BRAD Pitt has to save his screen family from flesh-eating zombies in his latest film, World War Z. Shereen Low finds out why, in real life, the actor would risk everything for his nearest and dearest.
Once famed for being the most attractive man on the planet, these days he’s the A-list poster boy for family values, and the devoted dad of six is happy to admit that he’s prioritising his beloved brood ahead of everything else. In fact, it was Brad Pitt’s fiancée, Angelina Jolie, who recently stole the limelight at the UK premiere for his latest film World War Z.
The event was 38-year-old Jolie’s first red-carpet appearance since revealing last month that she’d undergone a preventative double mastectomy after discovering she had the faulty BRCA1 gene, which sharply increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Her decision to go public led to a huge outpouring of respect and admiration for the actress – with Pitt leading the praise. “She’s doing great,” the actor and producer says. “It’s business as usual and on to the next stage for us.” Asked how important Jolie’s support at the premiere was, he says: “I’ve never not had support from her. I love her, it brings you closer and makes you stronger.”
Jolie – whose own mother was 56 when she died of ovarian cancer – underwent weeks of hospital appointments, surgery and recovery during the early months of 2013, but the couple are feeling positive. “It doesn’t have to be a scary thing. In fact, it can be empowering,” says Pitt of Jolie’s surgery. “It’s been an emotional and beautifully inspiring few months. It’s such a wonderful relief to come through this and not have a spectre hanging over our heads. My most proudest thing is our family,” he adds.
Pitt’s transformation from ladies’ man to family man is well and truly complete. Once engaged to Gwyneth Paltrow, he married former Friends actress Jennifer Aniston in 2000, before they split in 2005. It was rumoured that his relationship with Jolie, whom he met on the set of Mr & Mrs Smith, caused the break-up, and while allegations of adultery were denied from both camps, Pitt and Jolie later admitted they “fell in love” while working on the film. The couple are parents to three biological children – Shiloh, seven, and four-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne – and three adopted children: Maddox, 11, Pax, nine, and eight-year-old Zahara.
Pitt had his kids in mind when he signed up for zombie thriller World War Z, he says, particularly the two older boys. As well as starring in it, he produced it through his production company, Plan B Entertainment. “These zombies are scary as hell,” he says. “And the movie, I believe, works on numerous levels. But primarily, it’s complete summer fun and something I wanted to do for my sons to enjoy. Some parents have not agreed with me after seeing it, because it’s the most intense film that you’re going to see all summer! But my kids are savvy and I figure it’s called parental guidance … But yeah, they loved it.”
In World War Z, directed by Marc Forster (Quantum Of Solace) and based on Max Brooks’s post-apocalyptic horror novel, Pitt plays former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane, tasked with having to save his family while trying to find, and stop, the source of the epidemic that’s turning people into zombies. While it’s a virus that turns people into zombies, it was the production team and £5 million that turned Glasgow into Philadelphia two summers ago when Pitt, Jolie and the whole family trundled into the city on board a specially chartered Virgin train. The film star, who rented a country house on the west coast, spent two weeks in Scotland shooting the dynamic action scenes in which trucks were overturned and hundred of zombies and extras charged across George Square.
Pitt had visited the city years before while taking a few days off while filming Interview With A Vampire in London and, as a fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, he had visited the art school.
On his return visit, he and Angelina were given a private tour of Hill House, Helensburgh.
“Five years ago, I knew nothing about zombies. Now, I consider myself an expert,” Pitt says. “Max’s book treats the zombie genre as a global pandemic, spreading much like we’ve witnessed viruses like SARS travel. What happens when everything we concern our days with is rendered useless? What happens when power structures and societal norms are obliterated? How will we survive?”
He says playing someone normal, not a superhero, appealed. “Gerry can’t fly, he can’t beat up bad guys. He has no super powers. He’s a dad, with a burning need to keep his family safe. To do that, he can only rely on his intellect, his instincts and his experience.”
Pitt has kind words for his on-screen wife, Karen, played by Mireille Enos. “Mireille is a brilliant partner on set. She can embody the lovingness of the mother and flip to the ferociousness of the lioness protecting her young in an instant.”
As for Forster, who also directed Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner, Pitt says: “He can’t be pigeonholed as a director; his experience and interest in many genres and types of film is a rarity. His most memorable moments on film are intimate and human. It was this quality, juxtaposed against our massive global apocalyptic crisis, that we believed would lead to an unusually authentic and grounded action thriller.”
Despite reports that they stopped speaking to each other at one point during the filming, which the director denied in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Forster returns the praise… “He is a sublime actor and a true artist. His sensibility of what works, what is real versus what rings as false, is right on point.”
Pitt, who became a heart-throb after appearing in Thelma And Louise in 1991, and later in films like Meet Joe Black and Fight Club, has received four Oscar nominations, including two for 2011 drama Moneyball. His upcoming roles in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave and Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, are sure to bring him further acclaim. But awards don’t factor in his game plan. “I don’t play the Oscars game. I had a Golden Globe (for 12 Monkeys) about a decade ago, but they are never the focus. I believe it’s how you personally feel. You want to feel that you’ve given it your best at the end of the day. We all want to be really good.”
• World War Z opens on 21 June
THE BEST OF BRAD
THELMA AND LOUISE (1991)
• Pitt’s appearance as the impossibly hot thief JD, alongside Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning movie, instantly turned him into a household name.
• This sadistic thriller marked the first collaboration between director David Fincher and Pitt, who later worked together on Fight Club and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.
• Pitt plays Irish traveller Mickey O’Neil in Guy Ritchie’s British thriller.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)
• Pitt’s performance as the reverse-ageing Benjamin Button earned him another Oscar nomination.
BURN AFTER READING (2008)
• He gave a comedic performance as personal trainer Chad Feldheimer in Ethan and Joel Coen’s film.