Slippin’ Around On The Road With Brad Pitt

On the way to this particular London pub, no less than three young ladies have come skulking out of the shadows to solicit a favor from Brad Pitt. Each case is the same: A woman approaches demurely, flashes a smile and utters the question “Excuse me, are you Brad Pitt?” The answer is quite obviously yes. “Do you think I could get a kiss?” Then, being a polite Springfield, Mo., boy at heart, our hero complies.

Brad Pitt is a cagey bastard-a good ol’ boy with brains. He is slippery, smart and extremely likable. These are qualities he uses to great effect. Just finding him is the hard part.

Interview with the Vampire, along with the upcoming, Legends of the Fall is supposed to cement Pitt’s star status. Problem is, from the beginning production of Interview was difficult. Anne Rice, the author whose novel was adapted, was busy shouting that anyone was a better selection than Tom Cruise to play Lestat, the vampire who recruits Pitt’s character, Louis, into the undead. Cruise, meanwhile, was demanding complete control, a closed set and a veil of silence from anyone who dared get close. And River Phoenix, who was slated to play the small but pivotal role of interviewer, had just died of a drug overdose. When our trail led to New Orleans, Pitt, as he often does, disappeared.

“You gotta understand. My character wants to kill himself for the whole movie. I’ve never thought about killing myself. It was a sick thing. I don’t like when a movie messes with your day.” He smiles slyly and cocks his head. “Right now, I’d like to play a guy who just wants to f** everybody so I can have a damn good time.”

Pitt has just run the street-long gauntlet of British lust and finally landed here in a quiet North London pub. Interview is in the homestretch of filming in Paris, and Pitt, has five days off. And yet there’s all these annoying questions. When asked to describe the experience of doing Interview, Pitt says, “You know, Legends of the Fall was great.” Queried about working with Cruise, Pitt gives an earnest look, “I’m tellin’ ya, Antonio Banderas is the greatest guy.”

“The truth is, I don’t want people to know me,” Pitt says flatly. “I don’t know a thing about my favorite actors. I don’t think you should. Then they become personalities.”

“I love to be able to do this-to run around and have adventures. Why do an interview? Why can’t you just write about our adventures?”

So begins our saga. Our adventure, if you will.

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We sprint to the station and settle into the first-class compartment with seconds to spare. Next stop: Scotland.

The British countryside flashes by-a slide show of brown and off-browns-and Pitt settles in for a three-hour tour. He continually sketches in a journal that he carries with him at all times to help indulge his architecture addiction. Up close he appears less boyish and more like the 30-year old man that he is. This is due in large parts to the smattering of scars that are mapped across his face. A tour is requested.

“This one is from baseball,” says Pitt, pointing to his cheekbone, “a pop fly that I lost in the sun. I still threw the guy out on second after it dropped on my face.” He smiles and turns the other cheek. “This one was just one of those nights, one of those drunken nights.” He stops suddenly. “I don’t know if I want to say, ‘drunken night.’ I mean, my parents are going to read this.”

Pitt speaks about the 600 acres of land he purchased in the Ozarks and his hopes to personally design a home that he can use for family reunions. And with this, as is often the case, he returns to speaking about his family. Born in Oklahoma but raised in Springfield, Pitt is the oldest of three children. Both his brother, Doug, 28, and sister, Julie, 25, live in Springfield with new babies of their own, and he talks to them often.

“I always looked up to both of my brothers,” says Julie. “I just thought they were the greatest things that ever happened. Doug and Brad really play off each other. We had such a close family, and that gave us confidence. I think that’s what allowed Brad to try to be an actor. Sometimes I can’t believe that this guy from Springfield made it, but Brad has always succeeded in what he’s done, and he’s always had a way with people.”

His mother was the first person to ever think he was talented. “She just thought it from Day 1.”

“Brad looks like his father, and he has the personality of his mother,” says Chris Schudy, one of Pitt’s best friends from college. “His mother is so down-to-earth. His dad is a great guy but more reserved. A River Runs Through It is almost a mirror image of Brad’s family. When I saw the movie, I called him and said, ‘You’re not even acting. It’s just your home unit minus Julie.'”

