BRAD INFLUENCE - by
Anyone who’s ever met a movie star in person will most likely agree: They
generally look much better on screen. Brad Pitt is an exception. He’s
more striking in person than he is on celluloid. It’s a rare combination
that comes around once every 50 years-that much beauty and talent. Brad Pitt,
and the audience, are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
But with this much success, you also get fame. And fame he’s got. Because
he’s so well known, he’s almost living the life of a recluse-not
by choice-just in order to live a life. He can’t walk down the street
shopping with fiancée Gwyneth Paltrow, can’t go to concerts, can’t
do many of the things the rest of us take for granted. But don’t feel
sorry for Pitt, he wouldn’t change a thing. He loves making movies.
Over the last decade, Pitt has been paired with the industry’s top stars
and directors stepping into his characters like a pair of comfortable shoe.
In a scant 15 minutes of screen time, he managed to grab our attention-as well
as that of Geena Davis-as J.D., the dangerously charming hitchhiker in Thelma
and Louise. In Robert Redford’s A River runs Through It, he played a hooch-guzzling
son who falls for his brother’s wife. In Kalifornia, he became Early Grayce,
a psycho cross-country killer, and in Interview With the Vampire, the suicidally
depressed Louis to tom Cruise’s Lestat. He traded in his fangs for spurs
to portray Tristan Ludlow, the wildest of Anthony Hopkins’s three sons
in Legends Of The Fall. He was a cocky cop on the trail of a serial killer with
Morgan Freeman in David Fincher’s Seven. And from there, Pitt snared an
Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe for his performance as a twitching mental
patient/animal-rights activist in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, with Bruce
Willis. And that’s just some of his films. Now, at 33, he’s commanding
a pay scale that rivals veteran actors old enough to his father. And he’s
getting it. Later this year, Pitt will begin work on a new film-Meet Joe Black,
a remake of the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday-in which he’ll reportedly
make $17.5 million, a 75 percent increase over his last deal.
Pitt next appears alongside Harrison Ford in the political action thriller
The Devil’s Own, directed by Alan J. Pakula. This fall, he’ll star
in director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s epic, Seven Years in Tibet. Somewhere
in between, he’ll begin filming Duets, with his Seven costar and wife-to-be
Gwyneth Paltrow, directed by her father, Bruce Paltrow.
At the end of a winding mud road, teetering above the banks of a frozen lake
on one side, and hugging snow-covered boulders on the other, sits a small cluster
of trailers. The primitive road was recently carved out of the hillside to transport
a miniature mobile city which temporarily serves as the crew’s base for
the movie Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt and David Thewlis, and directed
by Oscar-winner Jean Jacques Annaud.
Here, in the mountains three hours north of Vancouver, British Columbia, the
30-degree temperature, unseasonably warm by local standards, has sparked a flurry
of activity. A battalion of uniformed Communist Chinese soldiers intersects
a gaggle of sherpas dressed in rags, their heads wrapped in tattered scarves,
while a man in a bright-yellow and black nylon ski suit holds onto a rope attached
to a yak in one hand, and a cellular phone in the other.
Down a muddy gravel path sit three motor homes, their windshields covered for
privacy. The steel door to the center unit swings open and a hand blackened
with dirt extends, waving me inside. In the darkened trailer stands Pitt, who
has just arrived from a short day’s shooting on the mountain. The dirt
on his hand, which matches that on his face and his clothing, is real, although,
cosmetically applied. The flustered actor begins picking through the piles of
parkas, clothes hangers, and boots, clearing off a place for us to sit. “Sorry
about the mess,” he says, tossing clothes into the air. “Every night
it’s the ritual of cleaning, wondering what gear you’re going to
need tomorrow. The weather changes all the time.”
In Seven Years in Tibet, based on a true story, Pitt is Heinrich Harrer, an
Austrian Olympic ski champion and noted mountaineer, who, along with a partner
(David Thewlis), attempted to climb Nanga Parbat, one of the highest peaks in
the Himalayas in 1939. At the onset of World War II, the duo was trapped in
India and imprisoned by the British. They eventually escaped, crossing the Himalayas,
and found refuge in Tibet, where Harrer became tutor and surrogate father to
the young Dalai Lama.
