Born: 18 December 1963
Where:Shawnee, Oklahoma, USA
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe; 1 Oscar, 1 Emmy nomination
Height: 5′ 11"
A critic once wrote that Brad Pitt combined "the matinee idol looks of Gary Cooper with the sex symbol loveliness of Marilyn Monroe". It’s a line that sums up Pitt’s pin-up appeal, but would certainly annoy the pants off Pitt himself. After all, he’s spent years trying to explode a reputation as a Himbo, taking on a series of lead roles and cameos that should really have proven to the world that he is in fact a very fine actor indeed. He’s played a dazed and confused pot-head, a near-incomprehensible streetfighting traveller, an IRA terrorist, a reluctant vampire, a Nazi mountain-climber, a psycho on the run, a mental patient dedicated to the destruction of world order, AND he dared to act wholly unaided, later to be surrounded by cartoons. Dustin Hoffman was certainly correct when he said "Next to that kid, we all look like onions", but surely, SURELY he has earned our respect by now.
He was born William Bradley Pitt on the 18th of December, 1963, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and remains a mid-Westerner to the core. He was raised, alongside brother Doug and sister Julie, in Springfield, Missouri. His father, Bill, managed a trucking firm, working six days a week for 36 years — something of which Brad is very proud. His mother, Jane, was a High School counselor, but his mind-set was influenced more by his dad. "Where I grew up," he once said "you deal. You get through it, power through it, straight up the middle. And you don’t complain". It’s an attitude that’s served him well as he’s battled the improbable pressures of stardom.
Due to Bill’s success, the Pitts never really wanted for anything, and Brad in particular used this as a springboard to try everything. A decent fellow, he was brought up as a Baptist, singing in the church choir. He loved movies, later recalling a fine day spent at an Ape-athon, watching all five Planet Of The Apes films, back-to-back. At Kickapoo High School he was involved in everything. He was a member of the golf, tennis and swimming teams, as well as the Key and Forensics clubs. He was into debating, school government and school musicals.
Graduating in 1982, he attended the University of Missouri, majoring in journalism, but also concentrating on advertising. Indeed, his ambition was to be an art director. He joined a fraternity, Sigma Chi, but always remained very close to his family. Fellow students recall him writing letters to his mother and grandma while in class.
His choice of career was something of a surprise to those around him. He’d acted in several fraternity shows, but never really revealed a desire to act professionally. Music seemed to be more his thing. But then suddenly, with no real experience behind him, he simply went for it. With two credits still needed before he graduated, in 1986 he climbed into his Datsun (known as Runaround Sue) and, with just $325 in his pocket, took off for California. "In my head," he later said "I was done with college. I was on to the next thing".
The father of a girl he knew had an apartment in California, occupied only by a housekeeper, and here he stayed for a month, rent free. Having made a few friends, he then moved into a flat in North Hollywood, along with eight other guys. They had no furniture, just a TV, a toaster oven and a stereo system. They all slept on the floor in the front room. It was basically Bloke Heaven. For money, they’d go down to the Job Factory, picking up odd jobs here and there. At one point, he had a bet with a buddy as to who could score the most humiliating job. Brad won hands down, dressing up as a giant chicken for El Pollo Loco and hanging out on the corner of Sunset Boulevard in 100 degree heat. Aside from this, he spent time selling cigarettes, delivering fridges, and, bizarrely, assisting a soap opera writer. He even worked driving strippers around in a limousine.
Pitt took the acting lark deadly seriously. He studied under coach Roy London, and would continue to do so for six years, from the off impressing his fellow students with his emotional freedom. And work came quickly. He appeared in the sit-com Head Of The Class, for a while dating the show’s star Robin Givens, much to the disgruntlement of her ex-hubbie Mike Tyson. There was also an episode of Growing Pains. But there were better jobs than this. He appeared as Chris in the long-running soap Another World, which has variously featured Anne Heche, Ray Liotta, Kelsey Grammer and, coincidentally, the co-star of one of Brad’s later hits, Morgan Freeman. After this, while auditioning for the show Our House, he was asked to read for another part, and found himself playing Shalane McCall’s boyfriend Charles in Dallas. He dated her for real too, though she was a mere 16.