Once when Brad was playing in a tennis tournament and screaming and throwing his racket, his father walked on the court between games. “He just said, ‘are you having fun?’ I got all huffy and said no. He looked at me and said, ‘Then don’t do it,’ and then walked away. Boy, that put me in my place. I should have gotten my ass kicked, but he was so above that.”

Fast forward a decade or so to the University of Missouri, in Columbia, where Pitt is happily biding his time. It’s two weeks before graduating, and our star is just two credits shy of getting his degree in journalism with a focus on advertising. Rather than completing the necessary assignments, however, Pitt loaded up his car, a Nissan named Runaround Sue, and drove to Los Angeles.

“It was such a relief. I was coming to the end of college and the end of my degree and the beginning of my chosen occupation. I knew I didn’t want to do it. I remember being so excited as I passed each state line. I drove in through Burbank, and the smog was so thick that it seemed like fog. I pulled in and went to McDonald’s, and that was it. I just thought, ‘Shouldn’t there be a little more?'”

At that time, Pitt had $325 in his pocket and no acting experience whatsoever. To alleviate his parents’ fears, he told them he was attending the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena. He wasn’t. In reality he was shuttling strippers to and from appointments, delivering refrigerators to college students and dressing up as a chicken outside a fast-food joint called El Pollo Loco. Anything to pay the rent. When he finally landed an acting job nine months later, Pitt came clean to his parents. His dad just said, “Yeah, I thought so.”

“People at Missouri were really surprised when they found out what Brad was doing,” says Pitt’s pal Schudy. “But he’s always been so charming that it made some sense. The first time my mom met him, she called him a little Roman god.”

It was while at school that he began divorcing himself from his strict religious upbringing. While his family was originally Baptist and is now nondenominational, Pitt is neither.

“I remember one of the most pivotal moments I’ve had was when I finally couldn’t buy the religion I grew up with. That was a big deal. It was a relief in a way that I didn’t have to believe that anymore, but then I felt alone. It was this thing I depended on.”

“I always knew I’d leave Missouri. But it’s like that Tom Waits song: ‘I never saw the morning until I stayed up all night/I never saw my hometown until I stayed away so long,’ I love my hometown. I just wanted to see more. You’d come across a book or something on TV, and you’d see all these other worlds. It blew me away.”

Of all the gin joints in Scotland, she had to end up here. Or something like that. Pitt is seated in a Glasgow pub, trying to sand the edges off a post-Edinburgh hangover and attempting to put Interview With the Vampire into perspective. But there she is-the kind of naturally radiant barmaid who only saunters into film scenes. Or, as it turns out, into stories about film stars.

The morning was spent conducting Pitt’s primary objective for Glasgow; a tour of all the buildings designed by architect Charles Rennie MacKintosh. It’s just that a quick lunch beckons. After that, the plan is to hop another train, head to the Scottish Highlands and try our hand at tracking the Loch Ness monster. Seriously. Problem is, each beer keeps getting better and better. And the barmaid…well, she keeps staying the same. We focus on Interview.

“Movies have always been cowboys and Indians for me,” says Pitt, trying to explain the ordeal of filming. “But when they had offered the part [in Interview] to Daniel Day-Lewis, I heard his response was that he didn’t like what it would do to him. Look, he’s one of my favorites, but I thought ‘more actor bulls*.’ Now I’d say I understand a little bit of what he was talking about. When I read the book, I thought it was great, and I think the movie is great. I’m really proud of it. It’s just that for me, making the movie wasn’t so great.”

Nothing about Interview was easy. For anyone. When big budgets and Hollywood egos hang in the balance, however, things have a habit of working out in the end. In the days since filming completed, the dark, moody world of Interview With the Vampire has gotten unseasonably sunny. Anne Rice even reversed her position and purchased two entire pages in Daily Variety to accurately capture the awe she felt while watching Cruise inhabit the character of Lestat.

In truth, Interview With the Vampire remains remarkably true to the novel’s narrative and its intensely brooding nature. Directed by Neil Jordan, Interview doesn’t shy away from the ugly or grotesque aspects that make the story so compelling.

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“I didn’t realize there were any rumors about Brad and Tom not getting along,” says Jordan. “They’re two very different actors. And their characters were very different. Tom’s character loves control and loves inflicting pain on Brad’s character. Brad’s character just wants to escape. In many ways they related to each other in the way their characters did. Brad really suffered this role. He came into it totally exhausted from doing Legends. He did agonize.”

