Breaking Brad... from heart-throb to heartbreak
After 11 years as part of Brangelina, the actor is determined to pick up the pieces ... and embrace his inner weirdo. Ed Power reports
Brad Pitt has largely avoided the spotlight since news of his split from Angelina Jolie threatened to burn the internet to the ground last September.
But this week we received an intriguing insight into the heart-throb's post-divorce life, as well as a clue as to how he intends to reboot his career and his celebrity persona.
In an unashamedly emotive interview with GQ Style, the 53-year-old painted a monastic picture of his daily routine - which seems to involve lots of free-form pottery-making, immersion in the melancholic music of R&B singer Frank Ocean and quality time with his bulldog, Jacques.
But there were also indications as to how Pitt, who gets back to work with a turn in forthcoming Netflix movie War Machine, plans to rehabilitate an image tarnished by the spectacular collapse of his 11-year relationship with Jolie.
His strategy, it appears, will be to embrace the weird. In the accompanying photoshoot, Pitt goes where other movie stars surely would not dare.
He sprawls, broken rag-doll fashion, on a sand dune, slumps moodily next to a crevice and breakdances under ominous storm clouds. As artfully snapped by photographer Ryan McGinley, it's Derek Zoolander meets David Attenborough, with Pitt cutting a broodingly enigmatic figure amid the epic scenery.
None of this is from the Hollywood manual. Typically, a star emerging from a high-profile separation will zestily embrace their freedom.
So, when Jennifer Garner spoke to Vanity Fair in March 2016 about her divorce from Ben Affleck, she was frank about the pain - yet in the accompanying spread, looked a billion dollars.
In the same vein, Jennifer Aniston's post-divorce (from ... er ... Brad Pitt) confessional, again in Vanity Fair, was framed with shots of the actress looking pensive, and eye-wateringly gorgeous, in her underwear. The cover headline spelt it out: the Unsinkable Jennifer Aniston.
Pitt, in contrast, shows little inclination to reconnect with his old heart-throb self. If anything, he is determined to draw attention to the weirdo streak that has been part of his movie-star identity all the way back to his turn as a stoner in True Romance.
Thus, in the GQ interview he waxes hippyish, spouting lines like: "I grew up in caves. We had a lot of caves, fantastic caverns."
The interview - and the snaps that went with it - have prompted a degree of derision. And it's true: Pitt does come across sort of ridiculous, mugging in the wild.
Yet if any A-lister can get away with making a prat of themselves in a men's magazine, it is surely Pitt.
"Poor Brad looks lost in those photos, in a wilderness at the bottom of the grief curve," says image consultant Aideen Garvey. "I'm wondering why he's done this interview. His handlers must think the world needs to see him at rock bottom before we'll accept him being re-invented. Maybe he'll soon announce a new relationship.
"The colours he's wearing are interesting. He rarely wore colour at all around Angelina so the bright colours and patterns here are a major departure and serve to make him look gaunt and unhealthy."
As pointed out, Pitt has never quite fit the archetype of the preening movie star. For one thing, he hasn't had all that many stone cold hits.
Since the 1990s, he has gravitated towards more unusual, intimate projects, and appears, in particular, to appreciate working with maverick directors such as Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys) and Terence Malik (Tree of Life).
Moreover, arguably his greatest impact within the industry has been off-camera, where his Plan B production company has backed projects that might not otherwise have made it to screen.
Pitt was, for instance, instrumental in bringing to fruition Oscar-winners Moonlight and 12 Years A Slave, which he further helped by taking a small acting part.
Anyone willing to look ridiculous lying on a white sand flat in New Mexico clearly isn't interested in playing by Hollywood convention. That Pitt is prepared to break the rules is confirmed by the fact that War Machine, in which he plays a fictional version of controversial Iraq War general Stanley McChrystal will be distributed by Netflix.
This is a plucky move at a time when, for the upper tier of stars, streaming has not quite shed its stigma.
You won't see Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lawrence, or even Scarlett Johansson - who, like Pitt, isn't above the occasionally quirky venture - striking up an exclusivity deal with an online studio. Pitt, seeing where the future lies, is first to go there.
His post-War Machine pipeline likewise points to a determination to take the route less travelled. He is about to begin work on Ad Astra - a "hyper-realistic" space thriller from James Gray, director of the recent Lost City of Z (which Plan B also helped deliver).
And after that he returns to his zombie epic, World War Z, with a long-awaited follow-up to what was a rare horror with a brain and a heart.
What Pitt isn't trying to do is line up a rehabilitatory rom-com or cash cow super-hero franchise. There will, let us give praise, likely never be a 'Bat-Brad'.
"I see joy out the window," he told GQ in a comment that seemed to sum up his unorthodox perspective on life and work.
"And I can see the silhouette of palms and an expression on one of my kids' faces, a parting smile, or finding some, you know, moment of bliss with the clay."