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Saturday 20 January 2018

Why Brad Pitt is like a fine wine

He recently announced that he's looking to quit acting after he turns 50, but Brad Pitt tells Susan Griffin that he'll never stop making quality movies that mature like fine wine

Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt

Susan Griffin

When you say you're off to see Brad Pitt in person there's one request that will inevitably be made by men and women alike: 'Tell me what he looks like in the flesh.'

That's because Pitt is so famous he's almost taken on an otherworldly status.

The truth is the actor, voted 'sexiest man alive' countless times during his career, doesn't disappoint when he casually strides out onto the terrace of a Mexican hotel for a photocall to promote his new baseball movie Moneyball.

He's tall (a rarity among Hollywood's elite) and broad, having spent the last few months in training for the film World War Z, a post-apocalyptic horror, which has seen Pitt, his partner Angelina Jolie and their brood of six reside in Glasgow, London and Cornwall during filming.

His dark blonde hair is grown out and tucked behind his ears, his stubble is salt-and-pepper grey and, despite the balmy temperatures, he's wearing a long-sleeved top.

He may be an A-lister, but he's rarely spotted on the red carpet these days, and while he smiles for the assorted cameras and cracks jokes with co-star Jonah Hill, his eyes remain hidden behind aviator sunglasses and his hands stay tucked into the pockets of cream linen trousers.

Given the theme of his new film, baseball is the name of the game later that day when, in a quiet, shady spot, Pitt reveals that while he likes to play ball with his kids, his own relationship with the all-American sport has been traumatic.

"I knew very little about baseball besides taking one in the face when I was in junior high," laughs Pitt, 47.

"Eighteen stitches was the result of that incident. This scar here," he says pointing to the side of his head. It takes iron will not to lean in for a closer inspection.

Moneyball is based on the controversial 2003 book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game in which the author Michael Lewis wrote about the exploits of Billy Beane (Pitt), a former baseball player turned general manager of Oakland A's baseball team.

Beane revolutionised the way the baseball industry assessed its players by employing a statistical analysis that showed the qualities historically used to value players were outdated. He then bought players who'd been ignored by larger, more lucrative teams, but who would help his team to victory.

"The film didn't fall into convention and it was a difficult one to get made," admits Pitt, looking a little shiny-faced despite the shade (so the man is a mere mortal then.)

"We're in tough economic times and people start betting on safer, more tried-and tested brands," he says, before adding that while he's never spent a lot of time watching baseball, he became obsessed by the book.

"Billy Beane's team had a $40 million payroll and they were trying to compete with teams with $240 million payrolls. It forced these guys to back up and say: 'We can't fight how the other guys fight. We have to search for new baseball knowledge. We have to re-examine the sport and where we place value'."

Through that process they discovered great inefficiencies on how people were judged, and Pitt says: "The film is ultimately about how we place value on people and how society informs how we value ourselves.

"These themes are universal. And the ideas these guys employed have now permeated other sports, like football, various arms of business - even the film industry."

Raised with his brother Doug and sister Julie in Missouri by his dad Bill, who ran a truck company, and his mum Jane, a school guidance counsellor, Pitt was studying for a journalism degree when he decided to give acting a whirl.

Like thousands of other good-looking hopefuls, he travelled to Los Angeles where he subsidised his acting classes with odd jobs, including dressing as a chicken, before earning his big break in Ridley Scott's 1991 movie Thelma & Louise.

His screen time totalled less than 15 minutes but when the film was released everyone was asking who the man who seduces Geena Davis was, and it led to parts in Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It and the dark thriller Kalifornia.

Pitt says it was only when Legends Of The Fall was released in 1994 "that celebrity hit me".

"You get no warning and you're kind of overwhelmed. I didn't understand all the attention," says Pitt, before returning to the recurring theme of value.

"The attention doesn't come from a place of real value. People want to get near you but it has nothing to do with you as a person. It has more to do with something those people are missing in themselves."

In the 20 years since his scene-stealing performance in Thelma & Louise, Pitt's managed to keep the audience guessing his next move.

He's depicted death in Meet Joe Black, an incoherent Irish brawler in Snatch, a Nazi killer in Inglourious Basterds and aged backwards in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

"Film-making is about longevity," says Pitt. "Is it a quality picture? Is it a quality story? Is there something original about it?"

These are the questions Pitt asks himself before embarking on a project today but admits he may have lost focus for a while and the result was The Mexican (2001), Spy Game (2001), Troy (2004) and Mr & Mrs Smith (2005).

The latter remains a personal favourite though, as it was the film on which he met Jolie, with whom has adopted children Maddox, 10, Pax, seven, and Zahara, six, and biological children Shiloh, five, and twins Knox and Vivienne, three.

Today he's less concerned about a film making money. "There's such a thing as the quiet victory, the personal victory that only you and you alone experience. And that's enough," he explains.

"Films that I've loved [making], like The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and The Tree Of Life, they're 'fine wine' pictures - they'll age well."

Pitt recently announced he's looking to retire at around 50, and as the producer of 20 titles perhaps he'll spend the autumn years of life behind the scenes.

"It's just about getting stories across that may have a more difficult time seeing the light of day," he says.

"That's all I want, to see movies get made that I believe should be made. And if my name, whatever it may or may not be worth, can help that process, then that's what I'm going to do."

Famous baseball movies

- The Natural (1984) - Robert Redford arrives out of nowhere to become a legendary player with what appears to be divine talent.

- Bull Durham (1988) - Susan Sarandon stars as a fan who has an affair with a minor league baseball player each season.

- Major League (1989) - The new owner of a baseball team assembles an awful team so they'll lose and she can move the team. Then they start winning just to spite her.

- Field Of Dreams (1989) - Corn farmer Kevin Costner interprets voices as a command to build a baseball field on his land. When he does, a famous baseball team appears.

- A League Of Their Own (1992) - Geena Davis and Madonna join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amid their rivalry.

Moneyball is released in cinemas on Friday, November 25

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