Walking The Walk

for Harper's Bazaar | November 1998

All of this hot California day, I have been on the phone with Brad Pitt’s publicists, trying to determine when and where my meeting with their client will take place. First, it was going to be a four o’clock, in a coffee shop. Then 4:30 at a restaurant. Then we rescheduled for five o’clock, at his place. Then word came that Brad wanted me to swear not to write about how he lived or what his house looked like. In fact, could I not tell anyone I had been to his house at all? At this, I balked.  And so it came to pass that Brad Pitt got in his chunky old Jeep and drove over to me. At this very moment, my boyfriend is skulking in the bedroom, having been forbidden, on the pain of death, from sneaking out to take a peek at the Great Hunky One, and Mr. Pitt is bouncing around my kitchen in sunglasses with peach-colored lenses, showing me how to open a bottle of beer with a lighter.

It’s a good trick, the lighter thing – he picked it up in college, he says – but I’m not really concentrating. This reversal of the interview format, where the movie star comes to check out your home furnishings, is making me rather more anxious than I had anticipated. Pitt, who takes a serious interest in architecture and design, has just pronounced a little sniffly that my house is “an amalgamation of styles.”

“I have firm instructions from your people to make you comfortable,” I say. “So perhaps you should choose where you’d like to sit.”

“Oh, they… that’s bulls* man,” he drawls. “Where do you usually hang?” I point to an exceptionally cluttered kitchen table. “Cool,” he says with a wide smile. “That’s where we’ll be.” I refer apologetically to the lack of air-conditioning in the house. “That’s all right,” he replies. “I don’t have a/c at my house either. I just keep all the windows open.” He laughs, lifts his T-shirt and scratches his grade-A abdomen. “It can be stifling, y’know, but it can be kind of sexy too…. the sweat, the smells… good stuff.”

Pitt’s down-home charm may come a little too easily, and his sex appeal may have a certain self-consciousness to it, but he is attempting, quite earnestly it seems, to inject this situation with casualness, some normalcy. “Wait, are you the one who didn’t like the movie?” he asks merrily as we sit down. He is referring to his latest film, Meet Joe Black, the lush, vastly budgeted remake of Death Takes A Holiday, with Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, and Pitt, who stars as the grim reaper, trying out life among the mortals. It’s not quite accurate to say I didn’t like it, but my insufficient enthusiasm after a screening led Pitt’s publicist to try to cancel this interview.

“Yeah”, Pitt says, “I was told that you didn’t like my performance. But, look, let me tell you, I don’t expect everyone to like it. What got back to me was, ‘We’ve got to find a new writer.’ And I was thinking, ‘But isn’t that the crap we always sell?'”

“You mean, you disagreed with the notion that you should be interviewed by someone who liked the movie?”

“Yeah! You know how a lot of articles present things: they’re all happy, shiny, we all had a great time on the set, we’re all great friends, and one big happy family, and blah-blah-blah and …well, f** off.”

“But if I was going to write mean and terrible things?”

“That’s different. Someone who’s out to write mean and terrible things will tell you they loved it. You know what I’m saying? I respect an opinion. I don’t respect a shooting match.”

Actually, he says he’s not entirely happy with his performance. Death is a tough role to get a grip on, after all. “Here was the first problem: Who the hell is Death?” he asks. “Where are you going to go for your research? [The character] wasn’t very defined.”

He attributes some of his difficulty to personal experiences he was going through last year during the filming – an oblique reference to to his breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow. “It’s funny,” he says. “Movies come along, and you’re in a particular place in your life – this is not an excuse – but it always colors your performance, I find. I can’t watch a film without knowing where I was then, what little terrain of life I was going through at that point. I mean, most of the things I’ve done I’d love to have a second shot at. With this one, I think I made mistakes in it, but fortunately, the film is bigger than my mistakes. Somehow, it’s a great movie. It has some beautiful themes of family and love and dealing with loss. It really gets to the bottom of some of that. I think that’s to the director’s credit and the writer’s credit and what Tony [Hopkin] did.”

