With looks that have inspired countless People magazine covers, Internet shrines, and paparazzi blitzkreigs, Brad Pitt is an actor whose very name inspires drooling platitudes, more about male beauty than about acting. Following his breakthrough as the wickedly charming drifter who seduces Geena Davis and then robs her blind in Thelma & Louise (1991), Pitt became one of Hollywood’s hottest properties and spent most of the 1990s being lauded as everything from Robert Redford’s heir apparent to the Sexiest Man Alive.
Pitt’s ascension to his celluloid throne was a long and sometimes frustrating one, however. The son of a trucking company manager, Pitt was born December 18, 1963, in Shawnee, OK. Raised in Missouri as the oldest of three children, and brought up in a strict Baptist household, Pitt enrolled at the University of Missouri, following high school graduation, studying journalism and advertising. However, after discovering his love of acting, he dropped out of college two credit hours before he could graduate and moved to Hollywood. Fearful of his parents’ reaction, he told them he was going to Pasadena to study at the Art Center College of Design. Once in California, Pitt took acting classes and supported himself with a variety of odd jobs that included chauffeuring strippers to private parties, waiting tables, and wearing a giant chicken suit for a local restaurant chain. His first break came when he landed a small recurring role on Dallas, and a part in a teenage-slasher movie, Cutting Class (1989) (opposite Roddy McDowall), marked his inauspicious entrance into the world of feature films. The previous year, Pitt’s acting experience had been limited to the TV movie A Stoning in Fulgham County (1988).
1991 marked the end of Pitt’s obscurity, as it was the year he made his appearance in Thelma & Louise. After becoming famous practically overnight, Pitt unfortunately chose to channel his newfound celebrity into Ralph Bakshi’s disastrous animation/live action combo Cool World (1992). Following this misstep, Pitt took a starring role in director Tom Di Cillo’s independent film Johnny Suede. The film failed to score with critics or at the box office and Pitt’s documented clashes with the director allegedly inspired Di Cillo to pattern the character of the vain and egotistical Chad Palomino, in his 1995 Living in Oblivion, after the actor. Pitt’s next venture, Robert Redford’s lyrical fly-fishing drama A River Runs Through It (2002), gave the actor a much-needed chance to prove that he had talent in addition to physical appeal, and doubtless drew on Pitt’s religious upbringing (casting, as it did, the fair-haired actor as a minister’s son),
Following his performance in Redford’s film, Pitt appeared in Kalifornia and True Romance (both 1993), two road movies featuring fallen women and violent sociopaths. Pitt’s next major role did not arrive until early 1994, when he was cast as the lead of the gorgeously photographed Legends of the Fall. As he did in A River Runs Through It, Pitt portrayed a free-spirited, strong-willed brother, but this time had greater opportunity to further develop his enigmatic character. Following the film’s release, People magazine dubbed him the Sexiest Man Alive. Later that same year, fans watched in anticipation as Pitt exchanged his outdoorsy persona for the brooding, gothic posturing of Anne Rice’s tortured vampire Louis in the film adaptation of -Interview With the Vampire. Starring opposite Tom Cruise, Pitt enjoyed the fame generated by the film’s success.
Pitt next starred in the forgettable romantic comedy The Favor (1994) before going on to play a rookie detective investigating a series of gruesome crimes opposite Morgan Freeman in Seven (1995). In 1997, Pitt received a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a visionary mental patient in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys; the same year, Pitt attempted an Austrian accent and put on a backpack to play mountaineer Heinrich Harrar in Seven Years in Tibet. The film met with mixed reviews and generated a fair amount of controversy, thanks in part to the revelation that the real-life Harrar had in fact been a Nazi. Furthermore, due to its pro-Tibetan stance, the film also resulted in Pitt’s permanent banishment from China. Following Tibet, Pitt traveled in a less inflammatory direction with Alan J. Pakula’s The Devil’s Own, in which he starred with fellow screen icon Harrison Ford. Despite this seemingly faultless pairing, the film was a relative critical and box-office failure. In 1998, Pitt tried his hand at romantic drama, portraying Death in Meet Joe Black, the most expensive non-special effects film ever made. The film, which weighed in at three hours in length, met with excessively mixed reviews, although more than one critic remarked that Pitt certainly made a very appealing representative of the afterlife.
