Brad Pitt

Actor

Brad Pitt is not only known for his acting and good looks, he also lives a life dedicated to helping others. His causes range from rebuilding New Orleans to AIDS care in Africa. Him and his companion Angelina Jolie have also donated millions to charity in the past couple years. Pitt may be one of the single best role models for humanity on this planet, proving again you don't need religion to be a good person -- just a heart.

"Religion works," he goes on. "I know there's comfort there, a crash pad. It's something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be alright in the end. It works because it's comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn't last for me. I didn't understand this idea of a God who says, 'You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I'm the best, and then I'll give you eternal happiness. If you won't, then you don't get it!' It seemed to be about ego. I can't see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me."

Struggling with fame and wanting to find meaning, Brad Pitt says, "I have faith in my family"
By Dotson Rader
Published: October 7, 2007


"I always felt a pervasive sadness," Brad Pitt tells me. "I'm not sure I earned it, because it was always there. It existed in the place where I grew up--in my family, in people who have true sweetness and true goodness. Maybe it's a congenital sadness that everyone has to some degree."

Brad Pitt, 43, one of the world's most recognized stars, says his life and beliefs are informed by this sense of existential sadness. It is what drives him as a man and an actor. It is also what makes him want to fix the world.

"Maybe an offshoot of it is the discomfort I feel when other people are unhappy and wanting," he suggests. "When I see someone without basic health and education, without a supportive family, I feel a connection. That's what moves me the most. I could be him, if I'd been born on some other dot on the map."

Brad Pitt and I recently spent some time together in Toronto. What is most impressive about him is not his good looks and movie- star glamour, things he has in spades. Rather, it is his openness and empathy with people who are hurt. There is much of the generous, unspoiled American boy in his character, a kind of innocence. He truly believes he can help mend broken lives and change the world. And that, he says, makes everything else he does meaningful.

"Whoever said all men are born equal never left his own backyard," Pitt asserts. "I see people everywhere without opportunity. I want to help level the playing field."

Pitt grew up in Springfield, Mo., the oldest of three children in a conservative, Southern Baptist family. His mother was a school counselor; his father ran a trucking company.

"My dad made sure our needs were met," he says. "I had a very loving family." When he speaks of his childhood, his voice softens with the accent of his youth.

"I always had a lot of questions about the world, even in kindergarten. A big question to me was fairness. If I'd grown up in some other religion, would I get the same shot at Heaven as a Christian has? My mom would come into my room and talk to me. I was very fortunate to have that dialogue with her, but in high school I started to realize that I felt differently from others."

Brad went to Springfield's Kickapoo High, excelling at school debates and sports. As he got older, his religious doubts increased.

"I had crises of faith," he says. "I thought you had to experience things if you want to know right from wrong. I'd go to Christian revivals and be moved by the Holy Spirit, and I'd go to rock concerts and feel the same fervor. Then I'd be told, 'That's the Devil's music! Don't partake in that!' I wanted to experience things religion said not to experience."

By the time he entered college, Pitt had scuttled his fundamentalist beliefs. "When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn't a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self," he says. "I had faith that I'm capable enough to handle any situation. There's peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and I'm responsible."

Pitt's causes range from rebuilding New Orleans to AIDS care in Africa. Last year, among the millions of dollars he and his companion of two years, Angelina Jolie, donated to charity, $1 million was given to Doctors Without Borders, another million to Global Action for Children.

"It's not just altruism," he insists. "It's not a payback. Philanthropy is good for us. It's in our own best interest. It's personally rewarding when you see lives change because of an action you take that, though simple for you, means so much to others. You sleep peacefully at night."

I ask if his charitable work is the result of hisrelationship with Miss Jolie.

"That's idiotic!" he replies. "I do it because I'm a member of the human race. In Africa you see people on the street dying from AIDS, children left without parents. We're all cells of one body, with the same emotions and desires for our families--for a little dignity and a chance for a better life. Let's focus on that! I believe in the founding principles of America. I want to fight for that. I know most Americans feel the same way."