Pitt settles into the warm confines of his home-away-from-home on wheels. The
generator hums along in the background. He seems content, his suffocating celebritydom
a million miles away. I assume he’d rather be outside without a coat that
inside with a writer. He smiles. “Well, at least we know why you’re
here, what the rules of the game are,” he says, fumbling for a pack of
cigarettes in the pile of clothes. “Otherwise, I’d be like, ‘Who
the hell is this guy that keeps asking me all these questions?’”
He laughs. “’And why is he following me around?’”
This cold weather and remote wooded region is not altogether new to Pitt. His
wonder years were spent in the Ozarks region of southwestern Missouri, where
lakes, rivers and wilderness are commonplace. I surprise him by telling his
I grew up in the same area.
“I hear the accent,” he says, his mimicking mine. “No shit.
Excellent. I get back there maybe three times a year. We live out in the woods,
on the river. Ahh, it’s peaceful there. My dad says, ‘Springfield’s
getting’ too crowded for me.’ I love that. And I can appreciate
the life there, now that I’ve left it.”
“This is quite a set-up here,” I say looking out the window at
“Yeah, this film is such an event,” says Pitt. “I mean, just
pulling it all off-all the locations, all the different periods. I love this
stuff; it’s fantastic. It’s time to go home, though. I’ve
been away from my home for a year and a half, pretty much. I miss my girl,”
he says, mentioning Paltrow for the first of many times. “My girl starts
something pretty soon after I finish this, so I’ll go with her. Then,
I start something after that, so she’ll go with me. We’ve got a
whole thing going-we’re hopscotching.”
I wonder if there is anything he’d like to discuss that no one ever asks
him about. He smiles.
“I don’t want to talk about anything,” he says, laughing.
“No, if I had my choice, I’d just not do interviews. I just don’t
care for seeing the stuff that’s written. Every now and then, there’s
something nice, but there’s such a bombardment weekly. Even when I don’t
say anything. I’m in a magazine for saying something-or the tabloids.”
“What do you say to your parents the first time you’re in the tabloids?”
“You explain,” he replies, “and they say, ‘I just can’t
believe someone would do that!’ And they really can’t believe anyone
would say something that’s not true. They really can’t.”
We’re interrupted by an unnerving knock on the door. There has been a
favourable break in the weather, and Pitt is needed for a scene. Annaud, no
stranger to difficult production environments after directing Quest for Fire,
The Name of the Rose, and The Bear, has rigged a camera into the top of a tall
spruce three in order to catch the actor climbing from the ground up.
I leave the trailer and retreat to the recreation room a few yards away. Housed
in a doublewide trailer, it joins with the crew dining room, which is dimly
lit with candles atop cloth-covered tables, with large silk Birds of paradise
as centrepieces. Shortly afterwards, Annaud blows into the room like a gusty
winter wind. His riot of curly white hair is laced with pinesap from the last
shot, and post-filming adrenaline spikes his voice.
He wants to sit down and talk about his choice of a leading man, but his motor
home has just spilled what he thinks might be possibly be sewage beneath it.
“Well, would you like to take care of your leak first?” I ask with
a crooked smile.
“I guess I should,” he replies, laughing. He returns within minutes
and sits opposite me at one of the tables. He removes his sap-dotted parka and
sighs. From the very beginning, he says Brad Pitt was the choice for Heinrich
“I was absolutely charmed by the reasons Brad liked the screenplay,”
he says, resting his elbows on the table. “I felt that it was comforting
that he not only understood what it was about, but it was also about something
that he wanted to sort out for his own life: Fame and success versus respect
and self-respect. I was thrilled to see that he had so many common grounds with
the real Heinrich Harrer, who, by the way, was an extremely appealing man. He
was very physical, and at the same time, became a writer. I didn’t look
any further, Brad became Harrer to me, and that was the beginning of it and
the end of it.”
Before arriving in Southwestern Canada, the crew spent four months filming
near Mendoza, Argentina. From the beginning, stories surfaced in the media about
problems with the production-reports that it was next to impossible to get any
work done with a leading man like Brad Pitt. His fans wouldn’t allow it.
“One of the first times I invited him to go out with me was in this tiny
place where we were shooting,” recalls Annaud with a smile. “There
were 250 inhabitants. There was a small restaurant on the corner of these two
roads. The owners liked Brad and liked me, so I invited Brad to dinner for his
arrival. Well, that day it was known as ‘Brad Pitt’s Arrival,’
and there were about 1,000 young girls waiting and climbing on top of the building.
