Friday, November 23, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Brad Pitt, hounded for years by celebrity-chasing photographers, can’t escape his star status in real life. He tries to on film, though, forgoing leading-man roles to subsume himself in ensemble pieces such as “Snatch” or to play subordinate roles in films such as “12 Monkeys” and “Interview With the Vampire.”

After a couple years of burying himself in what he calls “more obscure and subversive things” “Fight Club,” “Snatch” and “The Mexican” Mr. Pitt chose more commercial and accessible projects.

He co-stars with Robert Redford in the espionage thriller “Spy Game” and plays one of the marquee-name cogs in the casino-heist remake “Ocean’s Eleven,” featuring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia. He also had a guest spot last night opposite wife Jennifer Aniston on “Friends” (playing a high school enemy of Miss Aniston’s character).

“You could call it shameless self-promotion in conjunction with a film release, and that’s part of it,” Mr. Pitt says, referring to the TV episode, which aired a day after “Spy Game” opened. “On the other hand, it is working with my wife, which I wanted to do, and working on this show that has this incredible ability just to make you happy.”

Mr. Pitt, 37, spoke over a burger, fries and a couple of cigarettes after requesting this interview to respond to fallout from recent comments he made in print.

In its December issue, Vanity Fair ran a cover story on Mr. Pitt in which he discussed going into therapy off and on for a year and a half. Misreading his quotes, some TV and online outlets reported that Mr. Pitt admitted to having had a nervous breakdown. Vanity Fair issued a news release stating that Mr. Pitt did not have a breakdown and that news organizations had misinterpreted his statements.

Such misinterpretations are “reckless journalism,” says Mr. Pitt, who studied journalism in college. “I know it’s a competitive market and everyone wants the scoop, but to me it’s a dangerous road we’re going down. I don’t see a bull’s-eye on my back. But it’s OK for me. I’ll be the fruit loop of the month, if you want me to. I don’t mind, really.”

For the record, Mr. Pitt says he did not have a nervous breakdown. He intended his comments as a positive discussion about how he benefited from therapy.

“Nothing more than taking a class on yourself, a semester. It doesn’t mean you have to be in some psychological peril or have these problems from childhood that are dictating your life,” Mr. Pitt says. “I found it actually a very positive experience, and I chose to talk about it because I believe if everyone did it, we’d have very few conflicts. I certainly don’t think we’d be at war right now if everyone had a couple of semesters on themselves.

“I found it as something very exciting, a redirection of understanding,” Mr. Pitt says. “The other issue is this: As I begin a family, as my wife and I begin a family, I don’t want to pass on any dysfunctions, no matter how minor or innocuous they might be. I don’t want to pass that disease on to my kids. I want to get as clean as I can for them.”

That begs a side trip to another false news report from last summer, that Mr. Pitt and Miss Aniston, who married in July 2000, were expecting a baby. Mr. Pitt says they plan to have children, but that is down the road.

“I don’t know how near that is and won’t know anytime soon,” he says. “I don’t want to go there till I’m absolutely ready to put them first. On the other hand, I keep saying anything that will take the focus off myself, I’m all for.”

Mr. Pitt was referring to the media microscope he has been under since he shot to stardom with a supporting role in “Thelma & Louise,” which he followed with one of the leads in “A River Runs Through It,” directed by Mr. Redford.

His past romances and breakups, notably with Gwyneth Paltrow, have been steady tabloid fodder, and reporters and photographers staked out the site of Mr. Pitt and Miss Aniston’s wedding for days.

Mr. Pitt says he found it creepy when camera-toting paparazzi first began chasing him. He has learned to accept the photographers as part of his daily routine, he insists.

“It’s just become another fixture in the life,” Mr. Pitt says. “My day starts out, I have my coffee, kiss my wife goodbye, hop in the car, head down the hill. Then I look out for the guys; I know where they park, where they’re watching.

“Sometimes, I don’t catch them till I’m down on Sunset somewhere. I see them in the rearview mirror, always minus their license plate in front.

“They follow; they’re all on cell phones. There’s usually a team of three different vans or SUVs, tinted windows. The MO’s pretty cardboard-cutout, really.

“It’s this game most of the time. It’s just waving and like, ‘Come on, boys.’ That kind of thing, driving across town.

“Let me say, I’ve got a fantastic life,” Mr. Pitt says. “I’ve never enjoyed it more than these last few years. I want that clear. It’s not difficult to take millions of dollars and get to work with interesting people.”

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