The first time you meet Brad Pitt, you think, Brad Pitt is a knucklehead.
“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 appealing.
“What Brad does that you can’t learn-James Dean did it really well-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, Brad’s character is very passive,” says 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. 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 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?” [Pitt]’s answer: “Sinking below, rising above, going off, giving up, taking charge, taking control. This man’s journey seemed very accurate to me and very true.”
The second time you meet Brad Pitt, you think, Brad Pitt is smart than he lets on.
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.”
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 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. No answer.
“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 given.’”
The injustice of the given-that’s the phrase Barbara Walters was searching for. 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 for physics.”
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 Kalifornia), and everything was kind of going in that direction. And I wanted to go to a place where somebody cared about something, you know? 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 own boxers.”
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.”
“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 in 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 to 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.”
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, one of our biggest concerns is keeping the bobcats completely free. Not caged in like a bird, which blows my mind, cutting its 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.”
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.”
The last time you meet Brad Pitt, you think, Brad Pitt is a happy man.
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.”
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.”
“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 and kick.