'Mr. Cool' ventures into uncool territory with 'The Mexican'

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Ever since he appeared in "Fight Club," and more recently "Snatch," Brad Pitt has been trying to lose his image as Mr. Cool.

"I'm not much for career maintenance - it's hit and miss with me," says Pitt, whose earlier movies include "Meet Joe Black," "The Devil's Own," and "Legends of the Fall."

"It's more about getting into other areas that I haven't been in before. I wanted to do 'Snatch' and I went after it. I like the energy of Guy Ritchie's storytelling. I went for the fast-paced dry humor. When I read the script for 'The Mexican,' I felt it was getting away from the cool guy. One thing about doing comedies - I've learned I can survive."

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In "The Mexican," which opens today, Pitt stars as Jerry Welbach, a bumbling crook trying to go straight who must transport an ancient gun called 'The Mexican' back across the border. Julia Roberts plays his girlfriend.

"[Jerry is] definitely not the smartest guy in the checkout line," Pitt says. "He's the anti-McQueen - meaning there is the everyman hero, Steve McQueen, and then there's the anti-McQueen. That's Jerry - a guy who's not cool whatsoever."

Pitt's interest in our conversation was warming. He took off his long Edwardian jacket - definitely a GQ cover possibility - only to reveal a long-sleeved blue sweater, covered by a short-sleeved green T-shirt that had the faded look of many washings.

"There are choices out there," he says, as he slides into a leather chair. "I watch a lot of movies. I love movies, and I'm aware when something's a retread of some story I've seen before.

"But I have this feeling that someone's going to come along and originate the leading man again. At this point you can plug any one of us into the same role and basically get the same thing.

"The idea of foraging into other areas is much more exciting to me."

What about teaming with Roberts for the first time? "We've known each other for 10 years," Pitt says, "and the idea of working together ... just didn't come to fruition [before].

"This script came out of nowhere, and the idea of throwing us together in this run-and-gun film appealed to both of us. I liked the Hepburn-Tracy banter; it cracked me up. Then when Jim Gandolfini [Tony Soprano in HBO's "The Sopranos"] stepped in, I said, 'It's done. I'm in.' "

For an actor who can't walk into a Starbucks without causing a commotion, it was bliss, he says, to work in isolated Real de Catorce in the mountains of Mexico. The town was only accessible via a 15.5 mile cobblestone road.

"The people were so kind," he says. "It was a joy renting some of the houses and being neighbors. We worked six days a week and on the seventh day God rested and so did we."

Things changed considerably when a Mexican TV station ran a feature about the Hollywood superstars on location. Soon the place was crowded with sightseers.

When Pitt finished "The Mexican," he went to London and Casablanca, Morocco, to film "Spy Game" with Robert Redford. He hadn't worked with Redford since 1992's "A River Runs Through it," Pitt's breakthrough film, directed by Redford.

According to Pitt, "On that early movie, I was a kid, new to the game, and shy. To me, Redford was 'the man.' This time I thought we'd sit across the table from each other, go eye-to-eye, exchange ideas, and swap stories. Soon as we met, I was a little kid again, and he was 'the man.' "

The day after we talked, Pitt started another film, "Ocean's 11," a remake of the 1960 robbery comedy that starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. The new cast features Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Julia Roberts.

Although Clooney and Roberts have worked several times with "Oceans 11" director Steven Soderbergh (who's nominated for two Oscars this year for "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic"), it marks Pitt's first time. "It was a masterful job getting all these people together for one movie," Pitt marvels, "the scheduling, the deals, and probably the egos."

Pitt has still another comedy lined up with the Coen Brothers. "Did you see their film, 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Wasn't it amazing?"he says. Pitt's coming Coen brothers film, "To the White Sea," has him playing a World War II pilot. "Basically it's a silent movie. It's an experiment; there is no dialogue, no cast, just me."

And when will he find time to spend with his bride, Jennifer Aniston? "There will be months between the movies," he says. "What surprised me [about getting married] was this sense of pride. I look over and see my wife - we're embarking on this thing together; it's very exciting."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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