BRAD ATTITUDE - by Johanna Schneller
His body made it's debut in Thelma & Louise; the rest of him emerged in
Interview With The Vampire. With his big romantic western, Legends Of The Fall,
opening this month, Brad Pitt is the hottest young heartthrob to hit the screen
in years. Visiting the nascent superstar in his new terraced and balconied hillside
home, Joanna Schneller explores how a monosyllabic Missouri boy caused so much
commotion in Hollywood - without even trying.
The first time you meet Brad Pitt, you think, Brad Pitt is a knucklehead.
He takes the metal stairs two at a time at the Big and Tall coffee shop in
West Hollywood, his construction boots clanging like anvils. He drops his rations
on the table: a Big Gulp Mountain Dew, a pack of gum, several packs of cigarettes.
He sucks on the Big Gulp, pops a stick of gum into his mouth, lights a cigarette,
and orders a caffe latte. “But a single,” he says. “Takin’
Slow? Pitt must have a heart like a bass drum. All that sugar, caffeine, and
nicotine pulsing through his body-plus a second latte and a large fruit smoothie.
And yet, after two hours of conversation, when lesser men would be hissing like
a boiling saucepan, Pitt sits perfectly still, uttering sentences as insubstantial
as dust motes.
“The thing about these articles, I sit down and give my life views, and
it sounds like I’m walking around like a prophet,” Pitt says. “And
that’s not true, ‘cause most of the time I’m out cutting up
and laughing and speeding in my car and whatever, whatever, whatever. Yelling
at the TV and cranking the tunes…It’s like ‘What’s your
favorite color? I don’t know, I like a bunch of ‘em.”
Under the druggie diction, beneath the bale of bleached-blond hair, Pitt is
murderously handsome. As tall and lean as a deer rifle, he has a way of looking
at you out of the corner of his Popsicle-blue eyes, a way of touching his chest
while he formulates his nonanswers, a way of suddenly grinning through his cigarette
smoke. It’s an effortlessness, a glorious nonchalance. It’s ridiculously
“What Brad does that you can’t learn-James Dean did it really well,
and Nicholson-is that he knows how to do nothing when he’s not talking,”
says Jim Harrison, who wrote the novella upon which Pitt’s next film,
Legends of the Fall, is based. “He never gives the appearance of trying
to think of what to say next. So your attention is completely focused on him.”
“In Interview with the Vampire [Pitt’s current hit], Brad’s
character is very passive,” says Interview producer and mega-mogul David
Geffen. “You need an awful lot of charisma to be in a movie where someone
else does all the action. And Brad has it.”
Pitt, now 31, makes an art of effortlessness. Ever since his honey-voiced hitchhiker
in Thelma & Louise sent a million women into the soft summer night thinking
$6,600 was a small sum to lose, he has known how to stand still and let the
camera drool. As an object, he’s as lovingly photographed as any woman
or mountain or sunrise. As an actor, he’s without artifice. There’s
no technique to Brad Pitt. “His emotions are all right there on the surface,”
says Tom Cruise, his Interview co-star.
In movies, the visual is king. Pitt was born for the movies. In A River Runs
Through It, he grins a cock-eyed grin and boom-he embodies the doomed beauty
of youth. In Interview, he casts his eyes to heaven and you know his big heart
aches. And in Legends of the Fall, as he leans down from his saddle, he’s
nothing less than a force of nature-untamable, unknowable, and (aptly) unspeaking.
Ask the question “What’s Legends about?” Go ahead, ask. Most
people would answer something like, it’s about a Montana rancher named
Tristan before and after World War I who falls in love with the wrong woman,
betrays his brothers (played by Henry Thomas and Aidan Quinn, with Anthony Hopkins
as their father), slips into madness, and eventually earns a clear-eyed sanity.
That answer is much too literal for Pitt. His answer: “Sinking below,
risking above, going off, giving up, taking charge, taking control. This man’s
journey seemed very accurate to me and very true.”
There will be no eking details out of Brad Pitt. There will be no blurting,
no confessing, no psychologizing or philosophizing. No sharing. No chitchat.
No way. By the end of this encounter, the only thing you will learn absolutely
for certain is that Pitt is not one of those people who rush to fill the silences
in a conversation.
