The ultimate family guy

Hollywood diaries

The ultimate family guy

There was a time when Brad Pitt, like most people, would enter a hotel through the front door, but that hasn’t happened for the best part of 20 years. “I’m usually carted up the ass end,” as he puts it. And so it is that here, as everywhere else, he has been denied the pleasures of a hotel lobby thronged with the svelte and the affluent — for this is a very swanky hotel indeed.

He is in London for discussions about his latest project as a producer, “a satire about the war in Afghanistan” (he does not elaborate), but mostly to talk about his role in By the Sea, a new film written by, directed by and co-starring Angelina Jolie.

By the Sea is not quite the film that one might have expected from Jolie — whose two projects so far as a director, In the Land of Blood and Honey (set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War) and Unbroken (about the American runner and airman Louis Zamperini), take place in war zones — and Pitt, a versatile actor, but one who has most recently been seen fighting zombies in World War Z and as the hard-bitten commander of a Sherman tank in Fury.

A study in the three ages of marriage, set in the 1970s, it tells the story of a middle-aged American couple who arrive in a secluded holiday resort in France. The disintegration of Roland and Vanessa’s marriage is thrown into even sharper relief when a honeymooning couple move into the next room in their hotel. The two couples strike up an uneasy friendship.

Half of the film is in French, with subtitles. “It’s subtle and European in its cadence, and its palette,” Pitt says. “Which is really surprising, because neither one of us is well versed in that. There are no explosions, no earth-shifting events, no big, shocking tales. The whole movie takes place in a cafe, a hotel room and a car. That’s it. I mean, it doesn’t get much more sparse. It’s quiet, but elegant — it’s such an elegant film.”

A middle-aged husband and wife, playing a middle-aged husband and wife at a critical moment in their marriage — it does not take long for Pitt to make the leap, as if he has not only been anticipating the discussion but can’t wait for it.

“Certainly the attrition rate of Hollywood couples looms large. And I’m surprised how much our history — Angie’s and mine — means to me. That we have this story together. That we know each other. That we watch each other getting older, through amazing moments, joys, pains.” He repeats the phrase with a sense almost of wonderment in his voice.

But isn’t that what you enter into a relationship expecting — or at the very least hoping for? “It is. But again, there are no books to tell you what year 12 is supposed to be like, and year 14 and year 23 — no guidebooks. What I’m saying is, I’m surprised how much it means to me, how much value I place in it. I’d equate it to having kids. Everyone talks about the joy of having kids — blah, blah, blah. But I never knew how much I could love something until I looked in the faces of my children.’

Pitt, 51, and Jolie, 40, are parents to six children, three biological — Shiloh, nine, and seven-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne — and three who are adopted: Maddox, 14, Pax, 11, and Zahara, 10. It is a family unit that he describes as “a lot of love, a lot of fighting, a lot of refereeing; a lot of teeth-brushing and spilling… Chaos, total chaos. But so much fun.”

He and Jolie do their best to 'hopscotch’ projects, as he puts it, so that only one of them is away at any given time, while the other looks after the children.

For years, he says, they had talked about working together. “We wanted to make something together that was small and intimate, and at the same time make it a family affair where our kids could be running around on set.”

In By the Sea, Jolie directed her husband for the first time — a process that she described as ‘challenging’, but that elicits a paean of praise from Pitt. “I’ve worked with some really great directors, and I’m really choosy about them, because they’re telling the story at the end of the day. I need to know I’m in good hands, and I trust Angie with my life. I love her instincts. She’s ferocious with a story and she’s really decisive at her post — in command.”

It was Anthony Hopkins, with whom he starred in Legends of the Fall in 1994, who described Pitt as “a character actor in a matinee idol’s body” — “and it was the greatest compliment I ever received”, Pitt says. His earlier roles in such films as Thelma & Louise and Interview with the Vampire emphasised the matinee idol — or at least the beefcake charmer. But he was able to parlay his box-office appeal into more diverse, thoughtful and complex roles in such films as Fight Club, Babel and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as flexing his muscle with his production company, Plan B, which has a mandate to “get difficult material that might otherwise not get made to the screen”, and which has been responsible for films including Selma, 12 Years a Slave and The Tree of Life.

When I ask how his relationship with Jolie changed him there is a long exhalation, as if to say, where to begin?

“I think you can see it in my work,” he says at last. “I was a pretty good actor before, but definitely hit and miss. I think I became a really good actor. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with age and wisdom too. But I see an absolute shift from the day I started my family.”

He shakes his head. “You know, nowadays I really can’t wait to get home. More than at any time in my life, I’ve got purpose — real purpose. It feels like I’ve found my place.”

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