You get the sense that Brad Pitt always knew he’d be a star. The story is now so well rehearsed as to be canonical in Hollywood legend and lore: Instead of graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, young Pitt famously quit college and lit out for the Golden West, where his corn-fed good looks and athletic self-confidence would serve him well in an industry where style so often — and so profitably — trumps substance.
And he was right: After toiling in B movies (with the odd gig in a chicken suit here and there), Pitt vaulted to fame with almost unseemly ease in 1991 with “Thelma & Louise,” in which an otherwise tiny role — as the sexy ne’er-do-well who gives Thelma her first orgasm — fused seamlessly with Pitt’s own physical gifts and sense of assurance to create a bona fide sex symbol.
Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman talk about success and baseball at the Oakland premiere of their new sports drama 'Moneyball.' (Sept. 20)
In a recent interview with Parade magazine, Brad Pitt made some disparaging remarks about his marriage to ex-wife Jennifer Aniston. Now, he's doing damage control. Elaine Quijano reports.
So we can stipulate that, thanks to a convergence of genetics, timing and an innate gift for creating his own luck, success came easily for Brad Pitt. What wasn’t so simple was navigating stardom that only became more all-consuming with the advent of 24-7 gossip culture. The very attributes that made him such a compelling screen object — the ineffable quality that transcends mere handsomeness and makes him compulsively watchable — are what made him a commodity off-screen, as marketable for his marriage to Jennifer Aniston and subsequent romance with Angelina Jolie as for getting tushies in seats for “Ocean’s Eleven.”
But, as Pitt’s new film “Moneyball” attests, something extraordinary has happened on what could have been one long, lazy victory lap collecting one multimillion-dollar salary after another. The kid blessed with a preternaturally camera-ready face — who arrived in Hollywood without formal training and once said he would never be a great actor — has become, if not great, at least far more serious and interesting than his early career suggested he would.
Pretty people can act, of course. (George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman.) But, given his beginnings as a sex symbol and a young actor who spent his early career “jacking around,” as he admitted to me in May, where he’s ended up seems all the more astonishing.
As Billy Beane — the Oakland Athletics general manager who in 2002 reinvented the baseball team with a recruiting technique based on pure statistics rather than the subjective criteria favored by old-school scouts — Pitt seems to bring every one of his prodigious gifts to bear, even the ones that seem to contradict each other. He moves with the swagger and cockiness of the jock he once was. But, at 47, age has begun to set in. There are visible bags under those famous baby-blues; the blond locks (remember “Legends of the Fall”?) are now a mousier brown, greasy and unkempt.
To channel the aggressively competitive Beane — who fought his own scouts and field manager to convince them his theories would work — Pitt presents a Falstaffian figure of excess, effectively banishing the golden boy that can still make grown women and men swoon. (“He shines,” a colleague said after Pitt visited The Washington Post offices a few years ago.)