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Perfectly Imperfect - Brad Pitt


Brad Pitt isn’t a perfect human being, but he has played one...

The leading man’s attempt to shed his pretty-boy image has been a career-long effort

Brad Pitt isn’t a perfect human being, but he has played one on screen. Several, actually. Defined as a sex symbol by one of his earliest roles, 1991’s Thelma & Louise, the young Pitt was saddled with that monosyllabic moniker dreaded by serious actors (or actors who aspire to be serious): he was labelled a hunk — destined to have shirtless, six-pack-baring scenes written into his contracts for the foreseeable future. It’s an image he has been trying to dodge ever since.

 he’d proved himself as a star with substance (and, yes, abs)

Thelma & Louise was nominated for six Oscars (it ended up winning for Best Screenplay), and while Pitt’s part went unrecognized by the Academy, the film opened doors for him. After a run of guest-starring stints on TV, he was getting movie offers. The next year, his turn in director Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It had critics claiming he’d proved himself as a star with substance (and, yes, abs). 

Still, the pretty-boy label stuck and the wardrobe department’s workload continued to be lightened by studios determined to lure audiences by putting Pitt’s pecs in their trailers (see: Legends of the Fall). Promoting David Fincher’s 1995 psychological thriller Seven, he told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was aiming to abandon “this ‘pretty boy’ thing … and play someone with flaws.” Cast in Seven as a wet-behind-the-ears detective newly arrived in the big city, Pitt, still green himself, held his own opposite venerable actors Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey.

Heavy lifting and dark roles aside, 1995 was the same year People cheerfully picked Pitt as the magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. He “won” the title for a second time in 2000, a year after re-teaming with Fincher for Fight Club — a part for which he made the decidedly anti-pretty-boy move of having chunks of his two front teeth chipped away (and 14 years before his Fury co-star Shia LaBeouf had a tooth yanked for his art). 

Yet, over time, and due in part to his work off-screen, Pitt has been successful in shrugging off his former heartthrob image and recasting himself as a shrewd Hollywood player. He produced the weighty critical hits Selma, 12 Years a Slave, and The Tree of Life. He’s a vocal supporter of causes like stem-cell research, combatting AIDS in the developing world, marriage equality, and environmental sustainability. He campaigned for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. He has funded recovery efforts in Haiti and missions by Doctors Without Borders — not insignificant stuff. Onscreen, he’s a star sought after by Hollywood’s most celebrated directors: Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, the Coen brothers, and Fincher among them. “I’m actually very snobbish about directors,” Pitt admitted in an interview with GQ in November. “I have to say no all the time. No is the most powerful word in our business. You’ve got to protect yourself. … To leave home, it’s got to be worth leaving.”

For Fury, Pitt’s most recent release, he was away from wife Angelina Jolie and their six children on and off for nearly half a year. Director David Ayer put his actors through four months of gruelling preparation, including one week at a boot camp run by the U.S. Navy Seals and a stint living inside the Second World War era tank featured in the film. A month of rehearsals and six weeks of shooting followed. There were emotional breakdowns and physical fights on set, instigated and encouraged by Ayer. During one scene, a stuntman was accidentally bayoneted in the shoulder.

But the result, Pitt says, was worth the pain. “We want to be pushed to the places we haven’t been,” he told Radio Times last fall. “You want to keep things loose and you want to get some punches thrown at you so you can throw some punches back. You want to be on your toes and you want that feeling that anything can happen, and we lived that daily.”

For that kind of experience, Pitt is happy to say yes.

Corrina Allen writes for