There were a few movie roles too. He had uncredited parts in both Less Than Zero and Charlie Sheen’s No Man’s Land. Then came Cutting Class, about a maniac stalking cheerleaders. He began dating co-star Jill Schoelen, who earlier been seeing Keanu Reeves. Then came the first starring role, in Dark Side Of The Sun, where he played a young American taken by his family to the Adriatic to find a remedy for his terrible skin condition. The movie was shot in Yugoslavia, with Brad being paid $1,523 a week for seven weeks. It was looking good. Then, with editing nearly complete, civil war broke out and much of the film was lost in the ensuing chaos. It would be rediscovered years later, and the film released, but Brad’s first shot at success was gone. Not only that, but Schoelen dumped him. Ah, well.
There was a bit of cop trouble around this time too. According to Inside Edition, a sheriff’s report said Brad, while filming in LA, had strolled up to Malibu Canyon Highway and dropped his white shorts for A WHOLE MINUTE. Apparently, he was charged with indecent exposure, but had the charge reduced to disturbing the peace, with a $450 fine.
It got better, fast. Brad won a part in the TV movie Too Young To Die?, about an abused teenager given the death penalty for murder. As white trash drug-hound pimp Billy Canton, Brad was thoroughly unpleasant, taking beastly advantage of runaway Juliette Lewis, who he began dating in real life. "It was quite romantic," he later observed dryly "shooting her full of drugs and stuff". The pair would be together for three years, during which period Brad’s career took off big-time.
It was thought, when he appeared in Glory Days, about a group of High School friends pulled in different directions by their careers, that he’d become the new Johnny Depp. Sadly, the show was pulled after six episodes, so he had to find another way. He did this immediately, with a 15-minute mega-performance, showing off his fine physique, giving Geena Davis her first orgasm and then robbing her blind in Ridley Scott’s Thelma And Louise. Brad had in fact been third choice for the role (George Clooney didn’t even get that far). The first choice, William Baldwin, chose to do Backdraft instead.
Straight away, he fought against the possibility of being typecast as a mere beefcake. He was very, very groovy as a wannabe rock star, alongside Catherine Keener and Nick Cave, in Tom DiCillo’s Johnny Suede. Then he took a big risk by competing with animations in Cool World — a movie that had millions of men questioning their sexuality when they found they fancied the cartoon version of Kim Basinger. He won both roles against the wishes of money-men who wanted bigger name actors to star.
The run of success continued with Robert Redford’s dreamy, moving A River Runs Through It, for which Brad learned to fly-fish by casting off of Hollywood buildings. Many times, he’s said, he caught his hook on the back of his own head. Once they had to pull it out with pliers. After the movie, Brad moved into an apartment with his co-star, Buck Simmonds.
Now Brad really began to prove himself. In True Romance, he was hilarious as Floyd, the bemused dope-head caught in the middle of dealers and mobsters. Then, in Kalifornia, he was tremendous as Early Grayce, crossing the States with girlfriend Juliette Lewis and scaring the bejesus out of everyone in his path. The movie was far superior to Oliver Stone’s similar and far-more-lauded Natural Born Killers.
Now the roles got bigger. He played Lestat’s foil Louis, hating himself for drinking blood in Interview With The Vampire. Then he sent millions of women wild as Tristan Ludlow, falling in love with his brother’s girl, becoming an animal in the trenches of WW1 then finding inner truth back home in Legends Of The Fall. It was said he dated the girl for real too — Julia Ormond. He certainly broke up with Juliette Lewis and this was probably for the best, as Lewis had long complained of the pressure she felt dating such a beautiful man.
