Brad Pitt: On Life, Movies And 'Moneyball'
This interview was originally broadcast on September 22, 2011.
Brad Pitt is aware that his portrayal of a baseball-team manager in the new film Moneyball is somewhat different from his previous roles. After all, the actor has played a Nazi-hunter, a vampire, a cowboy hitchhiker, a detective on the trail of a serial killer, the Greek warrior Achilles, a terrorist, an assassin and the outlaw Jesse James. He has ridden on horseback and dodged both flying glass and flying fists for physical roles in movies like Troy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Fight Club.
By contrast, Pitt spends most of Moneyball sitting in a chair and making deals over the phone with other baseball teams. The movie, based on the 2003 Michael Lewis book, stars Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's. In 2002, Beane figured out how to use analytics and statistics to compensate for his team's payroll, which was relatively small compared to what other major-league teams had to spend — and won 20 games in a row to set a new American League record.
Pitt tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross that as soon as he read Lewis' book, he knew he wanted to make Moneyball into a film.
"I was taken with these guys who out of necessity had to challenge the conventional wisdom of their industry," Pitt says. "They were a team [with] a payroll of $38 million, and they're playing against teams that have $120 million with another $100 million in reserves. And there's no way to have an equal fight. So what these guys had to do was re-question baseball and baseball knowledge. They had to take everything apart and start over again."
Pitt also served as one of the film's producers. He says he looked to Beane, who still works for the A's, for insight into how to separate his dual roles on set. Beane is famous for making personnel decisions for the A's but not watching his team play because he can't bear the suspense of possibly seeing them lose.
"He describes it as not wanting to make an emotional decision — that when he watches, he gets too involved — and he wants to understand the process and the outcome of that process, and then make a clear, level-headed decision afterward," says Pitt. "I watch the films during the editing process over and over again, and I can distance myself from the actor up there. I know when something's working or when it's not working."
Pitt began his own acting career in 1987, with roles on TV shows like Growing Pains and Dallas. His first film appearances, in 1991's Thelma and Louise and 1992's A River Runs Through It, helped pave the way for larger roles in films like Interview with the Vampire, Legends of the Fall, Seven, Sleepers and Fight Club.
In 2009, Pitt starred in Quentin Tarantino's film Inglourious Basterds as Nazi hunter Lt. Aldo Raine. Raine famously had a scar on his neck that looked like he had been slashed or strangled by a wire. But if you're curious about its origins, Pitt says you might have to wait awhile.
"[Tarantino] said it would never be explained in [Inglourious Basterds] and if he ever does what he called a prequel-slash-sequel, then we'll reveal it then," he says. "He talks about [a sequel], but he's got several things percolating at once."
As for his own career? Pitt says he's not sure yet what he'll do next.
"I want to keep mixing it up," he says. "I find that the next film is always informed by the last film you finish."
On his childhood religious experiences
"It was Sunday school and do good and Bible study and daily prayer. But it was always something I wrestled with personally. I was very curious about the world even at a young age, and I don't know at what point I became aware that other cultures believed in different religions, and my question was, 'Well, why don't they get to go to heaven then?' And the answer was always, 'Well, everyone gets a chance — meaning at the word of God as it was described to me then. And that didn't sit well with me then. But in times of trouble or discord, it's a great comfort. And it wasn't till I left home that I really came to the conclusion that it didn't make sense to me for many other reasons."
On leaving religion and finding comfort
"Within time, you get comfortable with yourself and with the unknown — that we're not going to know until that time comes. And that's enough for me. I wrestle with this a lot even now because I don't want to step on anyone's religion. My family is still very dedicated. At the same time, I take great issue with it when it starts defining policy or ultimately becomes separatist. ... It's been the basis of our main conflicts throughout history."
On going to L.A. two weeks before he was supposed to finish college
"I knew where I wanted to go. I had a direction. I always liked those moments of epiphany, when you have the next destination."