Say you stumble onto the topic of people’s intentions. Pitt will say,
“All people I find interesting, in the fact that all people are basically
good, and yet life is tough. The majority of people are right, coming from where
they’re coming from, no matter how morally incorrect, or politically incorrect,
or status-quo incorrect, it seems. Then they get scared along the way. Have
you read a book called A Simple Plan? Really interesting.”
“What is it?” you ask.
“This book.” He answers.
Uh, novel or nonfiction? “Novel, definitely novel,” Pitt says.
“It’s so disturbing. Actually, I don’t even want to talk about
it. Now I’m going to the bathroom.”
Here are the facts: A Simple Plan, by Scott Smith, is about a man who discovers
$4.4 million in a downed plane, and how this money screws him tighter and tighter
to disaster. Pitt was offered the lead in the film version, but passed because,
after Interview and Legends, he couldn’t stomach another depressing story.
And he doesn’t like to talk about it, because he doesn’t want his
turning it down to make people think there’s something wrong with it,
and also, he doesn’t want people knowing his business. But the facts are
of no consequence. Filling in the details in Pitt’s bebop conversation
is like reading the footnotes to Finnigans Wake: you may think you’ll
understand more, but the only thing that matters is the rhythm.
“I honestly see things as very simple,” says Pitt later in the
conversation. “When things get out of hand, there’s a simple answer.
Some people are good at finding it quickly, some never find it. Now I gotta
hit the can again.”
When he returns you say, “You were talking about simplicity.”
“Yeah, but I finished with that,” he says.
And now, the truest moment of the evening.
“So you’ve never been in therapy?” you ask.
“Naha,” Pitt snorts. “No, but I’m not knocking it.
I say whatever helps you sleep at night, whatever helps you get up in the morning,
fine by me. Have at it. Knock yourself out, buddy.”
The second time you meet Brad Pitt, you think, Brad Pitt is smart than he lets
On the drive over to his new house, you hear an ad on the radio, Barbara Walters
and Hugh Downs blaring importantly, “Tonight on 20/20: The ugly truth
about beautiful people…You always suspected they got all the breaks.”
Oh look, here’s Pitt’s stunning 1910 Craftsman home, studded with
terraces and balconies, perfectly integrated into its many-acre site. At night,
it looks like a crazy stack of shoeboxes glowing with amber and burnt-orange
light. There’s a pool. There’s a pond. There’s a small manmade
cave, which Pitt has furnished with an Oriental rug. There are 40-odd chameleons
living in wooden Chinese-lantern-shaped structures in the backyard.
Inside the house, there are copper walls embossed with leaves, big old leather-and-wood
sofas and chairs, lots of guitars. One built-in glass cabinet is crammed with
hundreds of CDs-not alphabetized, naturally. “It’s kind of…you’re
on the search. You find just the right one for the needed moment,” Pitt
It’s Friday, eight p.m., but workmen come and go, scraping paint, delivering
boxes. The phone trills non-stop; Pitt doesn’t answer it. There’s
a German shepherd that belongs to a couple, friends of Pitt’s from A River
Runs Through It, whose suitcases have erupted in one of the bedrooms, where
they’re camping out for an unknown duration. And three hounds Pitt acquired
just before he moved in. He has always wanted dogs, but just needed a place
“This one is Todd Potter, this one is Saudi-she’s a pound dog,
she loves the love-and this one is Purty, ‘cause he’s so damned
purty,” Pitt says, lolling on the floor, accepting dog licks.
“Why did you name her Saudi?” you ask.
“I don’t know. Why Todd Potter?” he says.
O.K., why Todd Potter?
“Exactly,” he says.
Pitt has gotten some big breaks lately. Not solely because he’s beautiful.
But does he think his physiognomy played part in it? Long squirming silence.
Others are happy to speak for him. “Brad’s effect is far-reaching,”
says singer Melissa Etheridge, a good friend of his. “One night a few
of us, shall we say, lesbians were in the hot tub watching the guys play basketball
in the pool. We were staring at Brad, and we al agreed he could change a woman’s
“Pitt’s beauty works for Tristan in Legends, because it defines
Tristan’s separateness,” Jim Harrison says. “But the truth
is, men resent good-looking men, more so than women resent good-looking women.
It’s sexual jealousy, what the French call the injustice of ‘the
The injustice of the given-that’s the phrase Barbara Walters was searching
for. Pitt pops over to Etheridge’s pool to practice fly casting for A
River Runs Through It, or watches some guy run wiring in his house, and then
hooks up a few antique lanterns on his own, and doesn’t even seem aware
that he’s doing something rare. He’s not boastful about his gifts,
or overly modest. He just accepts them. While shooting Legends, Pitt decided
he should spring into the saddle like a real horse wrangler; when the camera
rolled he did it on the first take.
