A GOOD MOTHER
One of the best things I’ve done is ensure my kids have
A gloriously frank Brad Pitt speaks his mind about the mother of his children, how his family has changed
him – and why, despite being one of Hollywood’s hottest
leading men, he’ll never be hip again. By Martyn Palmer
I n his own colourful phrase, Brad Pitt has always been ‘ an opinionated b******’, whether supporting gay marriage or blaming the recession on rampant greed. Controversially for one of Hollywood’s leading liberals, he doesn’t believe US gun laws should be changed. ‘America is a country founded on guns,’ he says. ‘It’s in our DNA. It’s very strange but I feel better having a gun. I really do. I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel the house is completely safe, if I don’t have one hidden somewhere. That’s my thinking, right or wrong.
‘I got my first BB gun [a type of air gun] when I was in nursery school. I got my first shotgun by first grade [aged six], I had shot a handgun by third grade [aged eight] and I grew up in a pretty sane environment. It’s just something with us. To turn around and ask us to give up our guns... I don’t know, we’re too afraid that we’re going to give up ours and the bad guys are still going to get theirs. It’s just in our thinking. I’m telling you, we don’t know America without guns.’
As he approaches the landmark of his 50th birthday next year, Pitt is a ‘force’ (a term he’ll use to describe wife-to-be Angelina Jolie) to be reckoned with. His reputation as a film producer rivals his finest acting performances.
Unlike the young actor of the 1990s — too pretty and too famous for his own good, ‘sitting on the couch, holding a joint, hiding out’ — Pitt is now firmly in the driving seat, an unconventional Hollywood power player. This month, his most ambitious project to date will be released — World War Z, a blockbuster zombie film that represents his debut as star and producer of a major action movie with a massive (and reportedly massively exceeded) budget.
There is, he says assuredly, no mid-life crisis looming, even though his goatee has streaks of silver. ‘I think if you get to this age with a family around you and you’re doing a job that you enjoy there’s a sense that you’re in the right place at the right time. Where I am now feels right.’
His production company, founded in 2002, is called Plan B — not to be confused with the rapper of the same name. Does Pitt know him? ‘I’m afraid not,’’ he laughs laughs. ‘I’m 48 now and whatever I get music-wise, I get from my kids and that’s it. I don’t think I’ll ever be hip again!’
But the truth is he makes very hip films. Plan B’s remarkably successful roster includes The Departed (a Best Picture Oscar winner), A Mighty Heart (with Jolie as murdered journalist Daniel Pearl’s widow), cult comic book adaptation Kick-Ass, Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life (which won the coveted Palme d’Or in Cannes) and Moneyball, which gave Pitt his third Oscar nomination.
But it is his personal life — and more particuarly that of his partner, Angelina Jolie — that has been the subject of intense media focus over the last month. In May, 37-year- old Jolie went public with the news that she’d had a double mastectomy after discovering she was a carrier of the BRCA1 ‘cancer gene’, in the hope of expanding the discussion of women’s health issues such as breast and ovarian cancer.
Indeed, her appearance on the red carpet in London’s Leicester Square last Sunday alongside Pitt inevitably overshadowed the premiere of his labour of love, World War Z. But it’s clear where Pitt’s priorities are these days and in the redcarpet pictures he is beaming with relief, when he’s not affectionately kissing Jolie. ‘I’m very proud and I’m just relieved,’ he said on the night. ‘The biggest fear as a father is keeping the family alive and safe and together, and she did that.’
Twenty-six years on from the ‘feckless’ ( his word) Missouri boy arriving in LA with $300 in his jeans and a change of clothes stashed in the boot of his car, Pitt’s Southern drawl remains as thick as syrup. There’s a languid physicality to his 5ft 11in frame contributing to the unique onscreen alchemy that launched him as the irresistible grifter in Thelma & Louise back in 1991. A white shirt, under a grey, pinstripe suit, is unbuttoned halfway down his chest. He still exudes moviestar chic unlike any other actor, and remains the independent spirit I first met at the Toronto Film Festival in 1997.
The bachelor of 34 had been linked to several Hollywood actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow and Juliette Lewis. The excitement around him was tangible. When we next met in New York in 2004, he was happily married, or so it appeared, to Jennifer Aniston. Pitt told me then that he tried
I feel like I’ve won the lottery... Angie is a force – she cares deeply. Of course I want her approval. I want her to be proud of
not to take the media speculation about their relationship too seriously.