On his favorite films
"I loved Saturday Night Fever when I was a kid. I couldn't believe people talked that way. It was just a whole new culture I didn't understand. I snuck into it. It was an R-rated film. So it holds a special place. The films on my playlist today would be Dog Day Afternoon. [One Flew Over the] Cuckoo's Nest was a huge one with me. I would say [Dr.] Strangelove always cracks me up."
On selling photos of his children to raise money for charity
"I know some of these guys who are in that 'stalkerazzi' world, and you really have to separate them from the paparazzi in our industry. That's another breed. They have their heroes who got the big, scandalous shot, which just promotes more of that. It's a very strange thing to be selling photos of something that's very intimate and personal. And those of which you want to protect. We have to plan an escape every day just to get out of the house — kind of a Mission Impossible with decoys, and that's the life we live in, and that's the one we asked for. But we knew there was a bounty on our head ... and we know the lengths they go to to get that shot. So we figured, 'Let's cut it off in the beginning,' and instead of that money going to people I do not respect, we would make some good out of it."
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of the website TV Worth Watching, in for Terry Gross.
In this half of the show, we're listening back to Terry's 2011 interview with Brad Pitt, whose movie "Moneyball" is now out on DVD. Pitt was nominated for a Golden Globe as best actor for his starring role in "Moneyball," and is a good bet to snag an Oscar nomination as well.
"Moneyball" is adapted from the bestselling non-fiction book by Michael Lewis about Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's baseball team.
Pitt's many other movies include "Tree of Life," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Inglourious Basterds," "Burn after Reading," "Ocean's Eleven," "Seven," "Fight Club," "Legends of the Fall" and "Thelma and Louise." When "Moneyball" begins, Billy Beane recognizes that his team doesn't have the money the big teams like the Yankees do, and therefore, he can't compete in bidding wars for star players.
Beane decides to use statistical analysis to figure which players have the assets his team needs, and he ends up going after players that other managers consider too old, too injured or too mediocre.
But Beane believes he understands their unique talents and knows how to put them to use. Let's start with a scene from "Moneyball." Beane, played by Brad Pitt, has recruited a numbers-crunching economist from Yale, played by Jonah Hill, to conduct statistical analyses of players. Based on that, they've started trading players and changing the lineup but without informing the field manager, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Here, the three of them meet before a game.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MONEYBALL")
BRAD PITT: (As Billy Beane) Art, you got a minute?
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Art Howe) Yeah. Take a seat.
PITT: (As Billy) You can't start Pena at first tonight. You'll have to start Hatteberg.
HOFFMAN: (As Art) I don't want to go 15 rounds, Billy. The lineup card is mine, and that's all.
PITT: (As Billy) That lineup card is definitely yours. I'm just saying you can't start Pena at first.
HOFFMAN: (As Art) Well, I am starting him at first.
PITT: (As Billy) I don't think so. He plays for Detroit now.
HOFFMAN: (As Art) You traded Pena?
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Brad Pitt, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why did you want to make...
PITT: Thank you.
GROSS: Why did you want to make this movie, "Moneyball"?
PITT: Several reasons. I first picked up the book by Michael Lewis and was taken with these guys who out of necessity had to challenge conventional wisdom of their industry. They - I never looked at sports from the economic standpoint, and they are a team - we deal with the Oakland A's in 2002, and they are a team who had a payroll of $38 million to platoon a team, and they're playing against teams that have $120 million with another $100 million in reserves.
And there is - there was no way to have an equal fight. And so what these guys had to do was re-question baseball, baseball knowledge. They had to take everything apart and start over again.
GROSS: It's a very, like, dialogue-driven film, even though there's a lot of, like, baseball scenes in it. But your performance, even though you're basically sitting in a chair talking and making phone calls, your performance is very kinetic. You always seem to be moving, you know, chewing ice, eating, moving your hands, throwing something.
Is it challenging to do a kinetic performance in what is basically, you know, a managerial position kind of role?
PITT: You know, Billy's that way. Watching Billy, as soon as the phone rings, he becomes a very myopic and laser-guided, and he himself is - becomes very intense. And when you approach a scene, I guess you're coming from the inside, and the need to accomplish something, and that manifests itself in certain movements and eating and the need to, you know, keep clawing until you get the answer you're looking for.
