Brad Pitt takes a swig from a keg of Gatorade, the label of which boasts a drink that is “new and bold”. The drink is so new and so bold that within a few sips, his tongue turns bright pink. “Your tongue is cerise.” He pauses mid-slurp. “What does cerise mean?” Pitt is not a man ashamed to admit the things he doesn’t know, nor to be coy about the things he does know. “Just a kind of pink, like a maraschino cherry, I guess.” “Like Fuchsia?” “A few shades of Fuchsia.” “Really?” He replaces the cap on the disgusting drink, digesting this information as if it is quite the most fascinating thing he has head all day. An ear-to-ear grin raises his cheekbones even higher, quick as a rent hike. “I love naming colors, I love finding new ones,” he says.
I first met Brad Pitt a year and a half ago when he was doing press for Meet Joe Black. I was the 10th female journalist he had seen that day, but the first to make it clear that I didn’t fancy him. He relaxed.
“The way people focus on my looks, I feel like a girl walking past constructions workers,” he said at the time. Meeting again in honour of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch he picks me up from my hotel. Pitt is lolling on the sofa, waiting for me to gather my belongings, when the phone rings. It’s my mum. We talk briefly and then, somehow, the phone is in his hands. “Allo Mum!” he chirps, in an abysmal cockney accent, “It’s Brad here!” They chat pleasantly for a little while before he signs off: “Well, it’s been very nice talking to you, Mrs Forrest. I’ll pass you back to your daughter now. Look after yourself. Byeee!”
Perhaps because he is so weary of being expected to talk about himself, Pitt loves listening to other people, and loves asking questions.
“I remember, when we first met, you asked the craziest questions,” Pitt frowns, rolling down the window of his Range Rover. “You asked me if it felt strange to be so American. I’ve thought about that a lot. Because I remember being so excited the first time I ever went to New York, seeing the different enclaves and how they looked after each other. I’ve always felt on my own. Drifting until I find my focus. Maybe that’s why I love driving so much.”
I meant (I think) that where Sean Penn is Irish-American, Denzel Washington is African-American and Michael Douglas is Jewish-American, Pitt is just American-American. Every actor from New York or LA, including his other half, Jennifer Aniston (family name Anistolpoulos), seems to have an ethnic to fall back on. Pitt is from Oklahoma and went to a Missouri university.
“The cast of Snatch blew me away, Jason Flemyng, Jason Statham, the best guys. Vinnie Jones–what a sweetheart! Sharp as a tack! These guys, you would think that the movie was secondary to them. They’re having these chess battles in between set-ups for the shot, shouting “F** you!” As a loner, I was really taken with the camaraderie these guys have together.”
“I sound so wanky when I tell people about Brad,” groans Jason Flemyng, “but it’s hard not to. Not only has he chosen films that I’ve loved, but he’s been fantastic in all of them. Any actor that good-looking who continues to do good work- him, Jude Law to some extent, you can’t take that away from them.”
“I’ve disconnected from [the focus on his looks], you see. I spent so much energy in the first portion of the fame game trying to fight that. It just became daunting and I missed the enjoyment of what was going on. I vowed not to do that any more.”
Did he understand the British furor surrounding the release of The Devil’s Own in which he portrayed a sympathetic IRA terrorist?
“I can only understand the crisis from afar,” he begins, delicately; “from books and interviewing people. What I got from that was pain on both sides. As with anything, it comes down to a few bad people.”
Now his voice has raised, loud enough for the motorist beside us to realize that this is Brad Pitt, although probably not that this is Brad Pitt holding forth on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
“But I want to know why the British Empire is promoting this pain. Why can’t the Empire make right its wrong?” The area of Oklahoma Pitt grew up in was defined by religion: “Not just Catholic or Protestant, but Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist. Like it matters, like who gives a s*.” He started off Baptist, “and we graduated or moved into a nondenominational group that means nothing to me.
“Religion is at best a pacifer and at worst, barbaric. People who live in a vacuum get very scared of people living in a different way.”
Pacino is a great actor because of the method, because of his training. Johnny Depp is a great actor because of his face–the emotions that he can convey with those soulful eyes alone. Brad Pitt is a great actor because of his intelligence. He analyses intensely, as he does with everything else, any role he is about to play, until he finds the truth in it.