Pitt’s penchant for quirk was prevalent with his cameo in the surreal comic fantasy Being John Malkovich (1999) and carried over into his role as Tyler Durden, the mysterious and anti-materialistic soap salesman in David Fincher’s controversial Fight Club the same year. The odd characterizations didn’t let up with his appearance as the audibly indecipherable pugilist in Guy Ritchie’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch (2000).
In July of 2000, the man voted “Most Sexy Actor Alive” by virtually every entertainment publication currently in circulation crushed the hearts of millions of adoring female fans when he wed popular film and television actress Jennifer Aniston in a relatively modest (at least by Hollywood standards) and intimate service.
Pitt’s next turn on the big screen found him re-teamed with Robert Redford, this time sharing the screen with the A River Runs Through It director in the espionage thriller Spy Game (2001). A fairly retro-straight-laced role for an actor who had become identified with his increasingly eccentric roles, he was soon cast in Steven Soderbergh‘s remake of the Rat Pack classic Ocean’s 11 (2001), the tale of a group of criminals who plot to rob a string of casinos.
Following a decidedly busy 2001 that also included a lead role opposite Julia Roberts in the romantic crime-comedy The Mexican, Pitt was virtually absent from the big-screen over the next three years. After walking away from the ambitious and troubled Darren Aronofsky production The Fountain, he popped up for a very brief cameo in pal George Clooney‘s 2002 directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and lent his voice to the animated adventure Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, but spent the majority of his time working on the historical epic Troy (2004). Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, the film employed a huge cast, crew and budget.
The media engulfed Pitt’s next screen role with tabloid fervor, as it cast him opposite bombshell Angelina Jolie. While the comedic actioner Mr. and Mrs. Smith grossed dollar one at the box office, the stars’ off-camera relationship that made some of 2005’s biggest headlines. Before long, Pitt had split from his wife Jennifer Aniston and adopted Angelina Jolie‘s two children. The family expanded to five in 2006 – with the birth of the couple’s first child – and six in 2007, with the adoption of a Vietnamese boy.
In addition to increasing his family in 2006, Pitt began expanding his career by acting as producer on a number of high profile films including Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, the Best Picture Winner for 2006. He also acted opposite Cate Blanchett in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s drama Babel. Interestingly, that film hit theaters the same year as The Fountain, a film that was originally set to star the duo. Pitt also stayed busy as an actor, reteaming with many familiar on-screen pals for Ocean’s Thirteen. At about the same time, Pitt teamed up with Ridley Scott to co-produce a period western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Pitt also stars in the film, as James.
The year 2007 found Pitt involved, simultaneously, in a number of increasingly intelligent and distinguished projects. He signed on to reteam with David Fincher for the first occasion since Fight Club, with -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – a bittersweet fantasy, adapted by Forrest Gump scribe Eric Roth from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, about a man who falls in love while he is aging in reverse. Pitt also partnered up with director Kevin MacDonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland) to star in State of Play, an American cinematization of the British miniseries of the same name, about a journalist torn between his loyalty to a congressional friend and his professional need to solve a related homicide.
On the development end, Pitt’s production shingle, -Plan B, oversaw several projects through the end of 2008. These included a two-picture deal with director Ryan Murphy (Running with Scissors): a biopic of Watergate whistleblower Martha Mitchell starring Meryl Streep (as Mitchell) and Jill Clayburgh (as Pat Nixon) and entitled Dirty Tricks; and a hotly-anticipated cinematization of the Elizabeth Gilbert memoir -Eat, Pray, Love regarding the author’s (Julia Roberts) attempts to find herself after an ugly divorce.
Most hotly anticipated, however, was the Pitt produced, Michael Winterbottom-directed Jolie-starrer A Mighty Heart – the tale of Mariane Pearl (wife of the ill-fated New York Times correspondent Daniel Pearl) and her diligent search for her husband in Pakistan – little realizing that he had been kidnapped and executed. Paramount and Plan B slated the film to debut in late June 2007. Rebecca Flint Marx, All Movie Guide