To be Brad Pitt is to know the bowels of hotels: the hidden mazes of back entrances, subterranean passages and service elevators daily trudged by housekeepers and room service waiters—and sometimes traveled by a VIP guest who needs secret conveyance to his suite. Thirty minutes before Pitt is scheduled to arrive at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on a Friday afternoon in December, his private security detail is scouting a route through the basement and issuing brisk instructions to hotel staff. In an earlier era, the mood of tense anticipation would have suggested the arrival of a political candidate, or perhaps a kingpin in illicit commodities, but today’s advance preparations are just for a 45-year-old actor, albeit one whose fame calls for an impervious security bubble to thwart overeager fans and aggressive photographers. Intensifying the situation is the fact that, a few days earlier, Pitt said on television that he “hates” the paparazzi—an arguably gratuitous comment, since, who didn’t already know that? “Now,” he announces when he blows through the door of the 12th-floor suite, motorcycle helmet in hand and aviator glasses still on his face, “they’re out for me.”
Pitt flashes the half-cocked grin he has deployed playing good-natured bad boys since 1991’s Thelma & Louise, shucks off his leather motorcycle jacket to reveal a gray cashmere V-neck sweater and quickly walks the perimeter of the suite, glancing into the kitchen and bedroom and pausing briefly at each window to assess the scene below on Hollywood Boulevard. This isn’t the display of anxiety by a hunted man, though. It’s more like the adrenaline of a high-stakes player who knows he’s ahead in the game.
Before settling in to discuss The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—his new film about a man who, thanks to the magic of Hollywood makeup and computer-generated effects, ages backward—Pitt orders a large pot of coffee (“I’m in the penthouse, I think,” he tells the room service operator). When it arrives, he pours himself a cup and is ready to talk. In a jocular mood, Pitt says that while Benjamin Button has been on the “periphery” of his attention for almost a decade, he hesitated to commit for years in part because the role required latex jowls and bald caps. “I had sworn off all prosthetics—really,” he says with a laugh, joking that earlier experiences with glue-on beards (think Legends of the Fall) taught him to insert a “quality of life” clause banning elaborate makeup into his contract. “Life is too short.”
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, Pitt proves to be unfailingly gracious, good-humored and game for all questions, including those about his life with Angelina Jolie and their brood of six, whom he refers to as “this cuckoo’s nest that we got going on over there.” He even responds to the latest installment of the Brad-Jen-Angelina saga. In November Jennifer Aniston told a journalist that an earlier comment from Jolie—that she and Pitt fell in love on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and so the film “might mean something more than we’d earlier allowed ourselves to believe”—was “uncool,” because Aniston and Pitt were still married during filming. “Listen, man, Jen is a sweetheart,” Pitt says, as if to settle this thing once and for all. “I think she got dragged into that one, and then there’s a second round to all of that Angie versus Jen. It’s so created.” Of his current relationship with Aniston, he says, “We still check in with each other. She was a big part of my life, and me hers. I don’t see how there cannot be [that]. That’s life, man. That’s life.”