I suggest that he run for political office.

"Oh, my God!" Pitt says in surprise. "I never thought about it. I have no desire at this point. Maybe I serve better by not going through that door." He laughs. "George should do it!" he says, offering up pal Clooney. "He'd be quite good. I think Ben Affleck should run."

Brad Pitt was in Toronto for the film festival's screening of his new movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He stars as the outlaw James, one of America's first murdered celebrities. It is a magnificent performance that's likely to win him an Oscar nomination.

Pitt's journey to stardom began in 1986, two weeks before graduation from the University of Missouri, when he suddenly dropped out and headed to Los Angeles.

"I had this sinking feeling as graduation approached," he says. "I saw my friends getting jobs. I wasn't ready to settle down. I loved films. They were a portal into different worlds for me, and Missouri wasn't where movies were made. Then it hit me: If they didn't come to me, I'd go to them."

In L.A., he took acting classes and worked at odd jobs. Within nine months, he began to land small parts on TV and in teen flicks. In 1991 he had a small role as Geena Davis' boy-toy pickup in Thelma & Louise. It made him famous. Everything followed from there.

"When fame really hit me was when Legends of the Fall was released three years later," he says. "You get no warning about what celebrity is or how to deal with it. It's sort of multitiered. The initial stage is feeling discombobulated and not up to the task. I didn't understand the incessant attention when I went outside, the way people completely focused on me. It made me very uncomfortable.

"Then you start to see the fickleness of celebrity," he continues, "that it isn't rooted in something of real value. There is this strange wanting by people to get next to you. It has nothing to do with you but with something they feel they are missing in themselves."

Brad Pitt's fame increased exponentially after Interview With the Vampire, Troy and the three Ocean's caper films. His outsized celebrity also was powered by his romances with actresses Juliette Lewis and Gwy- neth Paltrow, his very public marriage to and divorce from Jennifer Aniston, and his current relationship with Jolie, 32.

"I understand the tabloid machine," he says. "There's money to be made off of Angie and me, but it has gotten so out-of-hand. There's no decency, even when it comes to our kids."

Jolie and Pitt have three adopted children--Zahara, 2, Pax, 3, and Maddox, 6--and a birth daughter, Shiloh, 16 months.

"I mean, yesterday Angie was taking Maddie off to school," he continues angrily. "There were 30 paparazzi outside. One guy sticks a video camera in Mad's face, yelling, 'Maddox! Maddox!' He doesn't get a response. He doesn't know my boy. Mad is already savvy to this, unfortunately. But my 2-year-old dreads being anyplace there are cameras. It scares her. They're all in her face. My kids are faced with this every day! It's disgusting. So we've been run out of L.A., all the major cities. We just can't live there. You don't understand--this is the hunt, the hunt, the hunt! I thought it might be over a year ago. It's gotten worse."

He pauses, shaking his head. For a moment, I glimpse world-weariness in his blue eyes, affecting and sad.

"What's important to me is that I've defined my beliefs and lived according to them and not betrayed them," he says. "One of those is my belief in family. I still have faith in that."

'You Have To Go Off the Beaten Path' Brad Pitt talks about religion, his roots and a college girlfriend who changed his life
Published: October 2, 2007

On Growing Up
"I was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma," he says. "My dad ran a trucking company. When I was a little kid we moved to Tulsa, then to St. Louis and, by the time I was in kindergarten, we lived in Springfield, Missouri. There I basically grew up. My father came from a very poor background, but I was very fortunate in the sense that we were never in need. My dad was determined to make sure that we didn't want for things. He wanted to give us more opportunity than he had, a better shot at a better life. He did that for us."

Brad Pitt has seen much of the world since leaving small-town Missouri for Los Angeles two decades ago, yet he seems to miss the boy he was and the place he left behind. Brad speaks with unusual warmth about his family and the region where he was raised.

