Following a two-year absence from the screen, it appears that the recently turned 40-year old actor is back with a vengeance, what with his starring role in the epic adventure Troy, and Mr and Mrs Smith, which he is currently shooting.
Rarely one to participate in the proverbial print press junkets, the youthful actor, whose blonde hair has been cropped short, says that despite his busy work schedule, he and wife Jennifer Anniston have managed to spend the last couple of years spending some time together. “I didn’t work at all for two years going into this film, so Jen and I got a lot of time together. We both accept this aspect of our business and we’re glad to see each other when we can,” Pitt says, smilingly, in a New York City hotel room. As he just turned 40, the actor also concedes that perhaps it is about time he set about starting a family. “Yeah, it’s time. It’s time,” he admits laughingly, embracing the idea of fatherhood. “I think I’m finally at a place where I won’t mess ’em up too much.”
Pitt is an actor clearly comfortable with his celebrity and acting, always prepared to take risks, rather than follow a specific plan. Troy is one of those unique breed of Hollywood films that we rarely see, but Pitt, playing the doomed and tragic Achilles, revelled in playing one of literature’s most extraordinary characters, and recalls that in developing his own take of the character, was able to draw parallels with his own life. “Fortunately, there’s so much that can be done on The Iliad, that so many people have written about throughout the ages that I had a great well of information to glean from, so I culled the things that meant the most to me. It really wasn’t that difficult, because he was a real isolated character who I guess was in search of self.”
Pitt adds that in relating Achilles to his own life, he suggests that “you can make parallels to fame, but it’s not near to the extent of the Achilles character. But I could certainly draw on that, as well as the choice that he’s offered in the beginning while always wrestling with: Is this crisis of conscience with the choice that he’s made?” As to Pitt’s own attitudes towards the ‘fame game’ with which he is well and ensconced, he denies its silliness and finds it difficult to discuss. “I don’t find it silly, but as to the fame game, I don’t know how to answer that. I certainly have been drawn to people or events and learned something about my life from it or emulated something. But it can easily go down the wrong road, when it becomes obsession.”
Initially, Pitt recalls, he was not as keen to play Achilles as one might think. “When I first read the thing it seemed too obvious, in a way, in my addled brain. But then I quickly got into it.” Obvious, he says, “because of the golden boy, or something.” But the actor found his way, and managed to read the Homer poem in its entirety, rather than rely on Cliff Notes. “I actually read the whole thing because I knew this question was coming,” he says laughingly. “When I started it, I really got into it. There’s a reason why it’s still around, as it’s one of the great stories in a handful of stories and you’ve seen how many films and stories are derivative of it.”
Pitt says that he has thought long and hard about Achilles and his own sense of who this guy is. “There’s a real telling line when he says, ‘I want what all men want; I just want more.’ There’s restlessness and isolation in the guy. Whether he’s running from death or trying to find himself in a personal glory, he’s at a point where he’s had that glory and that hasn’t done it for him. The Achilles’ heel, to me, is representative of his heart. It wasn’t until Priam (Peter O’Toole) knocked some sense into him, with words instead of might, that he was then able to ride out the rest of his life with a personal understanding of the greater humanity and his own inner peace of mind.” But asked about the actor’s OWN Achilles’ heel, the usually forthcoming actor shies away from a response. “I’m not going there. It’s intimacy for all of us, which is pretty much for nine out of 10 of us around, right?”
Pitt may be 40, but fans of the star will notice a buffed up body in various stages of undress. Getting in shape might have been a big deal for the star, but he jokingly quips: “It’s amazing what an impending midlife crisis will do for you, really. It got me motivated, having turned 40 in December.” But seriously, preparing to train for Troy was tough on the actor. “It sucked and it was brutal. I started out about six months ahead, going in. It was four meals a day of protein and low-carb, it was quitting smoking, and it was two, three hours in the gym, getting to a point of absolute discomfort. After three months I finally started to enjoy it and on top of that we had sword lessons.” For the record, Pitt’s back smoking. “I picked it up again. I’ve actually picked it up, then quit, and then picked it up again.”
All that plus big 40, an epoch in his life about which he is unconcerned. “I see it as a real badge of honour and really kind of enjoy it. No more excuses, you know? I can’t blame anything on my parents, because I’m responsible for my mistakes and my choices,” Pitt concedes. Pitt didn’t splurge on anything fgo9r his fortieth, midlife crises not withstanding. “We were doing the fights on my birthday. I’d always said I was going to get something like a Rolls, then I got too into the energy conservation. No, I just came back and had a nice little quiet dinner with my friends and my wife. We had to do it after the fact, so it was a nice little dinner at home.” No drunken revelry for this good, golden boy. “But there was wine,” he hastens to add, smilingly.
As keen as Pitt is to start a family, he will have to wait until at least Oceans 12 finishes, which he is about to shoot. “It’s really well done. Soderbergh is as bright as they come. It starts out where we left off. We’re now on the run, Benedict (Andy Garcia) is onto us and we can’t work anywhere because we’re too hot. So we go to Europe.” Shooting Oceans means he misses out on the big Friends finale party, and says his wife is sad to see the show come to an end but is embracing a new future. “She is really sad to see it go, in a way and knows it’s a big change in her life. It’s like when you left college; that era is over. She made some really, really wonderful friends and had some times that meant a lot to her, but it’s also the excitement of embarking on the next era.” Having worked together on one of the show’s more memorable episodes, would the two work together on-screen again? “If you look through the history of couples who’ve worked together, the odds aren’t with us, so it’d have to be really hand-picked.”
In the meantime, one of Hollywood’s golden couples looks forward to starting family, and occasionally indulges in board game playing. “We haven’t gotten to play a lot of them, but we like backgammon.”