All the while I was reinstating to Brad the world of serenity-that the movie
is about a man in love with his inner self. It was hilarious and frightening
at the same time.”
Again and again, Pitt’s staggering popularity necessitated unusual production
measures. “We had to built a wall above the wall of his private villa-this
is absolutely true,” says Annaud. “We even had problems with the
budget, because we exploded it for the reasons of security-and we had to do
it! It was madness.”
Some stars bask in their celebrity, others run from it. Pitt, at times, is
all but held hostage by it. “My conception of Brad is he’s flattered
by this kind of recognition,” Annaud says fondly, “but what the
man is about is that he’s happy with Gwyneth, he’s happy with his
makeup artist, he’s happy with his body guards. With them, he has normal
conversations. Understand, he’s deprived of this kind of normal contact.
It’s funny because every time we’d go to a new city, he’d
say, ‘Oh, this is great. I’ll be able to go shopping with Gwyneth!’
Then. He’d open the window to throw out his cigarette and we’d hear,
‘Aaaeeehhhh!’ The shrieking would begin again.” Annaud laughs
This anecdote goes a long way toward explaining why my interview with Pitt
is a little off-beat-why it is more a conversation. The casual exchange is a
relief for both parties. For me, just getting here was a test of stamina-three
different flights on three different airlines, followed by a long, bumpy offroad
drive-before finally landing at a lone mountainside lodge owned by a German
fraulein named Gazelle, who obviously hadn’t had the opportunity to talk
to anyone in a long time. And for Pitt, someone who doesn’t really get
to sit and casually chat with another guy around the same age who’s been
raised in the same part of the country-and with someone who is not out to get
him-it’s a much-needed breather.
Annaud and I walk out of the lunchroom and into the crowded recreation room.
Authentic-looking soldiers in Communist uniforms are playing pool and smoking
cigarettes. “It’s because they are real.” Annaud explains
before I even ask. “They’re trained military soldiers.” At
one end of the room is a cut-out window under a sign that reads, “North,
North Hollywood-wine, ten dollars; beer, six dollars.” At the opposite
end of the room, Pitt, who has showered, changed clothes, and donned a fur cap,
stands quietly, observing the antics of the soldiers. He catches my eye, smiles,
and suggests heading back to his trailer to continue talking.
On the short walk through the brisk mountain air, we’re lightly dusted
with snow sprinkling from the dark sky. “Oh, it’s snowing,”
I observe. “Duhhh,” he responds with his eyes, not uttering a word.
We crunch through the frozen mud, and into his warm abode. “This place
is a mess,” he reiterates. “Clothes everywhere.”
“I found out why you got the role in this film,” I begin, stumbling
over a pile of coats and dirty boots.
He smiles, and lights a cigarette, tossing an armload of clothing onto a chair.
“And why is that?” he asks, eyebrow raised.
“Jean-Jacques says you’re sorting out your own life. You know,
fame and success versus respect and self-respect.”
He shifts nervously and cracks a smile, which grows into laughter. “Maybe,”
he says. “I don’t analyze it as deeply. It’s just a gut reaction.
I know what he’s talking about. He’s sweet. I’ve never seen
him get in a panic-directors are notorious for that, you know.”
“Did you think of anything you wanted to talk about while showering?”
“No,” he says, laughing. “I don’t mind this, I really
don’t. I don’t mind it at all. It’s just, if I had my choice…but
it’s all part of it.”
“Well, if you had the choice of dong this or sleeping…” I
“Aaah, sleep is great,” he says, stretching. “Sleeping is
great up here. But my sheets were crunchy. I had to take off the pillowcases
and put my T-shirts on the pillows. It works great.”
“You know, you can buy sheets made out of T-shirt material,” I
He leans forward. “Ahhh, really? Fill me in! My pillowcases look kind
of funny-they’ve got little armholes on each side.”
The conversation shifts to how great it feels to sleep in the mountain chill,
which segues to how long it’s been since Pitt has slept at home in Los
Angeles, a city he loves. He loves it so much, in fact, that he recently bought
two additional properties adjoining the Arts and Crafts-style house he already
owned, completing the original lavishly landscaped grounds of an old, secluded
Hollywood estate. “Aaah, it’s nice there,” he says, reflecting
on L.A., “I like it ‘cause so much has happened for me there. That’s
why I went there, and that’s where I discovered a lot of things. I love
it so much.”
