TORONTO - You have 25 minutes with Brad Pitt.
On the one hand, that’s a pretty cool thing. On the other, 25 minutes with Brad Pitt is barely enough time to admire the way his luminous, caramel-colored hair sweeps out from behind his ears in the suspension of an imaginary breeze, as though he’s still sprawled in the back of that convertible barreling through 1991 with Thelma and Louise.
Pitt is 47 now, which means he’s evolved - OK, aged, particularly around the eyes - since Ridley Scott made him a hard-bodied star. But you can always see the boy actor in the way the middle-aged man holds his mouth, with its jutting lower jaw cocked in preparation for a mischievous smile. That’s been a constant as Pitt has amassed more than three dozen movies on an acting resume crammed with blockbuster titles (“Inglourious Basterds,’’ “Ocean’s Eleven,’’ “Fight Club,’’ “Se7en’’) and outings with some of the finest directors in the business (David Fincher, Terry Gilliam, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen brothers, Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino). He’s also become a producer, humanitarian, businessman, and father. And this Friday, he’ll be the main reason that “Moneyball,’’ the movie, finally sees the light of day.
Based on Michael Lewis’s best-selling book about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, “Moneyball’’ spent years mired in development drama that saw numerous filmmakers and screenwriters come and go. It finally found its voice with a screenplay credited mostly to Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, and direction by Bennett Miller. Since 2007 Pitt has been the movie’s steadfast champion, passionate about producing and starring as Beane.
Why? The story struck a chord. Beane was an underdog who bucked the system, revolutionizing the game by using Bill James’s “sabermetrics’’ theory, a process of statistical analysis aimed at predicting player performance. Beane managed to make his struggling team competitive with the richest ballclubs in the league, and in 2002 he fueled a dream season that included an American League-record 20-game win streak. He then turned down a lucrative offer from the Red Sox to become their GM, and could only look on when Boston won the 2004 World Series with the help of the same philosophy Beane had championed.
The Brad Pitt you meet up with today, padding around a Toronto hotel suite in his canvas sneakers and khakis, knows both his craft and his power. He’s the Robert Redford of his generation - a “Grow a Hunk’’ novelty toy who grew before our eyes. Except that Redford (who directed Pitt in “A River Runs Through It’’) always seemed to be overcompensating for his sex-symbol status, whereas Pitt long ago pulled up a chair and settled into it.
Comfortable is the best way to describe him now. Having weathered the public relations fallout from divorcing Jennifer Aniston and taking up with Angelina Jolie, he seems less Brangelina, more Brad 2.0. Favorable buzz from early screenings of “Moneyball’’ has perhaps put him more at ease with the press. It’s at least made him comfortable enough to divulge his “one guilty pleasure’’: watching “Survivor,’’ a show he calls “Shakespearean.’’
“I was totally rooting for Boston Rob,’’ he tells you seriously.
And then comes that mischievous smile.
Q. You made your first visit to Fenway Park during filming, right? What did you think?
A. Magical. It was just such a great day. We had the place to ourselves, and it’s the last scene we shot; it was a great way to close. You feel the century that’s come before. You feel the legacy of baseball and all its magic and heartbreak. It’s palpable in that stadium. It’s a beautiful place.
Q. This movie has a lot to say about sports and sports towns - the culture of winning.
A. And the culture of losing, and how does that define us.
Q. What do you think about the mentality that if you don’t win the final game, it all goes down as a missed opportunity, a failed season?
A. What I love, and what the movie gets at, is the idea of the quiet victory that is not splashed across the headlines. Only you know the degree of difficulty and what it took to get there. Also, to me, failure hasn’t ever been the final headstone; it’s been the impetus for the next success.
Q. Why do you think Billy Beane said no to the Red Sox and stayed in Oakland?
A. I think there’s a host of reasons that I couldn’t completely define. I know his daughter certainly had something to do with it. And I believe there would be a lot of pressure in Boston. He’s a guy who’s not longing for the spotlight. In fact, he’s quite uneasy about a film being made about him, as anyone in his right mind would be. And I’m sure that loss of anonymity that would happen in Boston had something to do with it. And then there’s the idea of money and its relation to success, which we get into in the film.
Q. And maybe he just really wanted to win in Oakland?
A. I’m sure there’s truth to that. Though I’m sure he would have enjoyed winning in Boston.
Q. Well, he sort of did.
A. Right. But it’s more fun to win yourself. Let’s be honest.
Q. There seem to be a lot of parallels between the sports world and Hollywood: the culture of winning, the risk-averse way of doing business, the blind allegiance to established formulas . . .
