PARADE: Did you play baseball as a kid growing up in Springfield, Mo.?
I played basketball more than baseball. And we had football games in the backyard or in the field behind our house. My relationship with baseball was having a pop fly at high noon in center field bounce off my cheekbone, in upper elementary school. And I still threw the guy out at second. The guy said, “Oh, you’re bleeding.” I got 18 stitches, and my mom was crying. That’s the scar. [He touches a small mark above his left cheek.]
Do you like the game?
You cannot deny the romance of baseball. It’s calming and relaxing, and then suddenly it breaks open and there’s great drama in it.
Is there a team that you follow?
The Oakland A’s, of course! I’ve got a soft spot for them now. They’re still a small-market team, and I like that. You know, my dad used to complain that [the owners] priced the working man out of buying a ticket, so he stopped watching the game.
Tell me about your father.
My dad worked five and a half, six days a week [as a trucking company executive], and then he would take us fishing. He’d do that all weekend, then start work again. I have immense appreciation for that now that I’m a parent, knowing what you have to do to carve out time for your kids. I know how taxing that was on him.
What did you learn from him?
One of the things was the importance of enjoying what you do. I played tennis in high school. I was in this tournament and I was at my all-time McEnroe best—throwing my racket and saying words that were not acceptable. Then I saw my dad stand up and walk down to the court. He got right up to me and said, “Are you having fun?” I said, “No.” And he said, “Then don’t do it.” He very calmly turned around and walked back to his seat. In that moment, all the pressure on me evaporated. I finished the game—I got crushed, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t play tennis again for maybe a good year.
So finding something you love to do has been a big guideline for me. I think it gave me the impetus to move out to California in a beat-up Datsun with a couple hundred dollars in my pocket. It’s been the impetus to seek out projects that are important to me, and it’s what I want for my kids.
You have six children. How do you and Angelina find time to help refugees and other victims all over the world?
The same way that you carve out time with your kids. At the moment, we’re in a particularly grinding schedule. You see things popping up all over the world that need attention. There’s drought in East Africa, and Angie’s getting called for that or for something else, because she’s proven that she’s committed. She’s made real change. And her response is, how can I not make time for that? For her it’s very, very clear.
Why do you do it?
I’ll tell you why: I hit the lottery—the whole cliché of moving to Hollywood and getting paid silly amounts of money. I’ve traveled the world and seen mothers and babies dying because they don’t have a 30-cent treatment that is available in industrialized nations. I feel like I have to share whatever I can. You’re culpable if you don’t act.
You know, we bitch about raising taxes. I think the argument is that it’s my money, I earned it, why do I have to pay for other people? I get very frustrated with that argument. I don’t mind paying taxes. I live in a country that gave me the opportunity to make money, and most people on this planet do not have that.
You and Angelina have three foreign-born adopted children [Maddox, 10, from Cambodia; Zahara, 6, from Ethiopia; and Pax, 7, from Vietnam]. Why not adopt American kids who need a home?
I can’t place the importance of one child over that of any other. I have seen children suffer far beyond what we experience in America—like our oldest daughter [Zahara]. I know she would not be alive [if she hadn’t been adopted]. I know what care was available to her, and it was nil. I cannot imagine life without her.
I guess I just don’t see America as separate from Vietnam or Ethiopia. We’ve got to start looking at things differently. This mentality of “Our team’s better than yours”—it’s a high school idea. Why do we need that in order to feel better? My kids don’t see those dividing lines, and I don’t want to either.
Then how do you decide who to help?
I believe in the kismet of the run-in. You run into something, you make a connection, and you have to answer it. You can’t help everyone, but I can help these people. Angie taught me that.
How have your kids changed you? [The couple also have three biological children—Shiloh, 5, and 3-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox.]
Oh, listen, I’ll just tell you—I’ve never felt more enriched. I’ve learned so much about myself through them. I’ve become a better person because of them. They are so sharp.
Was it difficult learning how to be a parent?
I was surprised at how automatic it is, how much of it is instinctual. And now I have a great confidence and trust in those instincts. I mean, one sound at night and you’re awake and up because they may need you. Or when they start to have a tantrum, you know to divert them from spinning out by helping them focus on something. It just goes on and on. I tell them, “You can make a mess, but you’ve got to clean it up.”
How is Angelina as a mother?
One of the greatest, smartest things I ever did was give my kids Angie as their mom. She’s such a great mom. Oh, man, I’m so happy to have her. With a partner like Angie, I know that when I’m working, the kids are happy, safe, and prospering. And when Angie’s working, she knows she has the same.
Who disciplines them?
We both do that, if they’re not being respectful.
In your younger days, you were not known for charitable work or, frankly, seen as much of a family man. Was there an event that changed how you saw yourself in the world?