Next came a major hit, with David Fincher’s bleak but wonderful Seven. Backed by Morgan Freeman’s stern and studious Detective Somerset, Pitt was great as new-boy Detective David Mills, sent mad by the taunts of Kevin Spacey. Oh, and by the fact that Spacey has beheaded his pregnant wife. Always guaranteed to annoy, that. Seven also saw Brad begin a romance with co-star Gwyneth Paltrow that made them the most sought-after couple on the planet. When later accepting a Golden Globe for his role in 12 Monkeys, he’d call her "my angel, the love of my life", and he’d propose to her while in Argentina filming Seven Years In Tibet. Paltrow in turn would claim she’d give up acting to raise Brad’s children. Sadly, they’d split in 1997, a few months into the engagement, a heartbroken Paltrow saying "I think you have to keep yourself intact in order to have a healthy relationship, and I didn’t". Luckily for Brad, the break-up meant he wouldn’t star with her in the horrible Duets. But he did have to suffer the indignity of having nude pictures of himself and Gwyneth, taken ages previously while they holidayed on St Barthelemy in the French West Indies, being published in Playgirl. He fought to have all copies withdrawn from the shops, but the damage was done.
After Seven came Terry Gilliam’s bizarro sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys, for which Brad turned down Apollo 13. In it, he went for broke as a freaked-out denizen of an asylum who’s actually the head of an extremely dangerous gang which destroys civilisation with a very nasty virus. For his pains he took that Golden Globe (he was also Oscar nominated). After Sleepers, there was The Devil’s Own, where he mastered a Belfast accent to play a terrorist staying in Harrison Ford’s house. Pitt has said the filming was a nightmare as the original script was binned but the studio head demanded they make a film anyway. Walking out would, he was told, cost him $63 million, so he tried to make the best of it. As you would.
Now he was one the biggest stars in Hollywood, getting paid over $17 million for playing Death in Meet Joe Black. Then he rejoined Fincher for Fight Club, playing Edward Norton’s cool and sexy alter-ego Tyler Durden and, as he has done in so many movies, causing terrible social havoc. He also treated Helena Bonham Carter to pleasures similar to those enjoyed by Geena Davis in Thelma And Louise. Her appreciation was ear-splitting. For servicing her so expertly, Brad received another $17 million. For Davis it had been just $6,000.
After this, Pitt took a brief step down in budget for Snatch. A wild caper involving a diamond heist, Russian and American mafia and all manner of underworld shenanigans, this saw him as a gypsy boxer brought in as a ringer by two failing promoters (he honed his boxing skills at Ricky English’s gym in Watford). The movie saw him dusting off his Devil’s Own accent and, inspired by his co-star Benicio Del Toro’s recent performance in The Usual Suspects, taking it to the Nth degree. Hilariously, no one could understand him, not even the other people in the film.
He followed this with The Mexican which, pairing him with Julia Roberts, could easily have been a blockbusting coupling of Hollywood’s two most glamorous stars. Instead, it was a freaked-out road movie, with the glitzy duo spending very little screen time together. Here Brad was a small time crook who has to pay offf a debt to crime lord Gene Hackman by travelling to Mexico and picking up a priceless handgun, causing girlfriend Roberts to leave him and take off for Vegas. Poor Pitt has a terrible time. Fearful of Hackman, dominated and confused by Roberts and deceived and mocked by the Mexican locals, he keeps digging his hole deeper — a situation not helped by his wretched Spanish, essentially English with an O added at the end of each word.
The critics were disappointed by The Mexican’s failure to play the Pitt-Roberts card. They weren’t too keen on his next outing either, Spy Game. This saw him as the protege of retiring CIA spymaster Robert Redford — thus bringing together two generations of actors who had to battle against the effects of their own looks in order to gain respect. The movie begins with Pitt in a Chinese prison and Redford having 24 hours to save him. During the course of this fraught rescue mission, we flash back to see how an idealistic Pitt was recruited by Redford after Vietnam and how falling for a dodgy Catherine McCormack got him into this mess. It was intriguing stuff, but generally spoiled by director Tony Scott’s insistence on super-snappy editing that did not allow any character to grow.
