For a normal heterosexual male I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about Brad Pitt this week.
He's got this movie Troy coming out and there's a lot of buzz surrounding his role as the ancient Greek demi-god Achilles. By the time you read this, we will know whether Troy is a hit or a miss in the Brad Pitt oeuvre, if it's just another movie part, just another $20 million paycheck -- poor guy! -- or the breakthrough role that's eluded him. But because of Pitt's coy resistance to assuming the spotlight, it also feels like some make–or-break point in his career.
And what a career it's been.
From his much talked about entrance as "the abs" in Thelma & Louise, through the high points of Seven, Legends Of the Fall and Fight Club to the low points of The Mexican, Spy Games and Meet Joe Black, Pitt has refused to play the star game exactly. The pros and cons of being a pretty boy are all on display. Can he act? is to Brad Pitt what Are those real? is to the average Hollywood bombshell -- a FAQ that never quite gets resolved. And while his choice of roles has hinted at a Johnny Depp-like eclectic approach, and a work ethic that shames Leonardo DiCaprio, it is also a sign that there is definitely a there there behind his People Magazine looks. But Pitt has yet to have that one winning role that is his signature. Is he dumb? No way. Is he smart? Well, he's survived and maybe that's smart enough. But at 40, he has time to make his legend in a business full of beautiful people who've made equally beautiful career choices.
Unlike other male hunks, Pitt has chosen lately to be a guerilla fighter. He pops up, hits, and runs. He makes interesting appearances in things like Snatch and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. And he makes fun of himself -- always a good sign. But when you compare him to Robert Redford, say, or even Tom Cruise, Pitt has a much cooler regard for "the business." No, he need not have any grasp of it at all. But he doesn't seem to really care about creating vehicles for himself or owning the means of production to ensure that he propels himself forward his way. Plan B, the production company he owns with his wife, Jennifer Anniston, and which is a producing partner in Troy, appears to be breaking that pattern. But for most of his career, he has behaved more like a classic studio actor, waiting by the pool for the phone to ring. In truth, he may know that he can't really carry a movie, that his smartest strategy is to be part of an ensemble, a bit of good-looking thread in the tapestry, not the tapestry itself as he was in the Steven Soderbergh hit Ocean's Eleven. And by taking those roles and avoiding ones that force him to be the center of attention, he has kept from being either hot or cold, just simmering, forever promising star power but never really having to deliver.
The National Enquirer life he leads has established Pitt as a nice guy with values that harken back to Midwest roots -- born in Oklahoma, raised in Missouri. A solid marriage for four years to Jennifer Anniston (a long time in Hollywood used to marriages that match the lifespans of fruit flies) and the lack of any nasty rumors about his personal life has kept fans loyal. In interviews with the press, Pitt has displayed intelligence and sensitivity that belies the image of the dumb, good-looking superstar. Asked in a press junket about Julie Christie, his co-star in Troy, Pitt was surprised that one of his idols was so little known among the younger moviegoers. "They asked me who Julie Christie is," Pitt said. "I think the point is, it all fades, so enjoy it while you can."
So maybe he's really smart.
And that questioning of fame is what his role as Achilles in the $200 million Troy is all about.
Pitt came out of semi-retirement from this happy home life to do Troy. He appears to be fighting a mid-life crisis that is not limited to actors, but one that is of concern to any actor, male or female. If so much of your allure is based on being a sex symbol, what happens when that starts to go? He spent eight months in training, working out mostly, to improve the strictly visual aspects of himself. In the film, he demonstrates an amazing physical prowess and energy as the greatest warrior of all time, using one move -- a full bore run at an opponent, combined with a flying leap to bring his broadsword down on the enemy's heart via their shoulder blades -- an amazing thing to watch. And in quieter, more reflective moments in that film, he has done in Troy what he hasn't been able to do in other films, appear to be wrestling with himself and perhaps giving us a clearer picture of who he is and what he wrestles with, pinioned as he is by burden of being an incredibly handsome and successful movie star. In that sense, Achilles is the perfect part for Pitt, that of the immortal whose whole life has revolved around the pursuit of fame and who has suspicion of both himself and his pursuit. And maybe that's who the real Brad Pitt is, a guy who refuses to be pegged as hot or cold, an actor for a time when the Golden Age of movie stars is only a Homeric legend.