The ironic premise of the movie is that Death inhabits the body of an innocent strapping country boy. If anything, Meet Joe Black is something of a cinematic paean to Pitt’s beauty. This is just as well, because in his next movie, Fight Club, which he has just finished shooting, Pitt will be appearing with a chipped front tooth. In pursuit of authenticity, he went to his dentist and had the damage done for real. He now sports the best crown money can buy, but the gesture seems a little excessive, nonetheless.

“You f**ed with your immaculate teeth for art?” I ask.

“Yeah, that’s right. They weren’t so immaculate, though.”

“Didn’t everybody around you go crazy and tell you not to do it?”

“Well, no, not everybody.” He giggles. “Just the people who paid for it.”

Pitt has been more zealous than most pretty-boy actors in attempting to dodge the limitations imposed by his own prettiness. It’s very noble, this refusal to cruise on his matinee-idol looks, but it can also seem a little hokey. Is every beautiful movie star honor-bound these days to insist that he doesn’t feel beautiful? It would be a shame, I tell Pitt, if he didn’t allow himself some of the straightforward pleasure to be had from being gorgeous.

He pauses before he answers: “It’s just dangerous. I’ve got my own vanity that I’m not so proud of, sure. But I don’t want to sit here and talk about it. I’m trying to get away from it. Do you know what the three terrible karmas in Buddhism are? It’s fantastic – it’s the funniest s* – the three terrible karmas are beauty, wealth and fame. They’re the things that stop you from finding true happiness.”

When he first got famous, this wariness of specious blessings led him to retreat, he says. “It was such a shakeup. I was so mistrusting of it and what kind of effect it would have. See, you don’t know what I was dealing with. It’s a beast, and you can’t describe it to anyone. I had a good year and a half where I pretty much hid out. I just hid out. I couldn’t deal with the attention. I didn’t want the attention. And yet I did, right? It’s a pretty strange dichotomy of emotions. So I think at first, I missed out on some of the fun of it, some of the rock & roll of it. I think if I’d understood it in the beginning – and there’s no way I could have – I might have enjoyed it more. But the people who do really enjoy it normally go haywire.”

“Things are easier now,” he says, partly because he’s learned not to worry so much. “I don’t spend much time anymore thinking about the pitfalls, the negative aspects of it all. I hit the lottery, but that’s all it is. My number came up. So now I’ve got an opportunity to get out there and do something with it.” It also helps that he’s been around for a while and other, younger actors – Damon, DiCaprio – have appeared on the scene to absorb some of the glare. “I used to think that is was easier to be the new kid, but it’s not. It’s much harder. Much harder. When you become… not a veteran in any sense, but when your in your fifth-year war term, people don’t notice you so much. They’ve seen you a bunch of times and it takes the buzz off. It’s like, how many times have you seen Cindy Crawford on a cover and said ‘Oh, enough already? All right, go take a vacation in Bali for a year and a half. Don’t come back.'”

Pitt has reconciled himself now to the strange isolation of fame, to hanging out pretty much exclusively with other famous people. “We’re cut off from the herd a little bit. We’re that one gazelle that was running with the herd, and then we got cut off by the lions.” No longer quite so fretful about the Babylonian aspects of the Hollywood scene, he is able to enjoy it, with an amused, anthropological sort of detachment. “It’s great fun. I call my evenings out ‘great experiments.’ It’s the most fantastic study of human nature, people’s projection on you, what’s really going on behind what people say. Out here, very little can be taken at face value.”

Even tabloid gossip doesn’t make him crazy anymore. “In the beginning,” he says, “I used to want to write to these people, but I’ve realized it’s futile. You can’t reason with people of that nature; you can’t reach them. I truly believe the gossip stuff is usually written by petty, miserable people who have no capacity to find fault with themselves. You have to annihilate them or ignore them.”

