Pity Brad Pitt.
Yes, I know he’s an international movie star. But after repeatedly flinching while reading his latest, lengthy interview with GQ Style, I can’t help but feel bad for him. Breaking with the tradition of the celebrity puff piece, GQ has managed to run a cringe-inducing cover story. He may be outrageously wealthy and photogenic, but pictures of Pitt wearing pricey couture while laying limply in barren landscapes pithily reveal his current sadness.
The Guardian’s Marina Hyde believes this is what we now want from celebrities. But I don’t want to read about others’ emotional wreckage, especially when they’re still in the depths of their despair. (Brad Pitt now needs to make a fire in his house twice daily just to “feel life?”) It all feels exploitative. I much prefer interviews like the one Prince Harry recently gave about mental health. More on that later.
It Matters When And How We Demand Vulnerability
The three most stressful things a person can experience are death, divorce, and job loss. Pitt is in the middle of a very public dissolution of his marriage to Angelina Jolie. Jolie may be doing alright, having initiated the split, but it clearly pains Pitt. As a general rule, divorce is awful, and when there are children involved — like the six young people who call Jolie and Pitt parents — it’s even worse. As Pitt observed, “It’s just very, very jarring for the kids, to suddenly have their family ripped apart.”
The standard Hollywood reaction in such situations is to ask the media and the public for privacy during the relevant difficult time. That request is made so often, it’s become a cliché. And yet, after reading this interview, you really grasp its simple genius: We’re not meant to be our most vulnerable selves while the whole world watches.
Pitt is in the midst of a personal crisis. To wit, Pitt tells GQ, “I famously step in shit—at least for me it seems pretty epic. I often wind up with a smelly foot in my mouth. I often say the wrong thing, often in the wrong place and time. … I’m trying to get better. I’m really trying to get better.”
How The Jolie-Pitt Divorce Is Changing Brad
Last fall, as the Jolie-Pitt mess played out in the press, it seemed clear that Jolie and her team of lawyers and public relations professionals had been preparing for dissolution. Pitt, on the other hand, looked like he’d been caught flat-footed by charges of substance abuse and the sudden arrival of Child Protective Services (CPS). On CPS, Pitt comments, “I was really on my back and chained to a system.”
Whatever disagreements or problems may have existed in his marriage, Pitt did not look like a man readying for a change in the status quo last fall. But here Pitt is, announcing several big changes. For the first time since college, he’s given up daily boozing. He’s in therapy (the third therapist was apparently the charm). And he’s working with clay to sort out 53 years of his previously unexamined life, sweeping the floor and “wrap[ping] up my shit at night.” Twice Pitt cites his own hubris; for example, “When I get in trouble it’s because of my hubris.” He’s feeling, and owning, his own pain.
That’s all laudable. However, this whole interview reads like one long howl from a wounded animal, as if Pitt needed to vent—to anyone. My question is how someone convinced Pitt that it was wise to do this interview, leaving no personal stone unturned, amidst his emotional turmoil. (That person should be fired).
What Brad Could Learn From Prince Harry
Consider the striking contrast with Prince Harry’s recent interview on Bryony Gordon’s “Mad World” podcast. In some ways, Prince Harry and Brad Pitt aren’t so different. They both exist in the social stratosphere, where fame and wealth are concerned. Each man has publicly experienced one of life’s three great stressors, and acknowledges both a history of partying hard and disregarding his own feelings.
Prince Harry’s interview has an entirely different feel, though. It’s dignified and uplifting. Where Pitt conveys closeness only to his snoring bulldog, Harry speaks of his close relationships with his brother and sister-in-law. Harry’s in control of himself and his emotions. Having already benefited from privately addressing his grief over his mother’s untimely death, Harry is ready to use his public platform for the greater good. He speaks about his own experience, as well as the experiences of people he’s met. Harry urges his fellow Britons to care for their mental health, while working to reduce the stigma associated with said health. Harry essentially presents himself as Exhibit A, demonstrating the benefits of addressing your own pain.
It’s a shame that Brad Pitt didn’t follow Prince Harry’s example. But perhaps Harry can inspire him yet. When Pitt is done processing the pain he’s exposed here in all its gory glory, perhaps he can give another more reflective interview. Older and wiser, he can expound upon what he’s learned and perhaps inspire his fellow Americans to live better by facing any personal pain and embracing the sort of joy that comes with healing.