Oscar Nominee Brad Pitt On The Unmentionables: Marriage, Politics and Religion

2012 Issue 4: Brad Pitt
Frank W. Ockenfels 3

In the midst of awards season, actor and producer Brad Pitt opens up about the unmentionables -- marriage, politics and religion.

READ: Oscar Nominee Brad Pitt on the Unmentionables: Marriage, Politics and Religion

THR COVER STORY: The Many Revolutions of Brad Pitt

The new issue of Hollywood Reporter features the double (maybe triple) Oscar threat as he opens up about his career (the brutal fight to save "Moneyball"), fame (and his depression in the '90s), President Obama, and plans to make partner Angelina Jolie his wife.

Try to set up an interview with Brad Pitt, and you instantly plunge into his almost Dada-esque world. After all, where do you go? A restaurant rendez-vous would devolve into a scrum of gawkers and gapers; his suggestion that we meet at this publication’s office creates such a stir among jaded journalists, it is rapidly nixed; and Pitt’s house in the Hollywood Hills is apparently out of bounds, reserved for his partner, Angelina Jolie, and their six kids.

So, The Hollywood Reporter executive editor, features, Steven Galloway found himself feeling like a participant in the witness protection program, ensconced in a 14th-floor-suite at Hollywood's W Hotel Jan. 20, because Pitt’s Cadillac Escalade can make a quick in-and-out to avoid the paparazzi thirsting to behold him.On this particular morning media reports surfaced revealing that police had interviewed his bodyguard about human limbs scattered near the Hollywood sign. And, he can’t help being bemused. “I was watching CNN, and they said, ‘Brad Pitt’s home!’ and, ‘Brad Pitt’s bodyguard!’ ” he laughs in disbelief. “I’m like: ‘Why? Why?’ ”The report is nonsense, of course: His security chief happened to pass a policeman who asked if Pitt’s surveillance cameras had recorded anything strange, which led to CNN’s proclamation: “Police interview Brad Pitt’s bodyguard, search Hollywood Hills for more body parts.”

PHOTOS: Outtakes from Brad Pitt's THR Cover Shoot

Still Pitt remains unfazed. During an afternoon together, Pitt was thoughtful, pensive and discussed everything from his politics  (supports President Obama) and religion (he veers between agnosticism and atheism), to his relationship with parter of over six years, Angelina Jolie and their six kids. 

As for his two (maybe three depending on what the Academy decides his producer status is for Tree of Life) Oscar nominations for Moneyball (both for acting and producing), "It's a great honor," Pitt tells THR. (On Jan. 27, the Academy did not give producing credit to Pitt on The Tree of Life for the film's best picture nomination.)

Some of the other personal details he shared in THR's cover story: 

PHOTOS: The Hollywood Reporter Cover Stories

The project began its long journey five years ago, when Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal showed Pitt Michael Lewis' 2003 nonfiction book about baseball team GM Billy Beane and the statistics wunderkind who helped him transform the Oakland Athletics. At the time, writer Stan Chervin and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) were developing it with a decidedly comedic touch. Pitt looked at the screenplay, and at Beane himself, and wanted to go in a different direction: "I read the book, and this idea of second chances and how we sometimes let ourselves be rated too much by others -- we put so much emphasis on a paycheck or what a magazine says -- made me think, 'Oh my God, there's something much bigger here.' "

He offered to leave the film with Frankel, but the director graciously departed, allowing Pitt to develop the story as he saw fit. Not a baseball fan (though he says he loves sports, especially football and soccer), it was the nuances of Beane's character that intrigued him. And so, working with producers Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz, he brought on Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) to script and asked his friend Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) to direct.

PHOTOS: Brad Pitt's Most Memorable Movies

Sony had second thoughts. "We were supposed to leave on a Sunday to start shooting, and Steven handed it in on a Wednesday or Thursday, and the studio was not feeling good," says Pitt. "It's not that they didn't like the idea; they did not like the price" -- about $60 million. What happened next has been amply recounted: how Pascal pulled the plug; how she gave Soderbergh and Pitt several days to shop the project; how everybody passed. "Nobody wanted to buy disgraced goods," he adds. "It was dead."

But Pitt refused to let it die, calling Pascal and urging her to stick with the movie. "There would be noMoneyball without him," says producer Scott Rudin. "He saved it single-handedly, and he deserves the credit for its existing at all."

