Brad Pitt pops his head through the balcony doorway and stage-whispers my name. He bounds round to shake hands and surveys the cauldron below that is Hollywood Boulevard. No fuss. No fanfare. No harried flunkies with clipboards listing the dos and don’ts. Just one of the most recognizable men on the planet in a black jumpsuit and sneakers. And me. And a bodyguard as tall as a sequoia outside the hotel room. “How ya doing?”
And then the deluge. I had heard of Pitt’s lively curiosity, his passion for architecture, philanthropy, his catholic taste in reading material. I didn’t know about the delivery system — a lava flow articulated in a deep, rural drawl: “Who lives there next to the hotel? How shall we arrange the chairs? Is that shorthand? You don’t see that much. How does it work? Ask me anything.”
If Pitt could somehow flit from place to place as easily as he does in conversation, life would be a lot simpler. In fact, mapping a route from point to point is a daily logistical conundrum. “My destinations are determined by parking lots,” he says, fresh-faced, neat-goateed. Today, a warm Friday in late January, he has made the tinted-window dash from the nearby Hollywood Hills compound he shares with Angelina Jolie and their six children.
Three days before, Pitt, 48, received the third and fourth Academy Award nominations of his career, earning recognition as producer and star of Moneyball. The movie took six nominations in all, while Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, in which he also stars, went home with three.
“We’re so defined by the last success or the last failure that we even start to see ourselves that way,” says Pitt. “You’ve got these awards and there’s going to be one winner and four losers, but the four losers made great films. A subtle point of Moneyball is that we’re a string of successes and failures. Odds are I won’t have another year like this one for a while.”
Let’s hope the odds preclude another production history as tortuous as that of Moneyball. Based on Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the film recounts how baseball team Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane used unorthodox statistics to allow the struggling club to compete with the best. Steven Soberbergh left the project and it took Pitt, one of three producers, five years to get it up and running again. He is quick to praise Sony Pictures for its faith in the project. Uber-producer Scott Rudin is less circumspect. Pitt, Rudin said in a recent interview, “saved it single-handedly.”
Why did he fight for it? “Well,” he says, a lazy grin unfolding across his face. “I just worked on it for so damn long. I’ve been on that end of the experience a couple of times. The main character is a guy who’s been devalued by the sport and is playing what he called an unfair game. And they go up against conventional wisdom and get called heretics in the process. At the end of the day this guy who’s trying to win games is really trying to find his own values.” He laughs. “Come on, man, that’s good stuff.”
When Pitt met Beane he discovered “a funny fucker, sharp as a knife,” who shunned the limelight. “He reminded me of the characters I loved from 1970s films. When I started in film I was taught that you had to have a character arc and there had to be an epiphany. As years go by I have found that to be utter bullshit. We don’t really change; we evolve in degrees and what I love about these characters from the 1970s like Popeye Doyle is they were the same beast at the end of the film as they were at the beginning. I do love obsessive characters. I get off on watching that.”