This story originally appeared in the April 3, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.
Getting to Brad Pitt is a pain in the ass. First of all, he is in the Canadian wilderness, where he is filming Seven Years in Tibet, the story of Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer. So you take a six-hour flight from New York to Vancouver. Easy, right? Then there is another flight up to the mountains on the terrifyingly named Wilderness Air. As the 12-seat Beechcraft reaches a comfortable cruising altitude, you notice that the pilot is continually talking to the passenger behind her, as if she is driving a Datsun, and that the co-pilot is reading a book. You look around for dibs on the meatiest-looking passenger, who you can eat when the plane crashes. After you land on a tiny airstrip, you must wait for a van to pick you up, so you wander down a long road, over to a diner situated in the middle of a piney field. As a waitress slaps a burger on the table, she remarks, “Been a lot of moose attacks around here lately. Mothers protecting their babies. They just come barreling out of the woods at ya.” Wait. What? What was that last part? She shuffles away with a you-city-slickers-wouldn’t-last-five-minutes-out-here snort.
No matter. Here is the van, which winds through desolate (but pretty) hills for an hour and a half. You pass Tatla Lake, a minuscule burg with one bar and a satellite dish. (Last weekend, boisterous Tibet crew members piled into a car to explore the town and slunk back a short time later.) Finally you arrive at the camp, which is blanketed in 6 inches of mud due to recent inexplicable thaws. And here you are, at one of the few places on Earth where Brad Pitt can walk around freely.
Hey,” he says, big grin. He’s dressed for the mud and the mountains — boots, sweat pants, rugged black suede coat, mirrored shades, stubble, bed head — and the first thing you notice is that unlike most male actors, he clears 6 feet. The second thing you discern is that you are instantly at ease. Pitt is low-key, free of attitude and positive. (“I like everywhere, pretty much,” he says of his travels. This seems to be a philosophy.) Talk to folks who know him, and they will say that he’ll remind you of someone — your brother, somebody you went to high school with, a friend. This is true. His favorite expressions? A conspiratorial “Yeah, right?” when you agree on something, followed by “Yeah, man,” for an emphatic statement, closely followed by “Excellent.”
As you chat with Pitt, it’s quite easy to forget he’s a huge movie star until, as he makes his way through the mud to his trailer, he turns around without his sunglasses and starts telling you about — well, who the hell knows, really, because you’re thinking, “Damn, this boy doesn’t look like other folks!” With a jolt, you get the full force of his blue-eyed charisma as he animatedly tells you about… something. Then he turns around with a “Yeah, man” and continues slogging through the mud. Excellent.
The 33-year-old Pitt finds himself in this remote locale because the Canadian Rockies substitute for the Himalayas in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet, due out this fall. It is not the most commercial of movies, but Pitt doesn’t care. He’s not interested in the blockbuster; he wants a compelling role. Tibet is based on the memoirs of Harrer, who escaped from a British prison camp in India in 1940 with a fellow POW, played by David Thewlis. The pair weaseled their way into Tibet, where Harrer ended up tutoring the young Dalai Lama before he was driven into exile by China.
The making of the film has been slow going. For starters, Tibet preparations began in India a year ago, before the Chinese government reportedly voiced its opposition to the project. China views the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, as an enemy. And since the film contains emotional scenes of gentle Tibetan monks weeping as Communist Chinese soldiers sweep through the monks’ beloved country, the film isn’t exactly good press for China. A million dollars’ worth of sets and production costs later, a fearful Indian government shut down the project. OK, then, off to Argentina, where the Andes would serve as the Himalayas. Before Tibet, Pitt was trying to quit the embattled The Devil’s Own, in which he plays a gunrunner for the IRA — until, that is, he was threatened with a sizable lawsuit. Pitt’s recent remarks to Newsweek regarding the chaotic process of making The Devil’s Own without clear direction or even a discernible script (“It was the most irresponsible bit of filmmaking — if you can even call it that — I’ve ever seen”) got him in a little spot o’ trouble.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Pitt says, stepping up into the trailer. “This was old news. Then I get home [Los Angeles]. I’m so happy to just hang out, see the dogs, relax. Boom! The calls start at 7 in the morning. ‘Go on Entertainment Tonight,’ they begged. ‘Say you didn’t mean it.’ I was like, ‘I can’t do that. [He shakes his head] I said it. I said it.’ ” Pitt wrote a letter to Newsweek, saying that his remarks referred to his dilemma before filming, not to the actual movie, which he likes. The chaos continues, however: The ending for The Devil’s Own was recently re-shot.