I spent the ’90s trying to hide out, trying to duck the full celebrity cacophony. It wigged me out a bit. I started to get sick of myself sitting on a couch, holding a joint, hiding out. It started feeling pathetic. It became very clear to me that I was so intent on trying to find a movie about an interesting life, but I wasn’t living an interesting life myself. I think that my marriage [to actress Jennifer Aniston] had something to do with it. Trying to pretend the marriage was something that it wasn’t.
He did not attack Jen..... He placed the blame on himself for feeling pathetic. Stop hating.
What about the celebrity cacophony today? You and Angelina have been subject to fabrications about your personal lives.
I mean, how many stories have you read that aren’t true, stories about me and Angie being married or fighting or splitting up? And when we don’t split up, there’s a whole new round that we’ve made up and we’re back together again! We’ll get married when everyone can. We’re not splitting up. And we don’t have a seventh child yet.
How will you protect your children from the pitfalls of celebrity?
I don’t have the answer for that. I think as we get older, we’ll get less interesting to the tabloids. I’m not worried about it yet.
With all the traveling, what do you do about the kids’ education? You’ve said you’ve been using the curriculum of the Lycée Français. …
Right, and now we’re moving more into our own home schooling. We have social things for them during the week with other kids, and they have their friends. If we’re gone for a long time, we’ll fly their friends out so they can be together. [The family’s principal home is in L.A., but Pitt says they would like to spend more time in Europe.]
Our kids can get through the normal school day—what took me eight hours in a public school—as well as homework in four hours or so in home school. It allows extra time to develop their other interests—music, sports.
Let me turn to acting. Why do you play so many different kinds of roles?
It’s an opportunity to surprise people, and I’m good at surprises. The minute you categorize or pigeonhole me, you’re wrong. I’m already two moves ahead.
Why not really surprise people and enter politics? You’re already involved in advocacy.
I have no desire to be in politics because I want to live free, and I don’t know how you can do that as a politician. It wouldn’t be good for me, and I wouldn’t be good for it. For one thing, I would be making Bushisms, like, every third day. [He laughs.] One malapropism after another.
What work appeals to you, outside of acting?
Building is what I’d be best at, and I should be doing it. [Pitt and his Make It Right foundation are constructing new, green houses for hurricane victims in New Orleans.] Not that I would be at the level of my architect heroes, but that’s what I’m trying to get into. I’ll build houses, anything. I actually have some partners, and we’ve done many architectural designs, conceptuals, really interesting stuff. I’ve got hundreds of furniture designs that I have full-scale models for.
What attracts you to architecture and design?
I speak best in shapes. It’s my best vocabulary. Much better than English.
Are you a happy man?
I put much more emphasis on being a satisfied man. Happiness is overrated. There has to be conflict in life. You get to a plateau, and you’re spurred on to the next plateau, the next direction, the next season.
I’m satisfied with making true choices and finding the woman I love, Angie, and building a family that I love so much. A family is a risky venture, because the greater the love, the greater the loss. You’re putting yourself on the line. That’s the risk we take. That’s the trade-off. But I’ll take it all.
ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
“Can you believe that we’re still fighting for equality in America? To be against marriage for everyone is utter discrimination. I feel strongly about that because if equality of marriage doesn’t happen now, the next generation will have to deal with it.
“It is an amazing thing that New York has finally gotten same-sex marriage. But the real problem is that the federal government hides behind states on this issue. It is blatant, ugly bigotry, and the federal government shouldn’t be doing that. You’re denying some Americans the right that all Americans have, to live their lives as they choose.
“What are you so afraid of? That’s my question. Gay people getting married? What is so scary about that? It’s complicated. You grow up in a religion like that and you try to pray the gay away. I feel sadness for people like that. This is where people start short-circuiting—instead of being brave and questioning their beliefs, they are afraid and feel that they have to defend them.
“I don’t mind a world with religion in it. There are some beautiful tenets within all religions. What I get hot about is when they start dictating how other people must live. People suffer because of it. They are spreading misery.
“My family is all devout Christians. Yes, absolutely. We don’t see eye to eye on this one, yet at the end of the day we love each other, we’re still family."
"I grew up Baptist, and then the family switched over to more of an evangelical movement, probably right around the time I was in late high school. There’s a point where you’re un-tethered from the beliefs of your childhood. That point came for me when it was finally clear my religion didn’t work for me. I had questions about Christianity that I could not get answered to my satisfaction, questions that I’d been asking since I was in kindergarten. I realized it didn’t feel right to me, that one question just led to another. It was like going down a rabbit hole, each answer provoking another question. There were things I didn’t agree with.
“My religion was telling me what not to do—what not to even think about doing. Those are the things I would try, because that was my nature. I had to experience things to know what would work for me—say, something as simple as premarital sex. I can figure out what works or doesn’t work. I will know. You say that something is wrong for me to do? Well, I know it’s not wrong because I just did it. Then you say something else is also wrong? Yeah, I did that too, and you’re right, it is wrong for me. But it wasn’t wrong just because you told me it was.”