Fast-forward to Cannes 2009 for Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Pitt was the most tetchy I’ve ever seen him. He had a hangover that day: it showed. The papers were stuffed with stories that he and Jolie (whom he met while filming Mr & Mrs Smith, still married to Aniston) were about to split. ‘Yeah, we’re really miserable,’ he deadpanned. He clearly didn’t find the rumours funny.
Now, he and Jolie are engaged to be married. Their six children — a mini entourage with not a publicist in sight — flank their every move: Maddox, 11, adopted as a baby by Jolie in Cambodia before she met Pitt; Ethiopian Zahara Marley, seven, adopted by them both from an orphanage; Shiloh, six, their first biological daughter; Pax, nine, adopted from an orphanage in Vietnam; and biological twins, Knox and Vivienne, aged four.
‘I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’m raising them — what do I want to impart to them, the opportunities I need to give them. That takes up a lot of my day,’ says Pitt. ‘I think living in different places is the best education we’ve been able to give the kids. There are certain confinements that come with our lives but that side is the positive and it certainly makes up for it.’ With homes in France, LA and New Orleans, the family travel en masse to his or her film locations wherever they may be. ‘We’re so mobile. We carry our bags and pop them down in any corner, any grass field, on any picnic bench. I like having a base camp, certainly, but being mobile you strip down the accoutrements and just have what’s necessary, discard the rest. I like it that way.
‘Sometimes I have more time with the kids and sometimes the Empire [as Pitt dubs Plan B] requires more tending. But the day always starts with breakfast, all of us together. It’s chaos and a joy. When they are young like this, it’s special, and I’m very aware they’ll be grown up before we know it. I see it already and I’m clinging on with my nails.’
Pitt says he always craved a big, chaotic family. He tells me a story of watching Saturday Night Fever. ‘I have a vivid memory of it. I had to sneak in because it was an R-rated movie and cinemas were very strict back then. You had to buy a ticket for a PG movie, act like you were going to the bathroom, and then while the ticket guy had his back turned, you’d sneak in.
‘It was this idea of a big, boisterous, gregarious, New York family that I liked, all hitting and yelling at each other. It seemed ferocious — but there was a lot of love in it. They related to each other. I was really affected by it.
‘I think it has to do with growing up in a bit of a Christian vacuum. I was taught from one book [the Bible] and one book only. It didn’t sit right. Then you hear things in songs and you start watching films that offer a broader view of the world. It made me curious. It made me want to get out and travel. I always had questions.
‘I try to pass that love of stories on to the kids. You know, at bedtime... when we were watching the Olympics, stories about the athletes. Or stories in films. That’s what we talk about.’ The discussions may be surprisingly adult. ‘I enjoy it when we sit down and share a film together... though I’m pushing the age of understanding.’
What was the last film they watched together? ‘Apocalypto.’ Mel Gibson’s 18-rated violent epic about Mayan human sacrifice — really? He laughs. ‘Yeah. The films are a little beyond the grade but I’ll tell you it sparked some very interesting conversation. But the Batman massacre did make me think I can’t be completely frivolous about what I show my kids.’ The world got a hint of Pitt’s own upbringing last July: his mother wrote to a paper telling Christians not to vote for Obama because he supports ‘killing unborn babies’ and same-sex marriage, as do her son and his fiancée.
Pitt confirms reports that he and Jolie would prefer not to marry until same- sex marriage legislation is passed. He hopes the two events ‘come together at the same time, very quickly’.
All in all, Pitt, as he approaches 50, is pretty happy with his lot in life. ‘I really feel like I’ve hit the lottery. The more I travel, the more I understand what opportunities I’ve had. Most people don’t have that. The latitude and longitudinal lines of where you are born determine your opportunity in life, and it’s not equal. We may have been created equal, but we’re not born equal. It’s a lot to do with luck and you have to pass that on.’
He and Jolie see themselves as more than mere actors. ‘We talk about work short term rather than a major game plan. It’s like, this interests me — let’s set the divining rod in that direction and see what we can make out of it…’ That recently led Pitt to build new homes in flood-damaged New Orleans. In film, he predicts the couple will work more behind the camera: he producing, Jolie directing. Does he care what she thinks of his work? ‘Yes. One of the best things I’ve done is ensure my kids have a good mother. Of course I want her approval. Angie is a force — she cares deeply. I want her to be proud of her man.’
Jolie good show Left: Brad and Angelina arriving in Tokyo for the Japanese premiere of his 2011 film Moneyball with the Jolie-Pitt brood in tow
ChoChoppy ride LeftLeft: Brad in a scene from his big-budget zomzombie apocalypse movmovie, World War Z. Main picture: Angelina and Brad attending the BerlBerlin premiere of the blocblockbuster this week