Who Is Brad Pitt?
Actor and producer Brad Pitt made his big-screen debut in the 1989 horror film Cutting Class and his role in 1994’s Legends of the Fall helped secured his place as a Hollywood staple. A two-time winner of People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” title, Pitt also proved willing to take on grittier roles for features like Seven (1995) and Fight Club (1999). He began earning more serious award consideration for performances in Babel (2006), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Moneyball (2011), winning his first Oscar in the best picture category as a producer for 12 Years a Slave (2013). Along with later works like The Big Short (2015) and Allied (2016), Pitt is known for his high-profile relationships with actresses Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie.
Pitt was born William Bradley Pitt on December 18, 1963, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the eldest of three children in a devoutly Southern Baptist family, and grew up in Springfield, Missouri. His father, Bill Pitt, owned a trucking company, and his mother, Jane Pitt, was a family counselor. Pitt originally aspired to be an advertising art director, studying journalism at the University of Missouri.
However, the young college student had other, quiet aspirations that were the product of a childhood love of movies. His dreams finally seemed tangible his last semester at university when he realized, “I can leave.” On a whim, Pitt dropped out of college, packed up his Datsun and headed west to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, just two credits shy of a college degree.
Pitt told his parents he intended to enroll in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena but instead spent the next several months driving a limousine — chauffeuring strippers from one bachelor party to the next, delivering refrigerators and trying to break into the L.A. acting scene. He joined an acting class and, shortly after, accompanied a classmate as her scene partner on an audition with an agent. In a twist of fate, the agent signed Pitt instead of his classmate. After weathering only seven months in Los Angeles, Pitt had secured an agent and regular acting work.
Pretty Boy Roles
Pitt’s first jobs came in television, appearing in episodes of Dallas, the daytime soap Another World, the sitcom Growing Pains and in 1990’s short-lived Fox Television series Glory Days. In 1989, Pitt played Billy Canton, the drug-addicted pimp of a teenage runaway (played by Juliette Lewis) in the NBC made-for-television movie Too Young to Die. Pitt and Lewis (nine years his junior, at age 16) started dating and eventually moved in together.
Pitt made his big-screen debut in 1989’s horror/slasher film Cutting Class with Donovan Leitch, and played a teen track star in Sandy Tung’s Across the Tracks, but it was a well-timed bit part in a controversial Hollywood film that pushed him into the glare of instant stardom. Pitt’s performance as a renegade, sugar-tongued hitchhiker who gets picked up by the two title characters in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991) grabbed universal attention despite only a few minutes’ worth of screen time. Pitt’s combination of charming bad boy charisma and sensual playfulness — particularly in a fiery love scene with Geena Davis—made him a genuine sex symbol (and wore out the rewind button on many a VCR).
Pitt’s next few films failed to boost his acting credibility and establish him as more than just a pretty face in Hollywood. He appeared in The Favor (1992) with Elizabeth McGovern, Tom CiCillo’s directorial debut Johnny Suede (1992) and the unconvincing, half-animated Cool World (1992).
More Serious Fare
However, later that year, the Hollywood sunshine set the golden boy alight once more in Robert Redford’s 1992 film A River Runs Through It, based on Norman McLean’s autobiography. Pitt played the main character’s gambling, fly-fishing brother (looking remarkably like a younger version of the director). Redford later admitted that he did not choose Pitt on the strength of his audition, rather, because “[he] had an inner conflict that was very interesting to me.” Pitt delivered a sparkling performance, skillfully depicting the character’s dangerous footing between overwhelming charm and reckless self-destructiveness.
In 1993, Pitt re-teamed with three-year girlfriend Lewis in Dominic Sela’s Kalifornia. Pitt played Early Grayce, a man who goes on a cross-country killing spree with his girlfriend. The film was deemed self-indulgently violent and nihilistic by many reviewers and did not do well in the box office. Pitt and Lewis broke up soon after filming, creating a publicity disaster.
Pitt proceeded to lighten his repertoire with a comedic performance as “Floyd,” a burnt-out hippie in Tony Scott’s True Romance, but his next major role came in the adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, alongside Tom Cruise. Rice initially expressed outrage at the casting choices, finding the two boyish, all-American film stars too rough for the homoerotic overtones of the tale. “It’s like casting Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer,” she reportedly complained.
However, after seeing the final film, Rice retracted her initial statements and filmed a short spot for the video version, endorsing the film. Caryn James of The New York Times reported, “the power of the film depends on Mr. Pitt’s rich and deeply affecting performance. Low-key and serene, he makes Louis convincing as a bereaved father, lover, even son.”
Pitt’s next few efforts secured his place as a Hollywood staple; still, many critics found his roles lacking in dimension. In 1994’s Legends of the Fall, an epic family melodrama, Pitt played Tristan, a stereotypical romantic hero with long, golden locks and a penchant for alternately selfish and self-sacrificing gestures. However, Pitt abruptly took a gritty turn as a detective on the trail of a serial killer in David Fincher’s disturbing and gory thriller, Seven.
During filming, Pitt met and began dating his then relatively unknown co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow. Both claimed it was “love at first sight.” The two stayed together for two and a half years and were one of Hollywood’s most admired and celebrated couples. Then, in 1997, after a seven-month engagement, the couple split for unknown reasons.
