Brad covers Rolling Stone
The actor on fame, life with six kids and how playing an old man made him grow up
Brad pitt is having technical difficulties.
"I normally need my kids to do this," he mutters, as he attempts to connect my iPod into his stereo. "They're so beyond me in technology, it's hard to keep up. Our seven-year-old was searching the word 'weapons' on Google the other day and ended up on some white-supremacist site. I'm sure now we're on all kinds of watch lists."
Eventually, Pitt gives up and summons an assistant, and soon enough we're listening to Townes Van Zandt. Pitt has never heard the late, great singer-songwriter before, but he says he digs it. He's been feeling out of the loop when it comes to music these days. "Last new thing I got into was the Black Keys," he says. We're at the legendary Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, sitting in Pitt's large, heavily guarded trailer. Metropolis, Nosferatu and The Blue Angel were all shot here, along with, more recently, Tom Cruise's World War II drama, Valkyrie. Pitt has been here since September to film Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's own WWII epic, years in the making and loosely based on a Seventies grindhouse knockoff of The Dirty Dozen. In it, Pitt plays a lieutenant from Tennessee who, according to a leaked version of the script, leads a black-ops unit assigned to terrorize the enemy by scalping Nazis. Gleefully, Pitt snatches a prop from the coffee table and shows it to me. It's an ornate invitation to a movie screening from "Der Minister Propaganda - Dr. Joseph Goebbels." "All the big guys show up in this movie," he says with a grin.
Pitt, who is 44, has grown a thin mustache for his role, and his hair has been styled in a period frontal swoop. He's wearing a wide gray scarf over a gray zip-up sweater and rough-looking khaki Army pants. For the duration of the shoot, set to wrap sometime in January, Pitt and his family - Angelina Jolie, his partner of three years, and their six children - have rented a massive compound in nearby Wannsee. (It's in the same upscale neighborhood where, in a villa in 1942, senior Nazi officials came up with the plan for the Final Solution.) The property is surrounded by a wall and has three large houses, its own helicopter-landing pad and, when I visit, at least six guards. Pitt also owns a 6,500-square-foot apartment in central Berlin; a longtime architecture enthusiast (and apprentice), he's been visiting the city for years, primarily to work with the avant-garde architecture firm Graft. Their current project together, in which Pitt will be a design consultant, is a planned green, sustainable hotel in Dubai.
Despite the rarefied level of celebrity he's achieved, Pitt, as an actor, has starred in surprisingly few massive hits. There's the Ocean's Eleven series, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and then you probably have to go all the way back to Se7en, his first film with director David Fincher, in 1995. In the late Nineties, beginning with The Devil's Own and ending with the abysmally reviewed Meet Joe Black, Pitt admits this had to do with poor choices. "I got lost in the wilderness of fame a bit," he says. "There are all of these opportunities you're supposed to be taking. And I got really discombobulated." More often, though, his instinct has very deliberately pulled him in the direction of eccentric, less commercial roles, from small, scene-stealing turns in 12 Monkeys and Snatch to his quieter work in more recent films like Babel and last year's brooding, wildly underrated Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. His latest film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is his third collaboration with Fincher, after Se7en and Fight Club. Based on a deeply weird short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Button is a fable about mortality in which the title character, played by Pitt, is born old and ages backward. The script, by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), has little of the original story's black humor, and fans of the earlier Pitt-Fincher collaborations will likely find the film sentimental. But Oscar voters will almost certainly disagree. There's already talk of a Best Actor nomination for Pitt, who turns in a subtle, impressive performance, and the visual effects are something to behold.
In person, Pitt is warm and funny, but is also, at least while he's being interviewed, an extremely fidgety guy. He paces. He musses his hair. He tears little pieces of dried apricot into smaller pieces before popping them into his mouth. He rubs his knee so intensely it brings to mind Lennie from Of Mice and Men petting a rabbit. All of this might have to do with the fact that, despite his repeatedly proven talents as an actor, Pitt remains, for a large number of people, a creature primarily of tabloid fascination. Did he cheat on his ex-wife with his current partner? Will they have another biological child? What war-ravaged destination might they visit next? Does the mustache make him look hot or porn-y? (I can only speak to the final question, and the answer is clearly porn-y.) The day before my first interview with Pitt, even The New York Times had figured out a way to put Jolie's picture on the front page: by running a story about how masterfully she manipulates the press.
Our interview takes place over two days, first on the set and then at Pitt's compound in Wannsee, in a nondescript house where some of his security guys live. Pitt says he's been enjoying Berlin. Tarantino stages a weekly movie night, and the other night, Pitt took his oldest son, Maddox, to see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Maddox loved it. "I have this fantasy of my older days, painting or sculpting or making things," Pitt says. "I have this fantasy of a bike trip to Chile. I have this fantasy of flying into Morocco. But right now, more and more, it's about getting the work done and getting home to family. I have an adventure every morning, getting up."
Benjamin Button is your third film with Fincher. Going back to Fight Club, though, I found a quote where he talks about how you're actually sort of similar to your character, Tyler Durden.
In that I don't bathe?
He didn't mention that specifically. He said, "It's probably a character closer to Brad in real life than most people would be comfortable knowing."
"There is a childlike sense of anarchy....He is kind of a shit-stirrer and one of those people who is 'Huh? Is that the current thinking? I don't really buy that.'"
Well, that probably comes from growing up in a religious community. I just found it so stifling, my religion. I know it's very comforting for other people.
Did you go to church every Sunday?
Yeah. And it was too much of what you shouldn't be doing instead of what you could be doing. I get enraged when people start telling other people how to live their lives. It drives me mental. This Prop. 8 thing just drives me mental.
Where were you on election night?
Chicago. I went down to Grant Park, because I was doing Oprah the next day. I walked home from the park to the hotel, which was a half-hour walk. And I could walk freely - no one was interested in me at that point. People were weeping and hugging. The sense of elation in the streets - it was great. That was such a turnaround for us. We captured the original definition of America again.
Do you think Fight Club could have been made after September 11th?
No. Certainly not that ending. We debated it then. There's a line we stuck in, about the buildings being evacuated.
Some critics just didn't get that film.
Did you see the DVD that Fincher put out? He put all the negative reviews in the booklet. Some London critic said, "Not only is it anti-capitalistic, but it's anti-society and anti-God." We were like, "We didn't realize it was that good!"
Benjamin Button and Fight Club actually deal with similar themes: having a finite amount of time in life, and what we should do with it. But they come to such radically different conclusions. In Fight Club, the response to mortality is nihilism, anarchy -
[Laughs] That was a Nineties conclusion. Now we have an Aughts conclusion. I actually never thought of what you just said. But it's probably true.
It's just, Benjamin Button feels very positive, but you could easily come away from that story feeling very bleak.
Yeah, I think it's open to . . . it's your choice. I find Benjamin is about those universal things we all share - that 95 percent that makes us all the same, wherever we are in the world. Our loves, our hopes, but also the loss that we all walk around with and hide very well, and the ultimate notion that we're all expendable. To me, it's a counterstatement to this divisive period we've been in, where we focused on the two, three, four, five percent of ways in which we're different.
[Read the full story in RS Issue 1068-69, on stands December 12, 2008.]