Brad Pitt can relate to the legendary outlaw Jesse James — not because he’s ever harbored a desire to rob banks or roam the countryside blasting away with a six-shooter, but because James was the foremost celebrity of his day and somewhat blinded by the glare of the spotlight.
“I don’t think James enjoyed the level of fame he had," says Pitt, who grew up in Springfield, Mo., less than 200 miles from the desperado’s childhood home. “It was something he was trapped behind. He’s been portrayed 125 times in film, so that speaks to his level of celebrity. Back then, it was him and Mark Twain, and that’s about it.
“I certainly understand the feeling of being hunted in some sense, but he had guns pointed at him. And most of the people I’ve had a chance to meet are delightful, so there is a difference. Mostly, I think he was unable to deal with his own legend.”
Even so, Pitt, who stars in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” — a project long-delayed by studio concerns about its nearly three-hour length — believes that his latest film deals with the concept of celebrity, and the ravenous desire for it, in more ways than one.
“The film deals with an element of celebrity in the sense that some people view it as a conduit to self-worth, to meaning. That’s very true of the Bob Ford character,” he says. “Ford was a demoralized kid who, in his own eyes, suffered a series of great humiliations. He’s looking for fame as validation, at whatever cost. And when he’s spurned by Jesse James, it amplifies that humiliation.”
While Pitt acknowledges that preparing the final cut of “The Assassination of Jesse James” represented a tiring but ultimately rewarding ordeal — as co-producer, he even took the time to put together a version of his own — the experience has hardly slowed him down. He is already busy filming an upcoming Coen brothers comedy, “Burn After Reading,” with an old friend, “Ocean’s Thirteen” co-star George Clooney.
Still, Pitt, who will turn 44 in December and already has four children with partner Angelina Jolie, can envision a time in the not-too-distant future when he might take a break from acting to concentrate on his family.
“That seems like the natural evolution, though I don’t have any specific plans,” he says. “I’m filming with the Coen brothers now, which has been a lot of fun, and after that I’ll be doing a thriller called ‘State of Play’ with Edward Norton. But that’s been part of my plan for some time now, to take a big break and indulge my passions — my family, my children. And I’m a big architecture nut, too.”