GROSS: Let's talk about some of your other films. Let's start with "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino's recent film. It's set during World War II, and you play Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who's charged with putting together a team of, like, real killers to kill the Nazis.
So here you are explaining the mission to your team.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS")
PITT: (As Lieutenant Aldo Raine) My name is Lieutenant Aldo Raine, and I'm putting together a special team, and I need me eight soldiers, eight Jewish-American soldiers. Now, you all might have heard rumors about the armada happening soon. Well, we'll be leaving a little earlier.
(As Raine) We're going to be dropped into France dressed as civilians, and once we're in enemy territory, as a bushwhacking guerrilla army, we're going to be doing one thing and one thing only: killing Nazis. Now, I don't know about you all, but I sure as hell didn't come down from the goddamn Smoky Mountains across 5,000 mile of water, fighting my way through half of Sicily and jump out of (beep) airplane to teach the Nazis lessons in humanity.
(As Raine) Nazi ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Jew-hating, mass-murdering maniac, and they need to be destroyed. That's why any every som'bitch we find wearing a Nazi uniform, they're going to die.
GROSS: That's Brad Pitt in a scene from "Inglourious Basterds." I like the way you say Nazis.
PITT: That's tasty stuff, only from the mind of Quentin Tarantino.
GROSS: Did the script say to pronounce Nazis, Nazis?
PITT: No, it didn't say that, but we're from the same general neck of the woods. So we both understood.
GROSS: Who, you and Lieutenant Aldo Raine, or you and Quentin Tarantino because he's...
PITT: No, Quentin.
GROSS: He's from L.A., isn't he?
PITT: Yeah, but he's originally from Kentucky and has a lot of roots.
GROSS: Oh, OK. OK.
PITT: Kentucky roots.
GROSS: You have a scar on your neck in the film, and it looks like either you were strangled with a wire and survived, or your throat was slashed and you survived. Do you know what happened to your throat?
PITT: Yes, and he said it would never be explained in this film, and if he's ever to do a - what he called a prequel/sequel, then we'll reveal it then.
GROSS: Oh. And is that a possibility?
PITT: He talks about it. You know, he's got several things percolating at once.
GROSS: Now, you grew up in Oklahoma and in Missouri. And your family was Southern Baptist evangelicals?
PITT: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we grew up Southern Baptist, and then somewhere in my high school years, my family moved more towards the charismatic movement.
GROSS: So what was your Christian background like? What was the emphasis like in church? How was that reflected in your upbringing?
PITT: Well, it was - you know, it was Sunday school and do good and Bible study and daily prayer. But it was always something I wrestled with personally. I didn't - I was very curious about the world even at a young age, and I don't know at what point I became aware that other nations and other cultures didn't believe the same, and they believed in different religions, and my question is: Well, why don't they get to go to heaven then?
And the answer was always, well, everyone gets a chance, meaning at the word of God as it was described to me then. And that didn't sit right with me. But it - you know, at the same time, in times of trouble or discourse, it's a great comfort. And it wasn't until I left home that I really came to the conclusion that it didn't make sense to me for many other reasons than that.
GROSS: Now, you studied journalism in college. What did you expect to become?
PITT: I wasn't really sure. I was just investigating it for myself. They have one of the best J-schools in the country.
GROSS: This is where?
PITT: University of Missouri.
PITT: And it just came to the time of graduation and everyone was - all my friends were committing to jobs and I just realized I was not ready for that yet. And it just occurred to me that, having always lamented that there wasn't the possibility or career choice of being in films, that I could go to it. And once I struck that little bit of discovery, I packed up my car, I didn't graduate. I had two weeks left, and I moved up to - moved out to L.A. like the...
GROSS: Two weeks is such a - it's the blink of an eye.
PITT: I just felt I was done, I was done with it.
GROSS: So you knew your mind.
PITT: Well, I knew where I wanted to go. I had a direction. I always liked those moments of epiphany, when you have the next destination.
GROSS: So you go to L.A. and then what? You get there, then what?