Pitt shrugs off talk about animosity between himself and Cruise by continually pointing out that he was extremely impressed by Cruise’s performance. There was no tension, insists Pitt, only slightly different lifestyles. Cruise is in complete control at all times. Pitt is continually berated by friends because, as they tell him, he’s “always drifting.”

“I tell you, the machine Tom runs is quite impressive,” Pitt will say a few months later when Interview has been completed. “I wouldn’t want to live like that but still… Tom Cruise is good in this film.”

“I like the guy, I honestly like the guy. But at a point I started really resenting him. In retrospect I realize that it was completely because of who our characters were. I realize that it was my problem.” He laughs. “People take everything so seriously. It’s a movie, and it’s done.”

At this moment, however, as a crowd of Glaswegians begin to swell at this neighborhood watering hole, production of Interview is not yet finished. The last stage of filming-in just a few short weeks-will be the interview portion of Interview With the Vampire. It is this segment of the film that was supposed to include River Phoenix. Pitt’s voice, which is normally quiet but infused with Southern hospitality, grows even more hushed, and an earnestness replaces his usual folksy infection.

“I knew River a little, but I wanted to know him more. His death affected everyone on the movie, but at the same time it was real personal. You gotta realize, River did a role in My Own Private Idaho that took it to a level that none of these other young guys have gotten to yet. I was really looking forward to him being on the set. It just seems like when we lost him, we all lost something special.”

“By the way,” says Pitt, leaning in close. “You realize that we’re not leaving Glasgow, don’t you?”

Pitt is a self-taught bohemian. “I just like going for a little road trip. I’m not leaving anywhere, I’m going somewhere.” But he also possesses the overwhelming self-confidence to know he’ll always land on his feet. Asked whether he would rather be a movie star or rock star, he says: “Are you kidding? A rock star.” He enchants those around him indiscriminately but to such an extent that you question his sincerity. Although he points out that “I don’t go around robbing people, and I wouldn’t say I’m that great in bed,” he realizes that his role in Thelma & Louise is the closest he’s gotten to playing himself.

And all those qualities are coming in mighty handy right now. Afternoon has become night. What we need is some rest. What we are doing instead is eating homemade chicken soup with the mother of the barmaid. Pitt talks about his architectural tour of Glasgow. He talks, quite correctly, about how the good people of Glasgow have opened their arms to us. And he mentions that this is most assuredly the kind of soup a chicken would be proud to die for. Brad Pitt is the kind of boy you can bring home to mother. And these qualities are about to make him a major movie star.

“Brad has kind of come into acting by himself, hasn’t he?” says [Neil] Jordan. “He’s come into it by being this incredibly charismatic character. But I think he’s far better than he pretends he thinks he is. I think he’s great, and I think he actually knows he’s great. People are either stars, or they’re not. They either project it, or they don’t. The minute Brad walked into Thelma & Louise he did that. He was a star from then on.”

“I always figured my break would be playing a good ol’ boy,” says Pitt. “But I hear people gripe all the time about coming to L.A. and not being taken seriously. You’ve gotta show ’em. When I first started, I was being sent out on sitcoms. I like sitcoms, but I would be s*y in ’em. So I have to find something I can do and go out and get it. Then they go, ‘oh, he can do that.’ But wait, there’s more. I want to do this now.”

This came in the form of a diverse slate of films: Kalifornia, Cool World and Johnny Suede. None of the three will ever inspire a stampede on a video store. They did, however, broaden Pitt’s horizons-ultimately stretching all the way to Montana where he went to work on A River Runs Through It, the first quality film that Pitt was called upon to carry on his back.

“I felt a bit of pressure on A River Runs Though It. And I thought that it was one of my weakest performances. It’s so weird that it ended up being the one that I got the most attention for.”

Pitt’s love of architecture and drawing is so consuming that he sketches continually in his spare time. He also hunts down antiques and professes a fervent respect for anyone who creates beautiful handcrafted furniture. And then, of course, he loves to wander aimlessly.