Jodi Kantor’s new book The Obamas describes Pitt as “awkward” in a meeting with the president. “I probably was — you don’t want to impose on a busy man,” he says. But, he’s more interested in Obama himself, particularly whether the commander in chief has stopped smoking, as Pitt would dearly like to do. While backing Obama, he nonetheless was glued to the Republican debate Jan. 19. “I’m an Obama supporter, no question,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from the other side.” 

All his life, Pitt has learned from the other side. That’s what led him to make a leap of non-faith when he rejected his Southern Baptist upbringing. “I grew up very religious, and I don’t have a great relationship with religion,” he reflects. “I oscillate between agnosticism and atheism.” Pitt says differences over religion make his parents, William and Jane, "sad, but I have parents that love me unconditionally."

PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes of 'Moneyball' With Brad Pitt

While Pitt’s star ascended with 1992’s A River Runs Through It, 1994’s Legends of the Fall and 1995’s Seven, his personal life declined.“I got really sick of myself at the end of the 1990s: I was hiding out from the celebrity thing; I was smoking way too much dope; I was sitting on the couch and just turning into a doughnut; and I really got irritated with myself,” he says. “I got to: ‘What’s the point? I know better than this.’ ” Pitt wrestled with dark thoughts: “I used to deal with depression, but I don’t now, not this decade — maybe last decade. But that’s also figuring out who you are. I see it as a great education, as one of the seasons or a semester: ‘This semester I was majoring in depression.’ I was doing the same thing every night and numbing myself to sleep — the same routine: Couldn’t wait to get home and hide out. But that feeling of unease was growing and one night I just said, ‘This is a waste.’

PHOTOS: 'Moneyball' Premiere in Oakland

A trip to Casablanca, Morocco, in the mid-to-late 1990s, “where I saw poverty to an extreme I had never witnessed before, and we talked about inequality and health care, and I saw just what I felt was so unnecessary, that people should have to survive in these circumstances — and the children were inflicted with a lot of deformities, and things that could have been avoided had become their sentence. It stuck with me.” Almost overnight, he decided something had to give. “I just quit. I stopped grass then — I mean, pretty much — and decided to get off the couch.”

He oscillates, too, on the subject of whether he’ll get married, and it’s clear Pitt has shifted from his promise that this won’t happen until gay marriage is legalized. “We’d actually like to,” he says of his seven-year partner, Jolie, “and it seems to mean more and more to our kids. We made this declaration some time ago that we weren’t going to do it till everyone can. But I don’t think we’ll be able to hold out. It means so much to my kids, and they ask a lot. And it means something to me, too, to make that kind of commitment.” Has he asked Jolie to marry him? “I’m not going to go any further,” says Pitt. “But to be in love with someone and be raising a family with someone and want to make that commitment and not be able to is ludicrous, just ludicrous.”

VIDEO: Q&A with 'Moneyball' actors Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill

Having children, he says, has been “the most grounding thing.” Would he have more? “We haven’t closed the book on it. There’s a really nice balance in the house right now, but if we see the need and get that lightning bolt that says, ‘We can help this person; we could do something here,’ then absolutely.” It was while carrying Vivienne — one of his children, many adopted, whose ages range from 3 to 10 — that Pitt fell and hurt his knee, causing him to walk with the cane his friend George Clooney spoofed during the Golden Globes. It wasn’t a skiing accident, contrary to reports. “I think George went down the line, making things up,” Pitt laughs. “I was just walking in our backyard, on a hill, carrying my daughter, and I slipped — and it was those parental instincts: me or her. And she’s fine.” The cane is nowhere to be seen today, and he jokes about how his children kept stealing it until he gave them canes of their own.

 STORY: Pitt as Producer: When the Oscar Nominated Actor Goes Off Camera

World War Z, based on the Max Brooks book about a global zombie war — and the first of a planned franchise — drew him because “I thought it was an interesting experiment. I thought, ‘Can we take this genre movie and use it as a Trojan horse for social-political problems?’ ”

Twelve Years a Slave, to be filmed by Shame helmer Steve McQueen, tells the story of “a free black man in the north who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. I’m only doing a small cameo, but it stars Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor and there’ve been very few movies about slavery, certainly that had the impact of Roots.”

Read the cover story in full here