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Saturday 25 March 2017

Brad Pitt on playing baseball with his sons and why he'll never direct a film

With his new movie Moneyball in cinemas today, Brad Pitt tells Will Lawrence about playing baseball with his sons, their love of travel, and why he'll never direct a film

Will Lawrence

One of Brad Pitt's favourite films is Alan J Pakula's Oscar-winner All The President's Men, which featured Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford playing journalists at the Washington Post in the real-life story of the men who broke the Watergate scandal. "I like films where it's not all about character arcs and clean stories," begins Pitt, 47, "where someone learns something in the end, and everyone's happy and it's all explained.

"I like movies where it's not so much that the characters change, but that they change something around them, like in All The President's Men." As it happens, the 1976 investigative thriller is an appropriate choice for discussion -- after all, at his very best, Pitt, who shot to superstardom in the late 90s with the likes of Twelve Monkeys, Seven and Fight Club, resembles something of a latter-day Robert Redford, with his boyish, age-defying good looks and invariably winning performances.

To take the comparison further, among Redford's films as an actor stands The Natural -- cited by many as the home-run-hitting champion of baseball movies -- and now Pitt has pitched into that world with his latest offering, Moneyball. Drawn from the 2003 non-fiction book of the same name by Michael Lewis, Moneyball details how the Oakland Athletics baseball team put together a record-equalling, 20-game winning streak in the 2002 season despite fielding a team that operated on just a fraction of the budget of its main competitors.

"And I became obsessed with this book, which was about these guys questioning and going up against a system," continues Pitt, who takes on the central role of Billy Beane, a former player turned general manager, who assembled a team of cast-offs and misfits using unorthodox statistical techniques.

His methods caused controversy at the time, challenging the entire architecture of how the multi-billion dollar game was run, and yet nowadays teams across every sport apply the techniques that he championed to assess players' value. "These were guys who worked on a team with a $40m payroll, and they're trying to compete with teams with $200m payrolls, and yet they pushed these teams all the way," says Pitt.

"Billy Beane realised that baseball was an unfair game, and it forced Oakland to back up and say, 'We've got to re-examine the sport and where we place value'. And in that process they found great inefficiencies in how people were judged. They were then able to exploit that and put together a formidable team."

Directed by Bennett Miller -- who is best known for directing Philip Seymour Hoffman's Academy Award winner Capote in 2005 -- Moneyball is less about the game on-field and more about Beane and his right-hand man's struggle to affect change off-field, battling prejudice in an intransigent and archaically run sport. Despite the sporting backdrop, the movie has a lot of heart, much coming courtesy of a career-best performance from Superbad star Jonah Hill, in his first truly dramatic role, playing Billy Beane's sidekick.

The filmmakers all insist that it is not a baseball film. "I don't even like baseball that much," smiles Pitt. "My interest pretty much came to an end when I took a baseball in the face at school. The only time I do really play is with the kids. My eldest has a wicked arm; mine was crap."

Pitt and his partner of six years, Angelina Jolie, have six children, three of who were born to them and three of who are adopted, one of those being their eldest, Maddox, possessor of that "wicked" arm. "The boys love sport, and I do like to throw a ball about with them," the actor continues with a glow of paternal pride. "They are really good fighters, too -- mainly karate -- and they have a little American football league."

He is especially proud of the travelling and education that his money and lifestyle affords his young family. "They do get an amazing education, and I would have loved to have had the travelling opportunities that they have."

Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Pitt didn't board an aircraft until he was 25. He was raised with brother Doug and sister Julie in Springfield, Missouri, dropping out of college (he was studying journalism) with two weeks to go in a bid to pursue his interest in film, moving to LA and breaking through with a small role in 1991's Thelma & Louise.

Since the turn of the century, however, and especially in the aftermath of shooting Mr & Mrs Smith -- the film that brought him together with Jolie and thereby terminated his four-year marriage to Jennifer Aniston -- he has honed his output further, invariably choosing interesting films, including the likes of Babel (2006), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Burn After Reading, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (both 2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and The Tree of Life (2011).

"I think my choices have been smart on the whole, not risky," says Pitt. "If you look close enough and are able to work with directors who are much smarter than you, then that's a smart thing to do, because they have the ultimate hand on the pen; they're writing the story."

Pitt's own interest in storytelling saw the foundation of his production company Plan B, which launched with Troy back in 2004. Its subsequent films include Angelina Jolie's A Mighty Heart (2007), and Pitt's own The Assassination of Jesse James, The Tree of Life, and his forthcoming Marc Forster picture World War Z, adapted from the post-apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks, which he spent a long time shooting in and around Glasgow in Scotland.

"We want to specialise in more obscure films," says Pitt of Plan B, "which have a harder time making it to the screen, or interesting, new filmmakers. We're not a big-money production company." He says, however, that he has no interest in stepping behind the camera himself. "As regards directing, I have no aspirations to do that whatsoever. I would be tormented.

"I think that I would make a good movie but that also it would take three years of agonising and pain and sweat, and I wouldn't see my family much during that time. It wouldn't be healthy for me." He smiles. "I'm pretty happy with the gig that I've got."

That gig, with the fine film roles, beautiful wife and budding young family, comes at a price, and the Pitt-Jolie collective remain perennial targets for the paparrazi. Pitt, however, is typically sanguine. "Look, there is a trade-off [when you're a famous actor]," he says, "there are minuses and pluses to everything, but we have got it down now as a family.

"Celebrity, when you start out, can feel like the worst of thuggery," he adds. "Also, for a guy who wanted to be an actor, I was painfully shy through it all. I just didn't equate celebrity with being an actor. I hadn't thought far enough ahead."

Now, however, he's well used to the fame. "I am much better at dealing with it now that I am older," he says. "And I'll trade youth for wisdom every time."

Moneyball is out today

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