Seven years into their relationship, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting ready to seal the deal by getting married at Chateau Miraval, their $52-million palazzo by the French Riviera. The impending nuptials serve as ultimate confirmation of Pitt’s lifelong dream of being father to a big family – even if shuttling six children between homes in London, L.A., New York, and southern France can at times resemble a covert military operation. Pitt, however, has no qualms about logistics. He lives for his kids.
“Being a father has changed my entire outlook on life,” Pitt says. “I carry on a running conversation with myself about how I’m raising our children, the kind of education I’m giving them, and how they seem to be evolving. I want to help them grow up to be very independent and aware individuals. The kids are a huge part of my world and I love being an active and engaged father and family man. Sure it involves a lot of work, but that still leaves me plenty of time to look after my other job!”
Meanwhile, that other “job” as world famous movie star sees Brad playing a mob hitman in “Killing Them Softly,” an ambitious gangster saga that draws parallels between organized crime and the Darwinian imperative of modern corporate culture. Pitt’s character, Jackie Cogan, is sent in to clean up the mess that results from the robbery of a mob-sanctioned poker game. The theft has disrupted the local crime business and in the course of his mission to restore gangland equilibrium Cogan delivers the film’s defining message – “America’s not a country, it’s a business. So pay me, motherfucker!”
Behind this stark maxim lies the allegorical premise that the current economic recession has led to a growing political embrace of the rule of the free market at the expense of defending those who are least able to fend for themselves in society. Pitt believes that this is a perversion of the nobler ideals of the American Dream, a myth he still embraces, albeit rather more “cynically.”
“Killing Them Softly” is set in New Orleans where Pitt has spent several millions of his own money through his “Make it Right” foundation to help build 200 self-sustaining “green” homes as a way of helping the flood-ravaged city recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Meanwhile his partner Angelina Jolie continues her work as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and fervent supporter of various humanitarian causes.
How is the life of the busy family man and movie star?
I still have to get up at 6 a.m. and make breakfast for six kids. I don’t see my daily life as being that remarkable except for the fact that I’ve struck the lottery when it comes to my work and the opportunities it’s given me.
What’s morning like with the kids?
I would describe it as a beautiful and controlled form of chaos. (Smiles.) Sometimes you’re tired and you kind of function on automatic but I really appreciate this time where the kids are still young and they’re forming right in front of your eyes. I’m trying to enjoy it all because I know that one day I’m going to look back and they’ll all be grown up and I’ll miss this time.
Does the constant traveling ever become exhausting?
Being a parent of several children is exhausting – no matter what. I’m lucky that Angie has so much energy and never gets down or complains. The only time I’ve ever seen her really tired was after the twins were born. That proved very demanding and made it difficult for her to spend as much time with the other children as she did before. But now that the twins are older, it’s becoming a lot easier for all of us. I mean, when you have a big family, you learn to develop good logistical training and then it’s just like a machine that keeps moving forward. (Laughs.)
Your new film “Killing Them Softly” is something of an allegory about how society functions according to harsh economic laws of nature.
The story is basically a metaphor about business, and how business can be very Darwinian and cut-throat. There’s a danger in society becoming too focused on ruthless competition and losing all sense of community and hope. The financial crisis has made us more cynical about our future and the killings that take place in the film are symptomatic of that.
Were you worried about the level of violence in the film?
It’s a violent world. But I don’t think the violence in our film is totally nihilistic. There is some care and thought for the other person to try to make it more comfortable for them, to try to make it easy on them. Being killed is just an unfortunate aspect of their business. Murder, or being murdered, is simply one of the potential outcomes in a life of crime. That’s it. Those are the rules from the perspective of this kind of criminal underworld.
Does your character, Jackie Cogan, have any redeeming qualities?
The man has a conscience, but he’s driven by pragmatism and the sense that his work is part of the natural order of his world. He uses the term “killing them softly” as a way of helping him avoid the emotional cost of violence and murder. He needs to be as cold-blooded as possible – because that’s what the system requires.
What was behind your decision to shoot the film in New Orleans?
In a way it was a very fitting setting for a city suffering from economic hardship. I have a special connection to New Orleans and I’ve been trying to play my part in helping rebuild the city and bringing a little hope back to the people who live there. I love New Orleans and the people there and I thought it would be a great idea to shoot there, pump several million dollars into the local economy, and hire as many crew members and technicians as we possibly could.