For the most part, the tabloids have trained their gaze on the busy business that has been Pitt’s love life. Rumor – and at least one well-publicized photo – has recently suggested that he is dating actress Jennifer Aniston, but both parties have refused to confirm this. When I raise the subject of romance, our dialogue becomes temporarily rather… curt. Is he in love at the moment? He won’t say. Why won’t he say? He won’t say why he won’t say. Okaaay, has he been hurt in love? Sure. Generally speaking, has he been more the hurter than the hurtee? He doesn’t know. He never added it up. Is he a good boyfriend? Ah, smiles. Yes, he thinks he is. “I’m pretty much mush. I like love. That’s the best way I can say it. I’m a huge believer in love and why two people come together and what the potentialities are of that – so I call myself sappy, but I’m not. I’m not sappy. I think there’s huge value in love.”

Pitt’s public persona has been defined, in many ways, by the women he has dated. And they’re a pretty mixed bunch. When he was with the actress Juliette Lewis, we thought of him as a boho hipster dude. With Paltrow, the image reverted to something more classic – the sweet regular guy in love with the classy gal. The Jennifer Aniston rumors prompted yet another revision. While reading the clippings on Pitt, I discovered that some years ago he dated Mike Tyson’s ex-wife, the actress Robin Givens, at which point, I threw up my hands. This is not a man with a “type”.

“I suppose it’s to your credit,” I tell him, “that you don’t go for the same skinny model every time.”

He laughs. “I guess not. I guess not. The thing is, people get beauty all wrong–“

“Wait, are you going to tell me the true beauty comes from within?”

“Well, I’m sorry, but it does. There are interesting people all over the world in all shapes and sizes – and really awful people in all the same shapes and sizes. I’m big on trial and error. You know, ‘What’s this about? I don’t know this; I don’t recognize it.’ Experiment! That’s what it’s all about, in life and acting and love. The most beautiful thing about [love] is discovery. Discovery with a woman.”

Hmm. “Do you think,” I ask, “that one of these days, your explorations will come to an end, that you’ll meet a woman and say, ‘Okay, this one’s a keeper’?

“Sure,” he says. “Sure. Come on. I mean, who doesn’t hope for that? Right?

“There should be freedom of self in a couple, and appreciation of the other person, or there shouldn’t be a couple. All you’ve got is two people trying. You’ve just got to try; that’s all I’ve ever asked. But the mind’s a mess and people are such a mess, and they get into things for all the wrong reasons and stay in things for even worse reasons. So, yeah, I’m not doing it until it’s all that. Otherwise, I don’t want it.”

Pitt doesn’t know where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing in 10 years. He is pretty certain he’ll have some kids, but beyond that, he says, there are few guarantee’s. He is not even sure he will still be acting. “I would say there’s a good shot that I will, but then again I may have got to a point where there are too many wrinkles, and I’m not into it, and the audience isn’t into it, so I fade out for 20 years and then come back, playing some grumpy old curmudgeon” The main goal, he says, is to “be himself” and to “stay open to the possibilities.” (Pitt has met very few new-age homilies that he didn’t like.) “The one good thing about getting it all,” he says, “is that you see it doesn’t give you any answers, doesn’t make you wake up any better. Then you’re left with yourself; it’s just a whole new set of problems. We think we need this specific brand of tennis shoes and this particular car… I almost wish everyone had those things. Then they would see…”

He pauses, aware of the skepticism that tends to greet privileged actors lecturing on anti-materialism. “Look, I don’t even want to say any of that. I see so many narcissistic people out here, who sit and preach about this and that way of life, about honesty and truth – and they’re full of s*. I know they’re liars. If I talk this way, it sounds the same. I don’t think I need to go around saying stuff. I don’t want to preach to anyone. I like the old adage ‘Walk the walk.’ I think that says it all.” He gets up from the table. He wants to go take a look at my yard.

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in Harper's Bazaar, Nov.1998.

November 1, 1998 | Interview , | this post contains affiliate links