“Listen, you just grab the pommel and kick,” he says with a shrug.
He kindly gets up to demonstrate, swinging his long leg all over the living
room. “I was real good at physics,” he says. “Had a good mind
The injustice of the given can incite mere mortals to hostile, negative feelings.
Does Pitt know the theory that people who receive too many gifts go insane?
“I don’t understand that,” he says. “It’s all
just a game, isn’t it? It’s up to you, if you’ve got anything
more in you, to show it.”
Don’t be mistaken: effortlessness isn’t easy. “This last
year, I’ve been as happy as I’ve ever been, been miserable, been
genius, been humiliated, been congratulated, been put down-I mean the whole
gamut of emotions,” Pitt says. “That’s a pretty amazing year.
I value that. Extremes. And it’s come from acting. The hardest thing is
to make it look easy.
“You take a movie because there’s something it brings to you that
you want to investigate. I felt like I’d done the serial-killer guy [in
the film Kalifornia, where he played Early Grayce, a Charlie-Manson-on-Quaaludes
type), and everything was kind of going in that direction. And I wanted to go
to a place where somebody cared about something, you know? Gave a shit about
something. Listen, I asked for it. I picked the hardest ones I could find. And,
damned right, they were.”
Pitt shot Legends for six rainy months in the Rocky Mountains outside Calgary.
Then, without a break, he was sucked into Interview with the Vampire-to New
Orleans, San Francisco, London, and Paris, all in the dark-and spit out six
months later. It sounds glamorous. He says it wasn’t.
“I understand that people work: my father spent 36 years, six days a
week, on the job [as a trucking-company manager]. But we never saw the sun,”
Pitt says. “Hey, I’m the first to say a movie is all cops and robbers,
but it affected me. It messed with my day.”
He sits sideways in his chair and pulls the nearest dog up to him. “Somewhere
in the third or fourth week, you respond to things a little differently, like
your character would respond. I don’t like it.,” he says. “I
can’t wait to get my own clothes back on, listen to some good music, eat
what I want to eat. Movies are very complicated. You don’t realize what
it takes to get a good movie. Sitting home in Missouri, I sure didn’t.
It’s fun for a little while. Then I’m ready to get back into my
Legends of the Fall was different. Pitt recognized Tristan, knew this guy down
to his bones. The man and the character share the same intoxicating mix of charm
and grace and wildness. It was the first project Pitt helped nurture from novella
to finished script to shooting. He even deferred part of his salary (which,
thanks to Interview, is reportedly $3 million per picture).
“I’ve always thought there would be someone better for the most
of the roles I’ve taken,” he says. “But I knew I was the best
one to play [Tristan]. I knew it the minute I read it. I knew the corners, the
bends in the road, knew exactly where it went. My difficulty was trying to get
others to see it the way I did.”
Pitt rented a cabin in the foothills of the Rockies, which became the site
for a weekly Saturday-night jam session with the cast and crew. “We re-created
the Blazing Saddles scene around the bonfire a few times,” he says delightedly.
“I must say, Aidan Quinn, he’s quite impressive. A lovely little
Indian girl who worked on the movie, named Sekwan, dubbed Aidan ‘Wind
in His Pants,’ Then we dubbed her ‘One Who Sniffs the Wind’”
“I learned something from Brad, to just be in the moment, to not care
about the yapping that is always going on around the set,” says Karina
Lombard, who plays Tristan’s second wife. “To just be yourself,
and not care who says what and who wants what. It’s a great gift to be
able to do your stuff and not give a damn what others think.”
But then Pitt’s vision of Legends ran into a snag: other people’s
visions of Legends. Specifically, director Ed Zwick’s.
Imagine the working relationship between Zwick, who first achieved renown with
the talky, analyctic Thirtysomething (and who is on love with the power of words,
with explanations and clarifications), and Pitt (who is not).
“Our process was not without tensions, passions,” Zwick says diplomatically.
“Brad has great artistic impulses, great instincts. But in the acting
world, he skipped a lot of steps. He’s no less emotional, but he’s
less obviously expressive, and the role required real self-revealment. Where
he’s from, you keep that to yourself.”