“Is there ever a time when you think this job isn’t worth the hassles?”
“Nahh,” he says. “Truly not. I like my choice. It seems relentless
at times, but then I get fired up and decide I can deal with it. That’s
life, no matter what corner you’re in. I want to keep doing this as long
as I can. I absolutely love movies-I really do-ever since I was a kid. I’ve
got a million favorite movies.”
As a fellow product of the Bible Belt, and given the spiritual nature of Seven
Days, I’m curious whether religion ever influenced his decision to make
“No,” he says without hesitation. “What I got most from church
was going to a place once a week, sitting this wooden bench, and then my mind
would go to bigger things of the day or the next week-girlfriends and school
and things. It was an important time, and I like that-that you always take that
time out in the week to do that. I don’t agree with everything-and I don’t
want to knock anyone’s religion-life’s tough enough. But I did value
that. Now, are you going to ask me if I turned Buddhist?”
“No,” he says with a sly grin. “I think that once you give
up religion, you’ve got to give up all religions. That’s the way
it seems for me. Everyone has their own religious code, and that’s what
I respect. It’s a beautiful thing-actually, it’s huge. But, I just
couldn’t keep it from what I saw along the road.”
After some 12 films, Pitt has his favorites, each for its own reasons. It is
1995’s Seven, during which he began his relationship with Paltrow, that
stands out at the moment.
“Looove Seven,” he says genuinely. “I had such a good time
on that film. That was probably one I had the most fun on and the most sick
one of them all, right? I had a gut feeling. Things were just falling into place;
it just felt right.”
Seven’s director, David Fincher, knew immediately that Pitt was right
for the role of detective David Mills. “When I met with Brad for the first
time,” recalls Fincher, “I knew he was really good-looking, I knew
he was talented, and I knew he had the youth going for him. He seemed so honest
and truthful that no matter what he said, you never held it against him. He
could get away with murder. I thought to myself, Wow, this guy can say anything.
There was a certain fascist quality to Mills that I always wondered whether
or not people would buy in the 90’s-that he might have a too 70’s,
Dirty Harry kind of quality. But Brad seemed to be able to pull all that off.
The truly amazing thing about Brad Pitt is that he manages to work in movies
in spite of his looks,” laughs Fincher.
Pitt picks up a book I’ve brought to read on the flight, simply titled
Brad Pitt. “Lavishly illustrated with more than 75 photographs,”
he reads aloud from the cover with a laugh. “This stuff doesn’t
phase me anymore,” he says with a shrug, tossing the book aside. “I’m
not crazy about it, and I wish this wasn’t there, but if you can make
a buck, make a buck, right? When I saw one of the first books come out, I tried
to do something about it, but we’re all public domain. It’s the
lengths that people go that offends me, not this stuff. I really don’t
even look at this stuff.”
But fans worldwide do look at movie-star paraphernalia like this book, and
purchase it-along with posters, T-shirts, and buttons. Whether Pitt likes it
or not, he was touted as the Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. Fortunately
for Pitt, his pin-up looks haven’t smothered his talent.
“He says he’s a character actor,” says Alan J. Pakula, director
of Pitt’s latest film, The Devil’s Own, “and I know exactly
what he means. Unlike many comparable big stars, especially of his generation,
he takes chances. He does not just play a star persona. He tries to develop
characters that are not obviously related to him, and in that way he’s
just a very serious, committed actor. At the same time there is something about
Brad that is deeply sympathetic, aside from the fact that he’s obviously
In a move to show that there was more to him than just a pretty face, Pitt
intentionally made himself unattractive as the deranged activist with a wandering
eye in 12 Monkeys. The strategy worked: He snared an Oscar nomination and won
a Golden Globe. As much as he was grateful for the recognition, however, he
admits that the attention made him uncomfortable.
“See, if I could avoid those things, I would,” he says of award
ceremonies. “I mean, we had a great time that night-Gwynney and I were
together. The award was at the beginning of the evening, so we got it over with
early, and we could relax and have fun. We had a great time, but if I had my
choices. I just feel like there’s better people at it than me…”
If this modesty is genuine, then Pitt had to been devastated last year when
he and Paltrow took off to St. Barts to spend some time alone-or so they thought.