Now, in an odd subversion of his leading man status, Brad chose to join an ensemble cast for Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11, an update of the 1960 Rat Pack flick. This saw George Clooney as Danny Ocean, gathering a team of crack crooks to turn over a Vegas casino. Brad would play his trusty sidekick Rusty Ryan who, while casing the joint, notices that casino boss Andy Garcia is going out with Ocean’s former wife (Julia Roberts, again). Could emotional stuff be getting in the way? Of course, it does, adding extra enjoyment to one of the slickest and smartest crime movies of recent times.
After this huge hit, Pitt would not be seen on screen for another three years, other than cameos for his new buddies Soderbergh and Clooney. First, alongside a host of stars including Roberts and his fomer Johnny Suede cohort Catherine Keener, he popped up in Soderbergh’s $2 million budget Full Frontal, a cinematic curio of films within films within films. Deep in there would be Brad, appearing mostly on mag covers and playback video, playing a superstar playing a tough cop in a new movie. Full Frontal would be attacked as a major indulgence on the part of Soderbergh and his cast, with only Pitt escaping criticism. It was noted that he was the least actorly and pretentious of them, and more than willing to send himself up, as was Seven’s director David Fincher, who here fawned over Pitt very amusingly.
The next cameo would see Brad playing it for laughs once more, in Clooney’s Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, written by Charlie Kaufman and based on the cult memoirs of Chuck Barris, a game show host who claimed to have also been an assassin for the CIA. Working for free, Pitt would pop up in a flashback to an episode of TV show The Dating Game, where hopefuls would choose from three prospective spouses. Brad, and his Ocean’s 11 co-star Matt Damon, would naturally be turned down in favour of Bachelor Number 3. With Julia Roberts also putting in an appearance, it was the fourth time in two years these major stars had graced the same credit listing.
2003 would see Pitt lend his voice to the titular hero of the animated Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas. But this was just a prelude to a far more ambitious mythical epic, Wolfgang Petersen’s $220 million Troy. Having consciously avoided starring roles that played up his looks, now Brad went the whole hog as Achilles, the elite warrior charged by King Agamemnon to lead the seige of Troy and win back the stolen wife of his brother Menelaus. Petersen pulled out the stops in making Pitt look like a Greek god. Pitt, on the other hand, never keen to pose when he could be acting, attempted to deepen his character by playing Achilles as an embittered man with a profound disrespect for authority and an unhealthy death wish. Even so, it was his titanic battle with Eric Bana’s Hector that really stood out in a movie marked by its spectacular SFX.
Such was the scope of Troy that Pitt was forced to pull out of Darren Aronofsky’s sci-fi epic The Fountain. Coincidentally, a severe pulling of his Achilles’ tendon also put back the filming of a forthcoming effort, a return to Soderbergh and Clooney with Ocean’s 12, where the old gang regroup to pull off three major European heists. In the meantime there would be Mr And Mrs Smith, where Brad and Angelina Jolie would play a happy husband and wife who, both being secret assassins, discover they’ve been hired to kill each other.
Brad Pitt now chooses his parts carefully, and with the taste you’d expect from a very well-read man with a keen interest in architecture. Now happily married to Friends star Jennifer Aniston (in their marriage vows she swore to always make his favourite banana milkshake, while he vowed to "split the difference on the thermostat"), he’s reached an enviable height. Living in a plush LA home built in the 30s for Frederic March, and wed to a woman named in 2003 as Forbes’ Number One Global Celebrity, how bad could it be? But there’s still a down-side. For instance, Seven Years In Tibet got him banned from entering China. And fame can be a pain — in 1999, one Athena Rolando snuck into his house, dressed in his clothes and stuck around for 10 hours, before the alarms went off. He would also, surely, love to replicate his wife’s success in being nominated for an Independent Spirit award.
But mostly it’s good. All he really needs now is for the diehard critics to finally accept that he’s not just a screen stud. As he’s said himself: "One, it’s boring. Two, it’s stupid. And three, it’s death". Good luck to him — he deserves better.