"I had a very supportive family environment that gave me room to explore and discover things about myself," he says. "When I was a boy I would ask about my family history, about my blood lines. We really didn't know that much. We had a little Indian in us from the Oklahoma Trail of Tears. We were situated in southern Missouri, right along the Mason-Dixon Line, between the North and the South, where you have this confluence of different cultures—Texas and Oklahoma from the south, the hillbilly from the Appalachian range to the east, the Midwestern coming down from above. There was all these different influences and ideas and accents coming into this place."

Brad begins to use various regional dialects to illustrate for me the variety of influences. "As I look around now I hear different accents, like Arkansas', that are much more colorful," he says in a soft, Clintonian drawl. "Then there's Texas. You know Texas," he twangs. "Then you get into Kentucky, and it sounds more like this...and then in St. Louis, where it's a cleaner, more Midwestern accent. But where we were, southern Missouri, our accent is more flat-lined, it's kind of like this... I find it very interesting now, but I didn't realize how interesting the place I come from is until I left home and saw how other cultures handled things differently."

On Leaving Home
I ask Brad about the pivotal influences on his 1986 decision to abruptly leave the University of Missouri before his graduation Surprisingly, he mentions a girlfriend but asks me not to use her name.

"You made me think about this girlfriend I had in senior year," he recalls. "She was a Methodist preacher's kid. She wasn't that into me, truthfully, although we were together for a semester. "

When I tell him I am the son of a preacher, too, he smiles and nods.

"Well," he continues, "she was tough, man, although really cool. She had an older brother who was killed in a four-by-four accident, which was not uncommon out there." He refers to a four-wheel drive crash. "She was a hardcore realist. She called me on so much bull—about any romantic ideas that I had grown up with about life. It was my first year in college."

Brad studied journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia, hoping for a career as an art director in advertising.

"She helped me more than anyone else as far as setting off in my own direction," he explains. "It was my first year in college and I was pushing back against the religion thing. In my eyes it was a mechanism of guilt , this engrained system, used to keep the flock in servitude." Brad was raised a conservative Southern Baptist.

"Guilt is the thing I find most evil about it. It's the thing I rail against the most. She helped me in defining what I believed.

"Religion works," he goes on. "I know there's comfort there, a crash pad. It's something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be alright in the end. It works because it's comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn't last for me. I didn't understand this idea of a God who says, 'You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I'm the best, and then I'll give you eternal happiness. If you won't, then you don't get it!' It seemed to be about ego. I can't see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me."

"When I left Missouri I wasn't ready to call it quits as far as getting out into the world," he goes on. "It wasn't leaving something behind, it was heading for something that was nascent and ill-defined. I did not know what it would be when I got to L.A., and to me not knowing that has always been the most exciting thing about making a trip.

On Seeing the World
"Seeing the world is the best education you can get," Brad asserts. "You see sorrow, and you also see great spirit and will to survive. But you have to go off the beaten path of St. Bart's Island, Rome, Paris, wander off the path and go beyond that. It is where you meet people and hear personal stories. It is a huge eye-opener. The extent of the numbers of people dying. You know, we forget this very simple truth: we're basically all the same. There is so much focus on our differences. Again, this thing of ego—my high school is better than your high school! We forget that we all have the same feelings on any side of the world. Why can't we find common ground instead of this obsession with our hatreds? I don't want to be part of that hatred."

On Movies
"Saturday Night Fever was a big influence on me," he admits, grinning. "I snuck in to see it when I was underage. It wasn't the dancing and the music I'm referring to, it was this culture of families who argued at the dinner table and popped each other in the face! It was this whole other way of people relating to each other that I found really interesting."

Brad's family was white-bread, straight-laced—undemonstrative, calm, private. He still has something of the nice, winsome, small town Southern boy to his character—he is polite, attentive, reluctant to brag on himself, with an easy, though not overly-familiar, charm. In person, he has the qualities of a popular high school heartthrob—handsome, friendly, correct, even sweet, yet out of reach.

"Films were a portal into different worlds for me," he continues, "cultures I had never seen before and was absolutely taken with. I was also taken with the power of films to define things for me that I'd not been able to define for myself. So I became an actor."