever it takes to trap a deranged killer.

Since `Legends,' and stealing `Interview With the Vampire' from Tom Cruise, Pitt's salary has gone up to $8 million a picture.

`That's the oddest feeling of all,' the actor said, shaking his head. `I don't have much concept of that. Not at all. I mean, I lived for years with nothing, and I was fine. The best thing about all this is that I know I can get along without it.'

`All this' refers to the media that hound his every move. People magazine named him `Sexiest Man in the World,' and his romance with actress Gwyneth Paltrow was splattered across magazines and news-papers.

In person, he has a boyish, gee whiz quality. Pitt, who was raised in Missouri, says that he wanted stardom, `but it used to be more fun. You could surprise people. It used to be about proving myself. Now, if I'm not careful, it can be about just holding on. I'm not going to let that happen. I'm looking for something different every time out.'

`Seven' is just such a project.

It's no romance. It's being compared more to `The Silence of the Lambs' than to `Love Story.' His co-stars are Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman, as a veteran cop, and real-life love Paltrow as his supportive wife.

Arnold Kopelson, the producer of `Seven,' isn't worried that the film may not be what Pitt's young female fans want.

`They'll still like him,' Kopelson said. `They'll see a new Brad Pitt. This movie is a risk because a lot of people are going to hate it, but it won't be ignored. It cost $20 million to make it, and that's not a lot by today's standards.'

When I reminded Pitt that Paltrow recently told me that she thinks co-star Morgan Freeman is the REAL `sexiest man in the world,' he laughed and said: ``She hasn't told me that, but they are two great actors. The scene that Gwyn and Morgan have together in `Seven' is the best movie scene of this year. Gwyn is a fantastic actress who goes straight for the specifics of a character. She doesn't hide. She gets right out there. As for Morgan, she and I call him Morganic. He's wise and effortless.'

Freeman, who received Oscar nominations for both `The Shawshank Redemption' and `Driving Miss Daisy,' laughed when told about Paltrow's comment and said: `I'm an old actor. She might say that, but you notice she's with Brad.'

Paltrow and Pitt met on the set of `Seven' a year ago and have been together since. `It was love at first sight, as far as I was concerned,' Pitt said. He denies the rumors that they are engaged.

Paltrow is the daughter of TV producer Bruce Paltrow (`St. Elsewhere') and actress Blythe Danner (Tony Award winner for `Butterflies Are Free'' and currently in `To Wong Foo'). She clicked as a low-life grifter in `Flesh and Bone'' with Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid. Since then, she has appeared as Thomas Jefferson's daughter in `Jefferson in Paris' and has no less than five movies coming out in the next year. The willowy 22-year-old blonde, reached in a separate interview, described Brad as simply `a good guy.'

`I don't really know who that Brad Pitt is,' she said of his movie-star publicity. `I know a very grounded, peaceful and wise person. And besides, he has three dogs. People who have dogs are usually good.'

The two are going to be solo for a while, though. Pitt will live in a tent in the Himalayas for five months while filming `Seven Days in Tibet,' playing a fugitive mountaineer. She is in London, filming `Emma' with Emma Thompson. She'll be seen soon in `Moonlight and Valentino' with Whoopi Goldberg. He just finished filming `Twelve Monkeys,' a futuristic drama directed by Terry Gilliam and co-starring Bruce Willis. (`Bruce will be bald and tattooed. I'll look pretty ordinary,' Pitt said.) He'll star with Robert De Niro in `Sleepers,' directed by Barry Levinson.

`I don't want to talk about Gwyn,' Pitt said, ending the subject. `There's already too much written. . . . Personally, I don't know anything about my favorite actors' personal lives. I think that's the way it should be. You become a personality rather than an actor if you talk too much about yourself.'

Pitt likes to talk, though, about his Middle America beginnings. `I was raised to think that education and family came first, and then everything else would follow,' he said.

He was the middle child in the family - born in Oklahoma and raised in Springfield, Mo. His father owned a trucking company. `It's a different life there,' Pitt said. `When I was growing up, we had only the Top 40 country songs on the radio. They figured that's all we'd listen to, but if we'd been offered something else, it would have been accepted. It's a little like a closed society. You can only experience what's available.'

He majored in journalism at the University of Missouri, planning to go into advertising, specializing in graphic design. But he quit in 1987, just two weeks shy of graduating.

`I went to Los Angeles to become an actor, but I told my parents I was going to try and get a job in graphic design,' he said. `They would have thought I was crazy If I'd told them I wanted to be an actor. People just don't think of being an actor in Springfield, Missouri. At least, not sane people.'

In Los Angeles, he landed a TV job in only six months, with recurring roles in `Another World' and `Dallas,' leading to the series `Glory Days.'

The press began calling him `the next James Dean,' `the next Tom Cruise' or `the next Robert Redford,' but he defied expectation by playing a psychopathic killer in `Kalifornia.' Then came his big break as a tight-jeaned scoundrel who bedded and robbed Geena Davis in `Thelma and Louise' and the fly-fishing-as-myth film ``A River Runs Through It.' He played a campy rock wannabe in `Johnny Suede,'' directed by Norfolk's own Tom DiCillo.

During the filming of `Seven,' Pitt slipped and fell through the windshield of a car while running across the vehicles for a chase scene. `The scene required that I drop from a fire escape and then scamper across the cars,' he said. `Being the ham that I was, the first thing I thought when I fell was, `Did they get that on camera?' They didn't. I fell through the window with my feet sticking out, but I thought the camera was still on me, so I jumped up and kept the chase going. It was only after awhile that I noticed I was looking at this bone where they shouldn't be any bone.'

Director David Fincher said that much of the film had to be reshot because of Pitt's injury and the fact that his arm had to be put in a cast.

Pitt refers to Los Angeles as both `home' and `the snake pit.' But he's willing to remain what he calls a drifter.

`I believe in trusting fate,' he said. `It's a constant. Fate always wins. Being able to choose is an even greater challenge. Back when I had to take any job I could get, it was easier. I'd like to do a comedy soon, but I'm not going to be in a cheesy rip-off. I want to do something new every time out. Wouldn't it be great if I was in a movie and some people didn't even recognize it was me?'