In 1995, Pitt starred as a mental patient in Terry Gilliam’s psychological thriller Twelve Monkeys, winning a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for his performance and earning his first Oscar nod. He followed with another dark thriller, Sleepers (1996), and Alan J. Pakula’s Devil’s Own with Harrison Ford, before heading to Argentina to film Seven Years in Tibet, an ambitious $70 million project that was met with mixed reviews. His next film, the three-hour Meet Joe Black, co-starring Anthony Hopkins, found Pitt playing a very comely version of death and did not inspire high praise.
In 1999, after a brief hiatus from the Hollywood hot list, Pitt re-teamed with Seven director Fincher to make Fight Club. The apocalyptic film, also starring Edward Norton, presents an unglamorous Pitt in a disturbing role as leader of “fight club,” a bloody diversion for young professional males. Next up for Pitt was the British crime-caper Snatch (2000), co-starring Benicio Del Toro and directed by Guy Ritchie.
The following year, Pitt starred with Julia Roberts in the romantic comedy The Mexican, teamed with Redford again in the thriller Spy Game and joined an A-list ensemble cast, including Roberts, George Clooney and Matt Damon, in Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Rat Pack heist caper Ocean’s Eleven. Then in 2004, Pitt starred as the Greek hero Achilles in the Warner Bros. blockbuster epic Troy. That same year the actor was featured in Ocean’s Twelve.
In 2005, Pitt starred opposite Angelina Jolie in the blockbuster action flick Mr. And Mrs. Smith. Showcasing a married pair who are both secretly working as spies, the movie earned more than $478 million worldwide, with the two actors eventually becoming a real-life couple.
Pitt’s next film, the critically acclaimed Babel (2006), earned the actor another Golden Globe nomination. The actor moved on to less serious fare in the reprisal of his role as Rusty Ryan in Ocean’s Thirteen (2007). In 2008, Pitt teamed up with Joel and Ethan Coen to star in the FBI comedic thriller Burn After Reading. The film earned two Golden Globe nominations and grossed more than $60 million at the box office.
Pitt took on a more fantastic lead role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this Fincher-directed movie, Pitt plays the title character, who is born as a 70-year-old man and ages in reverse. Pitt received another Oscar nod for the film, which won three Academy Awards.
In 2009, Pitt starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and, in 2011, starred with Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He was also the lead player in Moneyball, a baseball dramedy that follows the travails of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his quest to reshape his team. The film earned six Oscar nominations, including nods for Pitt as both lead actor and producer in the best picture category.
In 2013, Pitt won acclaim for his performance as Gerry Lane in the zombie-apocalyptic thriller World War Z (2013), directed by Marc Forster, and later that year appeared as a supporting character in The Counselor. He also received raves for his work on 12 Years a Slave. The film, directed by Steve McQueen, tells the true story of free African-American musician Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Pitt plays a Canadian carpenter who greatly aids Northup, with a cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender and Quvenzhané Wallis.
For his work as a producer on the film, Pitt earned his fifth Academy Award nomination, receiving his second nod in the best picture category. He won the award in 2014 — marking his first Oscar win — sharing it with McQueen, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Anthony Katagas.
That year also saw Pitt starring as an army sergeant in the WWII action drama Fury. Then in 2015, Pitt co-starred with wife Jolie in the art house outing By the Sea, which she wrote and directed. He also appeared in The Big Short, a film which focuses on the housing market bubble that fueled the 2008 financial collapse and a group of men who’d predicted the turmoil to come. Based on the nonfiction bestseller by Michael Lewis, the project earned a slew of award nominations.
Pitt followed by starring in the WWII romantic thriller Allied (2016), with Marion Cotillard, and the satirical War Machine (2017), as a character based on former U.S. General Stanley McChrystal. In 2019, after teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he headlined the sci-fi adventure Ad Astra.
A two-time winner of People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” title (1995 and 2000), Pitt began dating Jennifer Aniston, star of the TV sitcom Friends, in 1998. Pitt and Aniston married on July 29, 2000, in Malibu, California. The couple announced their separation in January 2005, divorcing in October of that year.
Soon after their separation, Brad Pitt began dating Angelina Jolie, with the actress later revealing that the two developed feelings for each other on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In May 2006, the couple had a baby girl, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt. In July 2008, Pitt and Jolie had twins: a boy, Knox Leon, and a girl, Vivienne Marcheline. They also have three adopted children: Maddox, Pax Thien and Zahara.
The couple became engaged in 2012 and tied the knot in a private ceremony on August 23, 2014, in France. However, Jolie filed for divorce in September 2016, requesting sole physical custody of their six children.
The drama surrounding their contentious split played out the media, with Jolie in June 2018 reported to be in danger of losing custody due to her insistence on keeping the children from seeing their father. In August, Jolie filed court documents that claimed her estranged husband had “paid no meaningful child support since separation.” Pitt’s legal team followed with their own filing in which they asserted that the actor had paid more than $1.3 million in bills for the family and helped his wife buy her current home through an $8 million loan.
The actor faced more legal problems that month when an attorney announced plans to sue Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation on behalf of residents of an area of New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The foundation built more than 100 “green” houses in 2008, and allegedly promised to return to make necessary fixes. The lawyer claimed his clients endured infrastructural issues and illnesses at their homes.