GOLDEN BOY - by Wolf Schneider

No one looks better on a horse than lean, golden-haired Brad Pitt, galloping the plains in the lush, romantic “Legends of the Fall.”

“Horses is it for me,” says the laid-back, athletic actor, who has sampled many sports. “Got bored at ‘em,” he says “and played something else.”

Since he imprinted his flair for downhome, country-boy sex appeal in “Thelma & Louise,” Pitt has become to sought-after, Robert Redford was considered lucky to land him for “A River Runs Through It.” His fee reportedly is climbing to $3.5 million per picture.

Pitt, who says traveling is the best part of his newfound success and interviews the worst, has been doubly blessed with two decadent roles this season.

First, he nailed the role of brooding Louis, the vampire who questions his destiny in “Interview With the Vampire”; and second, he dazzles a woman to disaster and a family to pieces as the reckless, untamable Tristan in “Legends of the Fall” [opening everywhere January 13].

“This is the end of surprising people; now it’s more expected,” says Pitt, sipping coffee, then swigging Evian, his green-gray eyes no longer hidden by those flowing locks—they’ve been buzz-cut for his role as a cop in the upcoming film “Seven,” co-starring Morgan Freeman. With his shirt unbuttoned, he’s a disheveled sex symbol shifting in his chair.

“My life is good; it hasn’t changed much,” he says in a soft drawl. “I have more opportunity and I have some cameras showing up on my doorstep, which gets annoying.”

Well, actually, more than annoying, he says.

“People so badly want to twist things,” he says. “I don’t know what it is. People want to hear the negative. People want to gossip. Listen, I don’t understand it yet.”

Of the high-profile “Interview,” which found Pitt avoiding much o the hoopla, he says, “Oh, I’m so glad I did it. I gotta tell you, I found the press to be a no-winner. It was such a phenomenon, it just took off.”

“Legends,” which was filmed near Calgary, Alberta, is getting a quieter release, with not everyone realizing Pitt pursued the role of Tristan for two years and sacrificed some of his fee to get it made.

“It is the only character that I’ve had that I felt there was no one better to play,” says Pitt, who plays the hellbent-for-free cowboy who is one of three brothers in love with the same woman in early 1900s Montana.

“Tristan was more spiritual for some reasons. I don’t know why, don’t ask me to explain,” he says. “I liked the wildness in him I liked the love in him. I liked the hate in him. It just all made sense to me.”

In the movie, Tristan confounds and mesmerizes those who know him, not unlike Pitt.

“He is possessed of a physicality and that is who he is, unashamed and in a very provocative and compelling way,” director Ed Zwick says.

Co-star Julia Ormond says, “Apart from the fact that he’s a gorgeous guy, he’s somebody who constantly tries to be shrugging that off.”

Pitt says producer Marshall Herskovitz gave him the best tip on tackling the role. “He said to me, ‘This guy, the wildness and violence of him is already there. Play him as caring and as loving as possible and there you will have the dichotomy,” says Pitt, who doesn’t beg for advice. “The biggest part, I got to say, is just learning to listen to your gut.”

It was the same back in Missouri, where he ditched advertising classes for LA. “My gut was telling me the same things then: get out,” he says. “I wouldn’t have stayed there, but I love going back.”

Pitt arrived in Hollywood with $325 and signed up at three extra agencies. As fame came, Pitt kept his equilibrium, driving around in a beat-up Jeep Cherokee, listening to Bob Marley, favoring Discovery Channel documentaries.

“The movie star thing confuses me,” he says. So he discusses upcoming movie roles such as “Seven,” and a small part for director Terry Gilliam: “Small parts are easier.”

“I choose films that have a little flavor or whatever I’m feeling at the moment. [I don’t] get too grand about it.”