ON ADOPTING CHILDREN
“When Angie and I first met, we came together quite quickly and we decided we were adopting. Now the rules are that because we are not married, I can’t adopt. Angie adopts. We decided we were adopting a daughter. We were going to do it right out of the gate. We were not going to mess around. Angie said, 'No shopping [for kids].' I thought that was astute and beautifully put. It took the pressure off of adoption and brought a magic to it. We had set our parameters—we had room in our family if anyone needed a home. We got the call, and that’s our eldest daughter, Zahara.
“You get an attachment to people and places that you see. If you see suffering when you’re there, then you’ve made a connection to those people and you have to act on it. Once you have an understanding of it then you have to try to help. I say to people, go travel the world. Open your eyes. See it."
ON NATURE VERSES NUTURE
"If you ask me about nature versus nurture, I’m going to say it is 80 percent nature, absolutely. You see [a child’s character] six, maybe nine months in. Now, some of our kids need more nurturing than others. Some have more delicacy. They’re all just unique individuals."
ON LEARNING FRENCH
“All our kids are speaking French, so now we have that second language infused into our home. Everyone is learning another language. I’ve got the Rosetta Stone for French sitting right on the table in the bedroom, and it’s going to be loaded into my brain. I know there are certain synapses in my brain that just freeze dead at French, but I have to learn it because our kids are speaking it. [Laughs] Even the twins as babies were saying certain things in French.”
“I don’t read about Angie or me in the press. I don’t see anything. I really don’t want to know. I don’t think the generation [of celebrities] preceding me had it as bad as I did. And I think the generation after me has it worse than that. I’m talking about the tabloid press.
"In the ’90s it really shook me up. I couldn’t believe that people would just make up stories. I would never think to do that. I mean, I went to journalism school. And there’s a code of ethics to journalism. It’s about being unbiased and not sensationalist and speculative. Now there’s a cult of speculation. 'A close source says…'
"The thing that really amazed me was when someone would describe why I did something, or what I was feeling. I used to go mental over it and try to fight it. But it was a futile battle, so I just gave up on it."
ON HIS FILM ROLES
"I try not to play the same role twice. I’m not the guy that can make and sell a brand. I’m capable at most things and great at nothing. I’ve only repeated two roles. It was when I thought there was something I didn’t crack the first time and wanted to crack it."
ON MAKING MOVIES
“The first version of a script is always the most organic. Then too many voices get involved in the process and start trying to hone it and shape it into what they think a movie should be and what an audience wants. Suddenly the movie loses its actual reason for being made. It happens time and time again. When I did Legends of the Fall, I was always quite at odds with the romance in the movie, but that’s the way the film went. Then, after the movie was shot, the scene I loved the most was taken out of the film. They told me the reason was that, in market testing, the audience disliked it. This is when I first became hip to marketing tests. I said, 'Show me.' It was the second most-disliked scene. But it was also the most-liked scene. My argument then—and it would still stand today—is that what you get from testing people is a visceral reaction, good or bad. You’re asking them if they dislike it, when maybe it’s that they’re uncomfortable with it. And that’s a good thing.
"There is an underestimation of an audience’s capacity to deal with difficult material. There are very few [film] people who really understand story. And those are the people I try to work with."
ON REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS
"In New Orleans, after Katrina, I saw a solution. My frustration is that we’ve been able to help so little. What we have done in building homes has been really successful and will be so for 150 families. We have about 90 now that are completed or in process. There are still thousands of people more, struggling. Why has it taken so long to repair the city after Katrina? I really don’t get it.
"Why does low income housing have to be built with shoddy, toxic materials? Why put another burden on families that have already suffered, on people trying to make ends meet, facing doctor bills? Why hand them home repair bills and huge electric and water bills that are unnecessary? Why, when you can build solid, energy-efficient, low-income housing properly, using new technology? I got involved because that’s where I felt we should be going. New technology isn’t just for the rich.
"What we’re building has changed the game, it’s revolutionary. It shows that there’s no excuse for building the old way. Dollar for dollar, per square foot, what we’ve built works. People in our new housing, who were used to dealing with $300 electric bills, are now paying $30, sometimes nothing. We’ve had a few months this summer where every house but two had something like a $7 electric bill, and that was for processing fees.
"You build it tight, sealing it; you build in the direction of the sun and the wind; and you use solar and water collection. It’s not that hard to do. But I’m still surprised it hasn’t caught on. There’s no excuse to build any other way if you’re building from the ground up. We have about 90 houses now that are completed or in process of completion. HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Development] has been very supportive.
"We’re trying now to expand in other areas and prove that it works in other climates in America and beyond. For example, we’re building a pediatric medical facility and TB clinic in Ethiopia in our daughter [Zahara’s] name."