Those tensions flared up again when Pitt saw Zwick’s final cut. Scenes
of Tristan plummeting deep into madness and slowly groping his way back-scenes
Pitt considered essential Tristan’s eventual redemption-didn’t make
it. Zwick says he had to cut them to develop other characters. Pitt disagrees.
“By taking out so much as they did, the movie becomes too mushy, ‘cause
there’s no space in between the mush,” says Pitt, twisting in his
chair. For the first time, he looks less than sanguine. “If I’d
known where it was going to end up, I would have really fought against the cheese.
The Kraft Macaroni Deluxe dinner. The movie’s not cheesy by any means.
This is a good movie. There are just moments where, if it was reduced to that,
if that’s all we were going to see of him, I would have whittled it down.
I wouldn’t have shown so much.”
In Springfield, Missouri, where Pitt grew up, showing too much was not the
style. Snapshots of Pitt in Springfield: Loved girls, “was always completely
intrigued, taken over, would do anything for ‘em,” he says. Bored
with school. Rites of passage: Owning a BB gun, then a shotgun; camping out
solo for the first time. First car: A Buick Centurion 455 handed down from his
folks. “But a two-door, so it was just passable enough.”
Heard Elton John’s song “Daniel,” bought the Captain Fantastic
album. Monumental for him. Then the Who’s Tommy. “I had to save
up double, ‘cause it was a double album.” Sat through the movie
twice, to see the Pinball Wizard part again. Loved movies: Ordinary People,
Saturday Night Fever. “And not because of the dancing, but because they
got the street life. It was a whole ‘nother world than what I’d
been living, but yet I knew it was right, I knew it was true.” Planet
of the Apes, which he saw with his parents at the drive-in, downing popcorn
and Kool-Aid and sitting on the hood of the car. “I think it’s actually
very accurate to religion in general today,” Pitt says. “Don’t
shake the herd.”
Pitt’s parents were strict Baptists. Though he appreciates the way he
grew up, “because it kept my mind on bigger things,” he also admits
he would sit in church wishing he could let out a whoop or a fart, “stand
up and yell, ‘It was me! Right here!’ The preacher would pick someone
to read the final prayer, and I would go into a sweat, afraid he would pick
me. I would sit there and say, ‘Please, God, not me.’ That was my
Pitt left home for college, as many young men do-in his case, the University
of Missouri at Columbia, where he studied, of all things, journalism with a
focus on advertising. But few young men chuck it all and head for L.A. alone,
a scant two credits shy of graduations. “You keep me finding things in
little increments,” Pitt says. “Each one of those little increments
led me to saying. You know what? I don’t want to do this. I want to go
over there and see what that’s all about. I was a paper short of finishing.”
“That’s kind of a metaphorical gesture,” you say.
“See, I didn’t think of it that way,” Pitt says. “I
thought of it as ‘I’m not going to spend the rest of my life doing
this. And college, I’m done with it.’”
“Do you now see it as-“
Pitt lifts his chin, and his gaze smacks you silent. “I see it as perfect,”
he says. “I had a great time in college. I learned more about being on
my own than anything from a book. It’s just as important to find what
you don’t want to do as what you do want to do. So, no, I was excited,
Pitt arrived in L.A., scrounged up odd jobs, and soon landed a TV movie (Too
Young to Die?), co-starring a 16-year-old named Juliette Lewis.
They moved in together, Lewis was on a pretty heady career trajectory of her
own (Cape Fear, Husbands and Wives). They made Kalifornia together, But after
three years they broke up.
“I still love the woman. There’s some real genius there. I had
a great time with her,” Pitt says. “Look, I don’t want to
go into an explanation. She has her own views, and I respected those views.
She does know people. It was one of the greatest relationships I’ve ever
been in. The problem is, we grow up with this vision that love conquers all,
and that’s just not so, is it?”
His current girlfriend is a dark-haired, fine-boned beauty named Jitka. Details
slowly emerge. He calls her Yit. She’s Czechoslovakian. By way of Arkansas.
She may be an actress, but may not. She owns two bobcats.
“Believe me, on of our biggest concerns is keeping the bobcats completely
free. Not caged in like a bird, which blows my mind, cutting it wings. I do
not understand that. Cutting a dog’s tail off for the way it looks. In
fact, I’m going to start a cause, Save the Tails. All us young actors,
we have causes, that’s going to be my cause. Save the Tails.”
