Pitt Instincts The Star-Making Machinery Is Grinding Away At Brad Pitt, But He’s Determined To Keep Control Of His Career And Life
Brad Pitt has cut his hair.
This would not be news about just any movie star. But these days, a closecropped do looks like a major career move for Pitt, who has just made the transition from sexy young comer to next big thing with two major roles - both of which featured him in locks flowing well past his enviably squared shoulders.
Playing reluctant bloodsucker Louis in “Interview with the Vampire” turned the 30-year-old Missourian into a box-office attraction for the first time, while Tristan, the sensitive Western wild man Pitt plays in “Legends of the Fall,” has already earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination.
In other words, it’s star time, folks.
But Pitt seems even less concerned with cultivating his newly established status than he is about what’s been left on the hair-cutting-room floor.
“I’m smart enough to know that this is the end of surprising people,” says Pitt, who has already been “discovered” by succeeding waves of audiences and critics as Geena Davis’ cowboy-toy in “Thelma & Louise,” as the doomed, charismatic younger brother in Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” and as the grungy, hillbilly psycho-killer of “Kalifornia.”
“Now, it’s more expected. But so far, what’s worked out is choosing films that have a little flavor of whatever I’m feeling at the moment. Not to get too grand about it, but I just hope to stay on that track,” say Pitt.
Talking slow and not very long at any given stretch, all with a disarming Ozark twang, Pitt tries to put forth the image of a lucky ol’ boy who intends to keep his innocence. “That movie-star thing confuses me,” he says repeatedly, though never quite convincingly. “I think it’s more about personality than acting.”
Truth is, Pitt’s an almost-college-graduate (he left the University of Missouri’s respected journalism school just weeks shy of a diploma to pursue acting in Los Angeles) who has made a keen study of the rigors of modern stardom.
“I’ve been watching some of the bigger guys, and it seems they often choose films that they think will fit a format, that they think people will want,” Pitt observes. “That’s how the studios think. I want to avoid that and keep going exactly the way that I’m going - make movies that just mean something to me.”
Pitt isn’t the first star who’s believed following his gut instincts is the soundest game plan.
“I don’t feel pressure about being ‘The Next Big Thing,’ because they say that about practically everyone that comes along,” Pitt shrugs. “Where I do feel the pressure more is when I’m working with people that I respect - you don’t want to let them down.”
Established superstar Tom Cruise, ultrahot “Crying Game” director Neil Jordan, arguably even hotter producer David Geffen and the unpredictable, persnickety author Anne Rice were the formidable collaborators Pitt had to please - and by all indications did - on “Vampire.” The team for “Legends,” which was actually filmed just before the horror movie, was not quite as glittery, but Pitt had even more of a personal stake in that project’s outcome.
A sprawling, “Giant”-like family saga, set in Montana during the early third of the century and based on a novella by Pitt’s favorite author, Jim Harrison (“Wolf”), the film costars Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, grown-up “E.T.” kid Henry Thomas and fastrising British newcomer Julia Ormond. Quinn, Thomas and Pitt are the sons of Hopkins’ Colonel Ludlow, a retired calvary officer. All three love each other deeply, but they all also love Ormond’s Susannah. However, Pitt’s Tristan - a sensitive, slightly unhinged superhunk whose guiltracked journey takes him from cowboy to soldier to explorer to sailor to bootlegger to bear-wrestling mountain man - is the one who captures Susannah’s heart.
Pitt had been lobbying director Ed Zwick (“Glory,” TV’s “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life”) to cast him as Tristan for two years before “Legends” went into production. “I liked the wildness in Tristan,” Pitt explains. “I like the love in him, I like the hate in him; it just all made complete sense to me. I couldn’t even begin to analyze it, but it is the only character that I’ve had that I felt that no one else could play better.”
On the film’s remote set in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, the committed actor in Pitt came out - overwhelming, by some reports, the easy-going facade he tries so hard to maintain.
Pitt says the atmosphere on the “Legends” set was both tense and rewarding. Which made it a far sight better than what he went through making “Vampire.”
‘I hated doing ‘Vampire,”’ Pitt says. “I love the movie, it’s done really well and is very poetic. But listen, this guy (I play) is depressed from beginning to end, OK? Six months of that, six days a week, getting up feeling pretty good then getting to work to feel (lousy). That got hard to get away from, sometimes.”
If reports of Pitt’s partying ways can be believed, depression is one thing he makes a great effort to avoid. He laughs at a lot of the more sensationalized gossip that’s spread about him (he thinks the one about his donating sperm to singer Melissa Etheridge is particularly imaginative). But he gets serious quickly when anyone compares him to the late River Phoenix, who died of an overdose just before he was to play the interviewer in “Vampire.”
“I’m handling it all right,” Pitt says of the excess that seems to go hand-in-hand with show business success. “You experiment around in different worlds, but the truth about drugs is that people either quit or they die.”
Even after he got his first decent gig, a small role on the soap opera “Dallas,” Pitt was canny enough to escape the traps he saw snaring other handsome young actors.
“I had to learn pretty quickly,” says the reluctant sex symbol. “They’d take you to these photo shoots, put you in these brightly colored clothes and feather your hair or something silly.
“They want you to be this thing; I bet you that a lot of these guys have a lot more in ‘em, but they just get pushed that way.”
Next, Pitt will be showing us what he can do in the police thriller “Seven” (opposite Morgan Freeman) and in a small role he gleefully calls “a nutcase” for Terry Gilliam’s next extravaganza, “The 12 Monkeys.”
Both of which may require the star power Pitt claims not to understand. But at least there will be one thing he won’t have to worry about: “I’m glad I cut my hair. It’s tough keeping it that long. Now I’m into low maintenance.”