A. It’s also “what’s the definition of a winner?’’ In both cases, it’s based on economics. And it’s short-term economics too, like an opening weekend literally brands a film a success or a failure. The quality of film, the innovative structure of something new goes out the window. The idea that you can revolutionize the business. . . . It’s a tough sell.
Q. What made you stick with this movie idea through so many hurdles?
A. Well, it wasn’t conventional material so it just took that gestation period. But I saw many themes in the book that I loved in ’70s films - the underdog scenario, which I’m always a sucker for, and that these guys, by necessity, stopped to question how they were doing things. . . . My example is the automobile: If we were inventing the automobile today is this how we would do it? Would we power it on a finite resource that we have to go to war to protect, and that requires us to export almost a trillion dollars of our GDP to bring it in, and pollutes our environment, and so on and so forth? It’s an antiquated idea. But a lot of people make a lot of money off it, and to change that structure, even if it’s in our best interests, you’re going to go through a wall of harassment. Baseball is a church. To question anything is heretic.
Q. The movie went through a lot of well-publicized script changes and screenwriters.
A. Which is not so odd. It happens.
Q. Where it ended up seems to shout Aaron Sorkin in certain places - the snap-crackle banter between Beane and his scouts, for example. Is that accurate, and is it the best way to tell the story?
A. I feel everyone’s fingerprints on the final product. It’s a better movie now than it would have been years ago. Again, you’re dealing with unconventional material - economics and sabermetrics, not nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat subject matter - so where’s the drama? Zaillian and Sorkin were both immense help.
Q. How does an indie film compete on a playing field that is not level?
A. Oh, they’re doing it. And in film there’s different languages, different genres, so it’s not a one-to-one match-up. But the funny thing is “Moneyball’’ first came to the studio because they were having a lecture by Billy Beane about how they could incorporate the ideas from the book into the movie industry. And the irony of it all is they cast me to play him.
Q. Is there a difference when you’re playing a real person? Do you feel a responsibility?
A. Absolutely. If you play a person who has family, who has kids, you don’t want to do him wrong. But I felt I wasn’t going to fail him. I understood the book. We hung out a few times in Oakland. We have twins the same age; we had a playdate.
Q. There are several poignant father-daughter scenes in the movie. What has being a dad meant to you?
A. [With a look of joy that struggles to be quantified] You have kids? [His interviewer nods.] Then you know. Parents understand. It’s just the most interesting, rewarding, fun, heartbreaking, I-can’t-wait-to-get-back-there-right-now kind of thing. But in the book they didn’t focus on family at all, and I wasn’t sure we should. But Billy had always said it was the thing where his mind could stop for a moment and he could just be with his daughter. Bennett and the writers were big proponents of it, and they were right. It became this great juxtaposition.
Q. You’ve worked with some amazing directors. Has that been by design? And how important is it?
A. It’s by design. I’m smart enough to work with people who are smarter than me. They have the ultimate voice, and it’s that authorship that I respect so much and want to lend my efforts to. But it’s all about the directors at the end of the day.
Q. Is there a director you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
A. Spike. I did a cameo for him once but would love to do a whole movie with him.
Q. Spike Jonze [who has an uncredited cameo as the boyfriend of Beane’s ex-wife] or Spike Lee?
A. Spike Jonze. But, funny story about Spike Lee: He was taking his boy to a Yankees game and my boy had never been, so we went. [Derek] Jeter was up on deck - he’s a class act - and he says hi to Spike. Then Jeter goes back to the dugout and he pulls out a busted bat and hands it to my son. And Maddox just looks at it and goes “It’s broken!’’ And I’m like [under his breath, feigning embarrassment] “Take it. Take it. Just take it.’’
Q. Will you direct someday?
A. Definitely not. I’m too much of a perfectionist. It would take me away from my family and drive everyone around me crazy.
Q. Is your plan to keep acting?
A. I have a couple things in mind and then I think it will be time to put it away. Not completely, but I have kids, they’re getting older.
Q. Got a favorite sports movie?
A. Well there’s nothing wrong with “Rocky.’’ But I love ’em all. When I was little it was “Bad News Bears.’’ And “North Dallas Forty’’ was the first R-rated movie I ever snuck into.
Q. And do you have an allegiance to a particular baseball team?
A. Well sure. [Coy pause.] I’ve got a soft spot for the Oakland A’s.Janice Page can be reached at email@example.com.