“You know, I’ve had this frustration with film because we can replicate feelings and sometimes, a few of us get to an ultimate truth that when you witness it, it floors you because you weren’t able to express it yourself… But my frustration with acting is that I can’t do quite what music does. Music has its own language. It’s not Japanese, it’s not English, it’s music.”
He’s about to start filming a remake of the rat pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven, because of Steven Soderbergh.
I ask if he has any trepidation about doing a remake.
“… it’s Shakespeare. It’s why you redo Shakespeare. To find your own personal version.”
Jason Flemyng, who as well as starring in Snatch with Pitt, has just finished filming a heavy metal movie (Metal Gods) with Aniston, describes her as “a female Brad. Couldn’t be more gorgeous, yet utterly without vanity. They took me out a few times in LA and, this will sound strange, but it was so nice to be around such normal people. We just ate Mexican food and talked nonsense.”
And, boy, does he love her, with that rare love that is nourishing rather than destructive.
Pitt says that it will not be long before we see Aniston in her own equivalent of Twelve Monkeys or Fight Club.
“We talk about it all the time. I’m on to it, don’t worry. I think Friends is hilarious. I will be sad when that show goes off air. But I cannot wait for everyone else to see the things she can do, because that show is just one facet of her talent.”
He has built a photography studio in the house in which he plans to experiment, and an art studio “because Jen loves messing around with paint.” He tells me about the inspiration behind the development of the 1910 house, which is more of a sprawling compound. “I’m interested in ways to make minimalism seem warm.”
He tries to explain and I try to understand, but it’s like listening to directions in a foreign country. All I can see is it’s a house that is clearly inspired by being in love.
“Yeah, I started working on it when I got together with Jen.”
Soon, I find myself teetering into territory he doesn’t care for. He tries to dismiss my question as something “your editor made you ask,” but it is mine and I am genuinely curious. We’ve all experienced that heart-dropping moment when you see an ex for the first time at a party and they are with someone new and they are happy. If that party is the Oscars and there are cameras everywhere, does that dull the pain or exacerbate it?
“You are referring to the Paltrow period.”
Actually I’m talking about Juliette Lewis, who recently got married. But I don’t correct him. I am intrigued by the way he refers to an ex by her last name.
“I think of the pain I’ve felt in my life… pain is relative but… the Paltrow period was a truly valuable time for me personally. When something goes away you need that decompression time to digest what was really going on. I’ve done my homework. I want to know why things go wrong, when I’m culpable and when I’m not. I want to know how I can not make the same mistakes.”
And then he is gushing about “Jen” this and “Jen” that. He’s recently returned from filming The Mexican with Julia Roberts, so he and Jen are going to spend the next two nights camping on the beach above Malibu. So he suggests politely, he has to get going soon. On the way back to the car, he takes me through a room with squiggly light fixtures. They look like an upmarket string of fairy lights dotted around the walls. “Those lights might be my favorite thing in the whole house.”
It is tough to say which he takes greater pleasure in – his painstaking transformation of the house, or the transformation in his career. The latter began a long while ago with True Romance. Twelve Monkeys saw him loony and Oscar-nominated, and Seven was the first time he was excellent. Fight Club, of course, f**ed with everyone’s heads, just as it was designed to. And now he has another strange turn in Snatch. As he pulls into the driveway of my hotel, he tells me a secret: “You know, the leading man role, you could plug any of us in there. Cruise, Clooney, me. It’s the same role. Because it’s already been defined: the guy who can handle any situation. I understand why people want to see that. But there’s no game in it for me.”
With a hug and a wave, he’s gone and I’m left to ponder the implications of what he’s just said. Maybe he has always been, from that very first appearance in Thelma & Louise, simply a really good-looking character actor. And character actors are living, breathing things whereas heart-throbs are mere holograms.
The phone rings.
“It’s Brad. That goodbye was so abrupt. I wanted to say goodbye again.” He also wants to add something about Mike Figgis, a director with whom he has never worked, but whom he greatly admires. “He makes you want to make things. ‘Make things’ – I’ve squeezed it down to that line, whether it is a relationship, a movie or a building.”
When I first met Brad Pitt, I found him charming but unsure, an unfinished join-the-dots drawing that you knew would be fantastic if it were completed. Half-finished almost-great thoughts. Half-finished almost great-feelings. A lot of dogs, a ton of chairs, a slew of great roles and the love of one good woman later… and the dots have all been joined. In fact the dots are multi-colored, glowing like one of his fancy lamps. As you know, he loves colors. He loves finding new ones.