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PITT, BRAD: Seven Years in Tibet

Heís Hollywoodís Golden Boy, a star up there with the best of them. In his latest film, Seven Years in Tibet, Pitt delivers his most challenging and risky performance to date, but the actor doesnít see it that way. Paul Fischer spoke to him at the recent Toronto Film Festival.

Seven Years in Tibet has been smeared with controversy. To begin with, thereís the claim that the real-life Heinrich Harrar, whose story this is, was an active member of the Nazi Party, a fact somewhat absent from the film. The actor playing him is not concerned. "The point is, in the script it was addressed in the sense that he is representing Germany on this climb that heís on at the beginning, and weíve obviously established this man as egotistical and hubris, doing anything to further his own needs. So I think this element enhances the story in a sense and certainly didnít bother me. I just think that itís what itís about," says Brad Pitt.

Pittís Harrar is an ex-Nazi mountain climber, intensely arrogant, who changes his ways and finds an inner peace through his unexpected friendship with the young Dali Lhama in the midst of Tibet, which he stumbles upon after escaping from a British POW camp at the beginning of World War 2.

On the final day of the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival, the circus came to town in the guise of a still blond and angelic Pitt, in town to promote the film. Pitt conjures up images of manic teenage girls on the rampage. Here, however, at Torontoís sedate Four Seasons Hotel, one had the impression that those who attended this media hurrah, were not so much interested in filing a story, but to glimpse the Messianic blond version of the Pitt we all know.

"Pitt is a Hollywood enigma, a darn nice guy who manages to get away with saying little."

Painfully shy, blonde hair as groomed as it was through every frame of Seven Years in Tibet, Pitt is a Hollywood enigma, a darn nice guy who manages to get away with saying little. But it was his movie he wanted to talk about. It seemed that for Pitt, to play an arrogant Austrian Mountain clumber could be considered a risky career move. Not at all, the actor responds. "I had such a connection with director Jean-Jacques Annaud. I tend to approach acting and different characters in the way he approaches films, meaning that I see it as a different experience going into a different world. Itís as simple as that, really. I didnít see it as risky at all. I donít judge it as a horse race or something that you win or lose. Making films is a lot of work, so in order to invest so much time it must be something that I have a passion for."

Brad Pittís path from Missouri-bred choirboy to movie superstar and pin up boy was cemented with a strong Baptist faith. His father, a trucking company manager, raised Brad and his younger brother and sister to be respectable, churchgoing folk. After graduating from Kickapoo High, Pitt headed off to the University of Missouri, where he majored in advertising and graphic design. Just two weeks and two credits shy of graduating, Pitt crammed all of his earthly belongings in the rattletrap Datsun he called "Runaround Sue," and headed out to Hollywood to become, well, a movie star. He told his parents and friends that he was off to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, because he was afraid to tell them that, in fact, he planned to relegate himself to the status of a table-waiting, limo-driving, chicken-suit-wearing, L.A. clichť - all in the hope that some day he would be famous.

"His appeal proved potent enough to cross some major boundaries."

Luckily, Pittís days spent donning a chicken costume for the fast food eatery, El Pollo Loco and driving strippers to bachelor parties were numbered. With a few acting classes under his belt, he soon landed a recurring role as the hormone-propelled boyfriend of Priscilla Presleyís daughter on Dallas. A subsequent appearance in a terrible slasher flick called Cutting Class may not have done much for his rťsumť, but his role in 1991ís Thelma and Louise, as the horny hitchhiker responsible for Thelmaís (Geena Davis) first orgasm, finally catapulted Pitt into the spotlight. After landing the romantic lead in the epic drama Legends of the Fall, People magazine saw fit to pronounce Pitt as The Sexiest Man Alive. Though he set out to prove all his crass oglers wrong - or at least earn other qualifiers like "good actor" - his appeal proved potent enough to cross some major boundaries.

Pittís handling in the press wasnít all centred around his chiselled features, piercing blue eyes, astounding abdominals, and winning smile. He had begun to command critical respect for his work long before the People curse took hold. His performances as the doomed golden boy in Robert Redfordís A River Runs Through It and as the gloomy, yet golden vampire in Interview With the Vampire were praised for their effective, albeit wooden, potency. Pitt gave another capable, if slightly stilted performance in Seven, as a cop tracking down a serial killer. As usual, he lost his head over his [headless] co-star, golden girl Gwyneth Paltrow, ten years his junior; their romance lasted two-and-a-half years, the last seven months of which they were engaged to be married. Pitt scored his first critical acclaim, not to mention his first Oscar nomination, in the role of a mental patient in Terry Gilliamís 12 Monkeys, and affected a fairly convincing Irish brogue as a charismatic IRA terrorist in 1997ís The Devilís Own.

"If I mess up, he goes down, and if HE messes up, I go down," on mountain climing

Now thereís his turn as Austrian journeyer Heinrich Harrar in Seven Years in Tibet. Despite his latest screen performance getting mixed reviews, that hasnít taken away from Pitt his genuine passion for this film, and in particular, his new found ardour for mountain-climbing. It began as a part of his research with co-star, Britainís David Thewlis. "It was initially just a great way for us to start out. I mean, if youíre at the end of each otherís rope, youíve gotta learn to get along. If I mess up, he goes down, and if HE messes up, I go down, so it was an interesting exercise. But thereís something about the climb itself that has a metaphorical air to it. Itís that feeling of feeling alive when youíre closest to death, as the clichť goes. Thereís no feeling like it in the world." Now, mountain climbing is another of Pittís passions.

"They (Hollywood) only know youíre capable of what youíve done before."

Now in such huge demand, Pitt finds it tough, he says, to locate something that excites him. After all, he doesnít want Hollywood to pigeon-hole him in any way. "They only know youíre capable of what youíve done before. So ultimately, youíre going to have to go after something new that you havenít done before, and people donít perceive it that way." Pitt doesnít look like a man who commands in the neighbourhood of $10 million per film, with his open-neck black shirt and faded jeans, but stardom has many trappings. Pitt will next be seen on the big screen in Meet Joe Black (as Death), which he seems pleased with ("itís looking good", he says with assured brevity) and was to then start shooting Custer Marching to Valhalla (as General George Armstrong Custer), but recently pulled out.

"When I watch some of my films I see it as a scrap book of my life, mostly happier times."

Looking back on his career, he views each film as the experience, not the film itself. "When I watch some of my films I see it as a scrap book of my life, mostly happier times. Most of the time, when Iím on set, very little of that time do we get to actually act, so itís more about the experience, because making movies is, to tell you the truth, not that much fun, but every now and then you have a scene, personally speaking, which you feel tries to transcend something, and you end up surprising yourself. Itís like the mountain climb when youíre getting over a hump, and THATíS when this whole, crazy business is worth it."

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"Making films is a lot of work, so in order to invest so much time it must be something that I have a passion for."


"Luckily, Pittís days spent donning a chicken costume for the fast food eatery, El Pollo Loco and driving strippers to bachelor parties were numbered. "


"Thereís something about the climb itself that has a metaphorical air to it."


On set with director Jean-Jacques Annaud


"Making movies is .. like the mountain climb when youíre getting over a hump, and THATíS when this whole, crazy business is worth it."


"Pitt doesnít look like a man who commands in the neighbourhood of $10 million per film, with his open-neck black shirt & faded jeans, but stardom has many trappings."
(Photo by Judy Kopperman at Toronto Film Festival)


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