PITT: I get there with - you know, like the cliche goes, with my beat-up Datsun, and I had $275 to my savings, and I landed in Burbank. And I got the paper, and I found some extra agencies. And by, you know, the end of that week, I was - I paid my 25 bucks to join up, and I was an extra.
GROSS: In what?
PITT: It started out industrial films and commercials, and then, you know, you work your way up. And I guess the biggest film I had was - I had, that's really, that's a funny way to put it - but was "Less Than Zero."
GROSS: You were an extra in "Less Than Zero"?
PITT: Mm-hmm. And I enjoyed it.
GROSS: That must have been fun. I mean...
PITT: Oh, it was so much fun. I just wanted to be around film. Suddenly, I was on film, and I was on a set and watching how the guys - you know, how they do it.
BIANCULLI: Brad Pitt, speaking to Terry Gross in 2011. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2011 interview with Brad Pitt. His movie "Moneyball," is now out on DVD.
GROSS: So you start getting in films and you get very famous. What was the strangest thing early on about actually - not only being successful, but being famous?
PITT: The strangest thing is suddenly being looked at and watched and judged, in a way. I mean, I don't know what I was expecting. You know, you're putting yourself in that ring. I just didn't think that far ahead. And I found it very discombobulating. I was very uncomfortable with the focus.
GROSS: So did that make you want to be in the limelight any more or less?
PITT: No, I still wanted to crack this film thing I was in, but I was committed. You know, I think one of the lovely things about where I grew up is it's considered great hubris to talk about yourself, and yet, you know, as we sit here now, it's part of the business, and I find it actually interesting and cathartic in some way.
But at that time, I was - I mean, a good 10 years I wrestled with it.
GROSS: About how much to share about yourself and...
HOFFMAN: Yeah, I was very, very protective.
GROSS: So you live in a world where money is so weird. I mean like you were able to sell the first pictures of the first child that Angelina Jolie gave birth to for $4.1 million to People magazine. And then you, you know, you donated the money to charity, put the money to good use. But that's just like so weird, to get that amount of money for a photograph.
PITT: It's bizarre.
GROSS: It's crazy. It's like values gone nuts. So...
PITT: It's bizarre.
GROSS: Yeah. Especially what you're trying to do is like at least try to take the values gone nuts and put it to good use, put the money to good use.
PITT: Well, that was my feeling. I mean, I know some of these guys who are in that stalkerazzi world, and you really have to separate them from the paparazzi in our industry. This is another breed. And they have their heroes who got the big scandalous shot, and which just promotes more of that. So going into this we knew - listen, it's a very strange thing to be selling photos of something that's very intimate and personal and those in which you want to protect. We knew from, you know, we had to plan an escape every day to get out of the house - kind of a "Mission Impossible" with decoys, and that's the life we live in, and that's the one we asked for. So - but we knew there was a bounty on our head and a huge bounty. And we understand the lengths they go to - I don't think people do - to get that shot. So we figured, let's cut it off from the beginning, and instead of that money going to people I do not respect, that we would make some good out of it. And there's the nice thing about our situation.
GROSS: So did it work? Did it head people off at the pass? Did it prevent you from being stalked in the way that you feared you would?
PITT: Yeah. It took that initial - the initial hit. Absolutely.
GROSS: So at least nobody else could claim that they had the first photo.
PITT: Right. And that's where the big bounty is.
GROSS: That's where the big bucks are. Right.
GROSS: You know, I interview people for a living, that's how I spend my time, you know, and I care what my guests have to say, I'm really interested in hearing how the choices people make when they're living their lives, why they do what they do, how they do what they do. At the same time I don't really understand why everybody needs to know the intimate details of your personal life or your children's lives. And I imagine you don't really understand that either. But it's something you probably have to think about a whole lot more than I do. Do you have any answers to that? Like why do people feel that they need to know or that they're entitled to know personal details like that?
PITT: Well, we - I actually - we, you know, I divorce myself of it. I don't think about it, and as I say, enjoy life much more.
PITT: I recall - you know, there's a - I do know there's a positive side to it. Let me put it this way and let's see if it relates.