“It’s easy to disappear if you want to. In L.A., the conversations don’t vary much. Truth is, I’ve got other things I want to do, so I go do them. People take this all so seriously. My answer to everything that I don’t have an answer for is ‘Don’t take everything so seriously.’ Really. Lighten up, please. That’s the way I do these movies. I do a few of these, I can do some other things. Because I have other things that I’d really like to do that have nothing to do with movies.”

What he wants is to “get under” with the Glasgow crowd. Having survived parental approval, we are seated in a nightclub, quietly chatting with a small group of friends who swap stories like extended family. Our barmaid/tour guide is delighting the drunken masses around her. It’s 3 in the morning, and our road trip has reached its destination. Pitt smiles and chats with our hostess. Glasgow falls silent. Lights out.

“I break everything into stages. There’ve been some good healthy stages and some that are really unhealthy. The unhealthy ones are sure more fun. And I’d say, right now, I’m just getting out of the moron stage. It’s a shame we can’t cover them all. They’re very interesting, but I’d like this article to have a PG-13 rating.”

This is one great location to start a new life stage. It’s late summer, and Pitt has just purchased a stunning new home in the Hollywood Hills. He immediately asks, “Can you please not write about this place? It’s kind of special to me, really sacred.” Suffice it to say that it is a home that stands as a monument to Pitt’s obsession. Gorgeous antique tables, chairs and Tiffany lamps litter the inside of a fortress that itself is nestled neatly into a perfectly sculped compound.

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Soon the home will be a petting zoo overrun by Pitt’s three dogs, dozens of chameleons and the two bobcats owned by his current girlfriend, Jitka, who is personable, soft-spoken and beautiful. At the moment, however, all the animals are at his old abode. Pitt is seated by his swimming pool, and his every gesture seems remarkably relaxed and content. At one time in his life, Pitt set up house with ex-girlfriend actress Juliette Lewis-whom he met while filming a TV-movie, Too Young to Die?, and whom he dated for three years. “That wasn’t the same. We were trying to be Sid and Nancy or something. We were idiots. We were just having a great time.”

When Pitt is home in L.A., he doesn’t venture out often. “I save wild nights for the road. Or I have wild nights at home. All I know is that I’m not doing whatever Charlie Sheen did, because that boy’s in the paper every other night.”

So Mr. Wandering Spirit lounges around the homestead these days. His going rate per movie has leapt into the realm of the ridiculous (more than $3 million per movie), and he confesses that he is fighting to come to terms with just what the obligation of stardom entails. Interview promises to be a blockbuster, and Legends of the Fall is not only a quality film but also utterly dominated by Pitt. “There is a responsibility there. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.”

Almost every penny he has ever made has been sunk into the estate sprawling around him. Pitt’s plan is to search out the best and brightest of his generation. A moment is at hand in Hollywood, Pitt is sure, and he wants to be part of it. Problem is, young Hollywood is also full of a lot of assholes.

“When I got back from Vampire, I wanted to meet some of the young contemporaries. I met a bunch of people, and it was that whole competitive, look-over, high-school-cafeteria thing. It was a shame. What’s with that? That’s why I was so impressed with Christian Slater. It was a tough spot to walk into, the end of the film, everyone’s just looking to get done, River’s gone. He came in and was just a real person. He walked in like a pro, no egos for anything.”

“I mean, some things get harder, but then again, look at this place. Things get much easier, too. I’d love to have a Wilford Brimley career-Wilford it straight down the pipe. That would be ideal. But who knows, it could all go away. I could pull a Mark Hamill.” He pauses weightily. “You come here with this impression that just isn’t true. Being in the movies doesn’t make you laugh any harder and doesn’t make you any less sad.”

Pitt gives the impression that he wants desperately to be understood. Not necessarily known, but most definitely understood. “I have to use a cheesy word, but I’d say I try to guide my life by honesty. And that’s a hard thing. I haven’t mastered it by any means. I can be a lying s* sometimes.”

Does it ever worries you that the job of acting is inherently dishonest.

Pitt wriggles in his chair and indulges in a long, uncomfortable pause.

“I’m not worried because I’ll never be too good an actor. I’m a good actor, I’m consistent, but I’ll never be great actor. Every now and then I’ll be great. Every now and then I’ll be lousy.” He smiles contentedly, confident that he has made his point but still kept his cards close to his chest.

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Rolling Stone Dec.1994.

December 1, 1994 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links