Was it always part of your thinking while developing the film that you would draw parallels to the financial crisis and the recession that following?
Director Andrew Dominik and I started working on the idea while the mortgage and financial crisis was picking up speed in 2008. That’s why we thought the story could in some way mirror the harsh reality of how society has been a victim of financial deregulation and the kind of greed we saw with how the banks and the hedge funds and other financial institutions operated and brought us to the abyss. What’s frightening and disappointing is that they escaped virtually unscathed from the mess they helped create and nothing has really changed when it comes to the rules as to how the financial system continues to function. We have to decide whether we want responsible capitalism or brutal, unregulated capitalism that is an invitation to criminal behavior. That’s where government has a role to play in preserving the kinds of democratic ideals that go far beyond the law of the marketplace.
With this film and your work “Moneyball,” it seems like you’re defining a new niche for yourself as both actor and producer. Do you see any future for yourself as a director, too?
No. I’m too much of a perfectionist and I would be too obsessive and just drive myself and other people crazy. There are plenty of good directors out there whom I know personally and whose work I respect and trust. I have no problem leaving that part of the filmmaking process to them.
Do you still remember the time when you decided to leave university and drive to L.A.?
(Laughs.) Oh, yeah. You never forget that kind of a moment in your life where you decide to change directions and follow your instincts. I was thinking that the life I thought I wanted for myself was all wrong. I didn’t want to look for a job at some newspaper or find something just to pass the time. I had about two weeks left to go before graduation and I knew I had to get out and do something different with my life. I had this idea to go to try acting and see where that would take me. It was something I had to try... So I loaded up the car and headed for Los Angeles. I had $300 to get me there and somehow get started. It was just something I needed to do for myself.
Is acting still as meaningful to you today as it was at the beginning of your career?
It’s different. I’m very happy with the projects I’ve been involved with lately. I still have a great passion for storytelling that has been part of my life ever since I was a kid when my parents would take us to drive-in movies. As an actor, I love being able to explore all the complex aspects of human nature and how we’re constantly in various stages of conflict with each other. But it’s not as consuming as it used to be because my family is my priority and I’d rather spend more time with my kids.
You and Angelina seem to have found a balance between work and family. How do you think your kids are managing being children of very famous parents?
Angie and I do everything we can to carve out some semblance of normalcy for them. It’s not unusual for the kids to be covered in paint. We have mud fights. It’s chaos from morning until the lights go out, and sometimes after that. I love playing around at night with the older ones or sitting down and reading books with Mad. It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world.
You’ve always said that having a big family was a lifelong dream of yours. Once you found yourself being father to several children, how long did it take for you to adapt to that responsibility?
It didn’t take long. When Angie would have to go away and work on a film and I would be in charge of the kids, I discovered that it was very fulfilling to be home and have that extended time where I didn’t have to focus on anything except being a father. I’m very proud of Angie and how she has made this family work. I love the fact that we have this incredible mix of cultures and how they’re growing up together and feel part of one crazy, happy family. It’s a bit of a madhouse at times but you kind of love it.
Where do you spend most of the year, L.A. or the south of France?
We move around a lot. We’re like nomads. It’s easier in southern France because we have much more privacy and the people who live in the area are incredibly respectful of us and we can move around pretty freely in the villages. The best thing about our home there is that the children enjoy a much more normal environment and we don’t have to hide as much or strategize as much to move around. Even for me and Angie, it’s a lot more relaxed. I haven’t seen the lobby of a hotel in years because I enter and leave via the back door and in France we feel like a much more normal family and we don’t deal with as many distractions.
Are the paparazzi still an ever-present problem when you travel?
We have to plan an escape every day just to get out of the house in L.A. – kind of a “Mission: Impossible” with decoys and that’s the life we live in, and that’s the one we asked for. We know there’s a bounty on our heads for photos and we’re hunted for that reason alone. So it’s a constant in our lives and the main aggravation is that it distorts the kids‘ views of their world even though the older ones don’t pay attention to the photographers anymore.
The children must be pretty used to travelling by now?
They’re expert travelers. The older ones are getting very adept at packing up and taking along the books or toys they like to have with them wherever we’re living. They know the routine by now and so it’s much easier for me to organize everyone while Angie can pay more attention to getting the twins ready. They also love staying at hotels because it’s this pretend world for them that they get to be part of. It’s quite something to watch them create their own little fantasy playground wherever we go – running around, jumping, playing make-believe. I love it! Most of the time! (Smiles.)