PITT: I know when I had seen people I respected when I was first starting, just that brush with them meant something to me, like my day felt special.
GROSS: Are there actors you felt that way about when you first met them?
PITT: Absolutely. You know, again, just being around it. And like being on the set of "Less Than Zero," I watched Robert Downey, Jr. go by - I thought, yeah, that's all right.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: So can I squeeze in one more film clip before we have to end?
PITT: Yeah. Sure.
GROSS: Great. OK. So this is "Fight Club." This became a real, like, cult favorite. And you star in this with Edward Norton. And he plays somebody who's been traveling on business, meets your character on a plane and comes home to find his house has been destroyed. He calls you up and then you meet in a bar, and then you basically make a strange request to him. You say, hit me. Here's the clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FIGHT CLUB")
EDWARD NORTON: (as The Narrator) What do you want me to do? You just want me to hit you?
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) Come on. Do me this one favor.
NORTON: (as The Narrator) Why?
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) Why? I don't know why. I don't know. I've never been in a fight. Have you?
NORTON: (as The Narrator) No. But that's a good thing.
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) No, it is not. How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight? I don't want to die without any scars. So come on. Hit me, before I lose my nerve.
NORTON: (as The Narrator) God. This is crazy. I...
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) So go crazy. Let 'er rip.
NORTON: (as The Narrator) I don't know about this.
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) I don't either but who gives a (bleep). No one's watching. What do you care?
NORTON: (as The Narrator) This is crazy. You want me to hit you?
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) That's right.
NORTON: (as The Narrator) What, like in the face?
PITT: (as Tyler Durden) Surprise me.
NORTON: (as The Narrator) This is so (bleep) stupid.
GROSS: That's my guest, Brad Pitt, with Edward Norton in a scene from "Fight Club." So the character says how much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight. Have you been in fights? I mean you've had to be in fights for movies. What about real life?
PITT: Not really.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
PITT: Not really. Not for a long time, which I'm grateful to say.
GROSS: But even when you were young, did you?
PITT: Oh, certainly in my younger days. And they were always messy and scrappy and somewhat stupid.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. So did you and Ed Norton end up hurting each other at all during the making of this film?
PITT: No. I don't think so. I mean, we mainly just had a laugh.
GROSS: So how many people walk up to you and say the first rule of fight club is not to talk about fight club?
PITT: Um. No one.
GROSS: It's one of those like famous lines, which I think I just got a couple of words wrong in, but nevertheless.
PITT: Sometimes like I'll get Tyler Durden. Heh, heh, heh, heh.
But nothing much more than that.
GROSS: What do people say when they meet you?
PITT: I'm just afraid, you know, people are doing things to my soup or, you know, at the restaurant or something.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Do you have to worry about that?
PITT: I try not to.
GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.
PITT: Terry, I thank you very much.
BIANCULLI: Brad Pitt, speaking to Terry Gross in 2011. His movie "Moneyball" is now out on DVD. Next week, jazz singer Catherine Russell will be taping a performance and interview with Terry Gross which will broadcast in a couple of weeks. Catherine Russell has a terrific new record called "Strictly Romancin'." Here's a tune from the album.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CATHERINE RUSSELL: (Singing) Hello? Hello? Is this call on 77-711? Hello, John. Is this you? I tried to phone you but I hope you ain't sick. But I'm checking out. Good bye. Nice to have known you. You were my big kick. But I'm checking out. Good-bye. You tried your tricks. You found a new chick. But I was too slick. I meant to know you, you got the gold, (unintelligible).
(Singing) It's too bad our bliss had to miss out like this. I'm checking out. Good bye. Hey, John? Huh? Oh, no, no, no. You breaking up, baby. I tried to phone you. I hope you ain't sick. But I'm checking out. Good-bye. Nice to have known you. You were my big kick. But I'm checking out. Good-bye. You tried no tricks. You found a new chick.
(Singing) But I was so slick. I meant to know you, you got the gold, (unintelligible). It's too bad our bliss had to miss out like this. I'm checking out. Good-bye.
BIANCULLI: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Coriolanus," a new film adaptation of a Shakespearian drama. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.