WASHINGTON – Brad Pitt leans back and relaxes in a Georgetown hotel chair a mile and a half from the White House, though he’s light-years away from worrying about presidential tweets.
It’s been three days since the 55-year-old actor told a French newspaper that President Donald Trump represented a “much bigger threat” on “more serious issues” than tariffs on the French vineyard Pitt owns with ex-wife Angelina Jolie.
No angry social-media missives have been thrown his way yet, though, and “truthfully, I don't even think about it. It probably says I'm doing something wrong,” says Pitt, brandishing his signature grin.
This mind-set is in line with the overall Tao of Brad: The star of the space adventure “Ad Astra” (in theaters Friday) is self-effacing and thoughtful, kind and cool, philosophical yet also guarded.
In recent years in the public eye, Pitt has navigated a two-year divorce and got sober. He’s also found two of his most memorable characters onscreen: The enigmatic and easygoing 1960s stuntman Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” – which has Pitt in line for his fourth Oscar acting nomination – and stoic, introspective “Ad Astra” astronaut Roy McBride, who blasts off into the cosmos seeking his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones).
“I'm telling you, even someone who's hit the lottery has trouble sleeping sometimes,” Pitt says of his superstar image. “We all have our demons, the things we're wrestling with. We can spend a lifetime pushing them away until we have to deal with them at the very end in a very scary, frightening, ugly way. Or we can start acknowledging those. That's pretty much where I see it now.”
“Ad Astra” (which Pitt produced with his company Plan B Entertainment) has him reflecting on fatherhood, both as a loving son and as a dad of six with Jolie.
“Our fathers leave such an indelible mark on us and that relationship is so, so vital,” Pitt says. “My dad had always said he wanted to give us a better life than he had coming from great poverty, and he did that. That in turn makes me think the same way: What do I have to offer that's better than what I had for my kids?”
Figuring out how he can be a better dad is something that's always "in flux," the actor acknowledges.
"It's a constant moving target," he says.
When Pitt watches himself in movies now, he can see his father’s moves and mannerisms, and “that’s amazing to me because I'm certainly not conscious of it.” It doesn’t bother him, though “when I first found myself reprimanding my kids in a way my parents reprimanded me, that's the time I got freaked out.”
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Pitt's co-star Jones says “there's food for thought" in Roy's lost relationship with his dad and vice versa. He was impressed by Pitt's commitment to the rigors of the role, emotionally and especially physically: "He was very patient and very cool wearing that pressure suit all day. Those things are not comfortable."
As Pitt's “Ad Astra” character goes from Earth to the moon and all the way to Mars and Neptune – and deals with raging monkeys and lunar car chases along the way – there’s a cathartic scene in which the usually reserved Roy cries. And in that moment, Pitt approached it as a son rather than a father. He really didn’t have to dig that far to mine his own feelings: “You can say the word ‘Dad’ and I'm moved,” he explains, touching his heart.
Pitt sees a thematic connection between his two current characters, mainly that “you’ve got to go through the Roy experience to get to the place of ease of Cliff,” he says.
Portraying heroes like these (Roy tries to save the world and Cliff inadvertently prevents an infamous tragedy) has been on Pitt’s mind more as he grows older: “What am I representing to my kids? What could speak or mean something to them? Sure, I am more conscious of that in a way. (But) I don't choose with any grand design. I don't choose something till I finish the last one because you never know where you're at when you come out the other end. And it's always by feeling. What's interesting now, at this moment.”
Pitt looks back on his career and one "turning point" that proved to him early he could play such complex personalities was David Fincher's 1995 mystery thriller “Seven.” “Although I would go on to lose it many times, I had my direction,” Pitt says.
The 1990s gave rise to Pitt and peers like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio as Hollywood supernovas, though more recently, Instagram influencers, YouTubers and others on the Internet with millions of followers have widened the celebrity gamut. When asked whether the “movie star” is a dying breed, Pitt has to ponder.
“I did hear someone describe us as like '80s supermodels,” he says, chuckling. “What we're seeing with the streaming services is this great influx of talent – acting, writing, directing – and that talent's been there all along. So the opportunities are greater and as a result of that, more people are pushing the boundaries again.
“Because there is so much material and so much talent out there, how does someone rise above that? Ours was more like a lottery ticket in some ways that paid off.”
Netflix is on Pitt’s mind a lot lately, especially with one of his production efforts, “The King” (in select theaters Oct. 11, streaming Nov. 1), starring Timothee Chalamet, arriving right in time for awards season. “Ad Astra” director James Gray reports that Pitt is as devoted a filmmaker as he is an actor: During post-production on their space movie, “I’d get emails at 2 o'clock in the morning with, ‘Hey, what about this piece of voice-over here? Would this be cool?’ ”
Pitt might have been up anyway since he’s an admitted binge-watcher: The latest in his Netflix queue is “Mindhunter" Season 2. “That’s great,” says Pitt, who also has definite thoughts on “Netflix-cheating” as a concept. “See, this is the problem with (couple) viewing. It’s something you’ve got to say, ‘Honey, you're just going to have to catch up because I can't wait.'”
When he’s not in deep collaborating with others on a film, Pitt prefers to be outside on a bike ride or engaging in “artistic endeavors that are just all on me.” Not on his to-list is joining Twitter, where he’d probably have 5 gazillion followers instantly and also be a target for trolls. “I’m a dinosaur, man. I missed that one,” he says, smiling.
Most of all these days, like his spaceman, Pitt's learning to let go of things and discover new perspective – what he describes as a "constant quest" to appreciate the bad as well as the good – in middle age.
“I'm so much a believer in acceptance or striving for acceptance,” Pitt says. “I'm big on the stoic philosophers – it's amazing to me how little we've learned in 2,000 years. We're making all the same mistakes over and over again. It seems cyclical in that way.
“It's a truism that we can't control anything but our state of mind. I think that's how the T-shirt goes but I believe it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brad Pitt contemplates Trump tweets, 'Ad Astra' and fighting 'demons'