But somewhere in the distance, a photographer with a long-range lens snapped
th two in some revealing photos and printed them in a rag called Celebrity Sleuth.
Inevitably, the images ended up on the internet.
“It’s got to be tough to have a relationship in this business,”
“It’s OK on the relationship because we back each other up,”
Pitt sighs, his smile fading. “But it’s the shittiest feeling to
have spent a day together and had a great time, and realize someone’s
been following you the whole time. Stalking you. It’s shitty, because
it’s private. It feels like a violation. It is a violation.”
Though long since inured to the violation of the tabloids, Pitt took his lumps
from the mainstream press while making his latest movie, The Devil’s Own.
Shot in New York and Northern Ireland, it’s the story of a New York police
officer (Harrison Ford) who takes an Irish émigré (Pitt) into
his home and makes him part of his family. The production was fraught with rumors
and allegations of chaos on the set and arbitrary script overhauls initiated
by the two leads.
“What’s funny to me is that the tabloids started all the problems,”
he says. “People ran with it from the tabloids. The movie was going along
normally, like a normal movie. I mean, we’d get there at night-it was
a 24-hour kind of thing-because after the shooting day was done, they’d
want to get together: ‘We’re going to shoot this tomorrow, We’re
shooting this stuff this week,’ keep constantly working scenes. It was
a night-and-day thing. And long-six months.”
Director Pakula is politic about the experience, suggesting that rumors of
script tinkering and other trangressions were greatly exaggerated. “Brad
was already interested in the script, and I knew it when I read it,” says
Pakula. “He’s an intense, passionate young man, and committed. He’s
a man of sensitivity who also is capable of very strong actions. And somebody
who has a sympathetic humanity about him, no matter what he may do. All of these
qualities, really, very much serve his character in the movie.”
Last July, Premiere magazine reported on The Devil’s Own’s skyrocketing
budget, its late production schedule, weak scripts, and numerous ego clashes
between the two stars. Six months later, the subject was still ripe for speculation.
In February, when Newsweek interviewed Pitt on the set of Seven Days in Tibet,
the actor said, “it was some of the most irresponsible filmmaking I’d
ever seen,” a statement which caused a bit of a stir at Columbia, the
studio relaeasing the movie. Pitt made a quick public clarification that same
“Man, that got stinky didn’t it?” says Pitt. “I was
surprised how many people listened to (the Newsweek interview). And it was old
news to me; Premiere magazine had already done (a story about) it. It got awfully
smelly. Also, I didn’t clarify-it was my fault-I was talking about preproduction
time, which was chaos to me. Once we got in, we fought for the movie. I’m
very happy with it, and I’ve clarified all that.”
“Your character is described as a guy with a ‘hidden past and a
bloody purpose,’” I say.
Pitt laughs. “A hidden past? I love these guys with their little pens-gotta
scram it all in there. His hidden past was that he was an IRA operative. What’s
his bloody purpose?” He laughs again. “His bloody purpose is that
he’s on a mission of smuggling guns. The goal of the movie was to have
two good men who come from relatively the same place and thinking. They become
tight along the way as they get to know each other. But eventually their beliefs
cause a clash and they have to address it.”
“Let’s address the film you and Gwyneth are doing together called
Duets,” I suggest.
“We have separate parts where we don’t actually meet in the movie,”
he says, “It’s an ensemble piece with several characters. Her father’s
directing, and it’s more like a family fun project. It’s an excellent
“What is your idea of an excellent day?” I ask.
“Oh, too tough for me,” he says with a smile.
“What if you had tomorrow off, what would you do?” I counter.
“Ahhh, I’d just hang out here and relax,” he says, stretching.
“I miss my girl. I never used to miss her-just didn’t miss her,
“So, if you had tomorrow off, you’d fly home for the day and spend
it together,” I suggest.
“I’ve done it before,” he admits, grinning, “’cause
I’m completely addicted. Completely.”
As I’m driving away, I look back and catch Brad Pitt standing alone in
the cold night on the dirt road. He turns and begins walking back to his home-away-from-home
in this remote wooded region miles away from his home, away from his girl. And
for a second, I feel sorry for him. But only for a second.