Your head spins. Later you ask, gently, “Would you say you’ve had
a hard life, Brad?”
“No, I’ve had it easy. Too easy.”
Why too easy?
Does he fear he hasn’t earned his success? “I’m starting
to believe that anyone who’s successful in these little circles has got
to feel that way. That’s why a lot of them don’t survive it,”
he answers. “You know, people want to be famous. You have no idea what
you’re getting into. There’s a great line in Interview that says,
‘Do you know how few vampires actually have the stamina for immortality?’
I love that. That’s dead-on.”
But would Pitt dump everything and head west again, knowing what he knows?
“Oh yeah. Sure. It’s been a great ride. I think that’s what
you’re looking for, is something big. It just happens, and the happening
is big. Good or bad. Good and bad. Hell yes, I would.”
The last time you meet Brad Pitt, you think, Brad Pitt is a happy man.
He greets you in the same clothes he wore the night before. He spent the dayoiling
all the wood in his house. The kitchen shelves, which were empty but for dozens
of cans of dog food and a row of beeswax-and-oil wood polish. The fridge has
sprouted food, too-four packets of lunchmeat, cans of Coke, mustard. Pitt was
having a sandwich, but his dog Saudi ate it while he was showing you the cold
“Damn, that bagel had that salami on there, a little corned beef on top.
That was fantastic, wasn’t it Saud?” He is talking to the dog. “Just
that little bit of Dijon mustard? I was really into that.” The cold cuts
sit expectantly in the fridge, but Pitt does not return.
Instead, he takes your rental car for a spin. Most people on a scenic drive
in Los Angeles would head for the beach, or up into the bills, where mansions
sit like monarch butterflies. Pitt, however, drives downtown, eyes the neon-lit
bodegas, checks out the men leaning on their cars in front of the cantinas.
Somehow you wrest from him the subject of his next movie, Seven, which he describes
as “cop chasing a bad guy. Complete genre. I figured I’d give that
a try.” Pitt will play a cop whose new partner (Morgan Freeman) is just
about to retire. He will wave a gun and chase a serial killer whose murders
are based on the seven deadly sins. And, if all goes as planned, he will suffer
less emotional turmoil that he did during Interview and Legends. “The
guy’s got no problems, that’s the key thing,” Pitt says. “Just
see if I can say those lines, get the killer.”
He goes into a dark bar, where he drinks a dark beer. Way too casually, a guy
approaches, and asks Pitt for a cigarette. “Hey,” the guy asks,
“I saw Interview with the Vampire-you were great. Can I ask you a question?
Those contact lenses you wear in the movie? Are they expensive?”
Pitt looks at him with fond amazement. “I don’t know, man-you gonna
uy some?” Another guy walks over, the burly lead singer for the band warming
up across the room. “I’m Tex, from Minnesota,” he says. After
the fans leave, Pitt says, “Tex.” Significant pause. “From
But Pitt is ready to head home now. “The main reason I used to go to
bars was to pick up girls. I got my girl,” he says. He’s got his
dogs, his coffeemaker, his friends, who come over to play his guitars. He’s
got wood to polish.
On the drive back, you don’t say much. You keep thinking about something
Pitt said earlier, about how on Legends the boy who plays Tristan’s son
didn’t want to do a scene where he rides a horse. “I’m having
a bad day,” he told Pitt, which was funny, coming from a little kid, but
Pitt didn’t laugh. “Yeah, I get those, too,” Pitt said. Then
he said, “look, we took this job, we have to do this scene, but you don’t
have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to ride
on the horse, you can ride in the car. But I’m going to ride on the horse,
because I like the horse.” And that was it. The kid rode the horse.
“See, what they were doing to him when I walked up was going [high, mangy
voice], ‘But don’t you want to ride on the horse? It’s a magic
horse! Na-na-na-na-na.’ Talking to him like a moron, you know?,”
Pitt says. “That’s when we went for our little walk and I told him,
‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.’
It’s that simple.”
“Is it?” you ask.
“You can always find a way to make something feel right,” Pitt
says. His aw-shucks voice is braced with certitude.
Brad Pitt may have no idea how lucky he is. Or he may know exactly how lucky
he is. He doesn’t say. The last time you believed you could always find
a way to make something feel right was a long time ago. But if anyone could
find it still, it would be Brad Pitt. It’s simple. You just grab the pommel