What a road trip Brad Pitt just had. Here the actor is, limply sprawled out, looking dehydrated and depleted, on the lunar dunes of White Sands National Monument. The sun has seemingly gone down and that $1400 Bottega Veneta sweater he’s wearing isn’t going to suffice for warmth in the desert as evening begins.
Pitt, it seems, is having a very dark, if very-well dressed, night of the soul.
At least that’s the heavy-handed message in many of Ryan McGinley’s portraits of the actor for the cover story of GQ Style’s new summer issue, complete with a 4,000-plus word interview with Pitt—the first since his shocking, acrimonious split from Angelina Jolie more than six months go.
We learn early on that the actor has a newfound obsession with Matcha tea, which immediately connotes an ascetic spiritual journey. Indeed, Pitt has given up booze since he broke up with Jolie (he admits his drinking habits contributed to the demise of his marriage) and is doing some soul-searching through “manual labor” like pottery.
The split from Jolie and messy custody battle that landed him in the lonely situation he’s in now was “self-inflicted,” Pitt says. He recently started therapy (“I love it, I love it”) and has been sober for a year and a half, recovering from a self-destructive tendency to self-medicate. “I can’t remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn’t boozing or had a spliff, or something…And I’m running from my feelings.” The past six months have been about “looking at my weaknesses and failures and owning my side of the street.”
Still, Pitt isn’t out of the woods yet. He’s better than when he was sleeping on friend David Fincher’s couch for six weeks shortly after splitting from Jolie, but the psychic pain of being alive continues to weigh heavily on him (he frequently goes through a “cycle” of musing, “What’s the point?… What’s the point?”).
He’s in a dark enough place that the collaboration between Pitt and McGinley, whom the actor requested to work with for the GQ Style shoot, resulted in a series of photographs of the actor looking broken and desperate and vaguely suicidal—but still very hot and very stylish.
There he is in the Everglades, throwing his head back and lifting himself by the suspenders of his $900 Armani pants; crouched in the Carlsbad Caverns, eyes vacant and tugging at the neck of his $300 Ermenegildo Zegna shirt; on his knees and literally in the weeds in the Caverns, too despondent to care about dirtying his $700 Valentino pants; back in the Everglades at sundown, hands clasped together as if handcuffed by his David Yurman bracelet and Glashütte watch (prices unknown), a prisoner of his own tortured soul!
The McGinley photos show the actor as we’ve never seen him before: a blurry portrait of a teary-eyed Pitt accompanying an interview in which he admits he’s only recently realized that he is “personally very retarded when it comes to taking inventory of my emotions” and is struggling to rebuild relationships with his six children after being cleared of child abuse allegations, cited by Jolie in her divorce filing.
He “doesn’t even think of myself much as an actor anymore,” he said, and instead is “having a moment of getting to feel emotion at my fingertips”—making things with clay (“I’m making everything”) and living like a reclusive artist. Happiness is elusive, but he occasionally finds it in “an expression on one of my kids’ faces, a parting smile, or finding some, you know, moment of bliss with the clay.”
The interview itself is painful to read, if only because Pitt seems particularly sad and lost in his journey of self-discovery. (The reading experience is not helped by the fact that Pitt frequently speaks in clunky metaphors). But you have to hand it to him for publicly confronting his substance abuse issues. His only indulgences now are Matcha, clay, and cranberry juice.
Talk of his cranberry juice and fizzy water consumption prompts a sad joke from Pitt about having “the cleanest urinary tract in all of L.A., I guarantee you!” Oh dear.
Pitt deserves props for laying his narcissism out on the table, too, in acknowledging that he’s always felt aggrieved and is “an asshole when it comes to this need for justice…this hollow quest for justice for some perceived slight… It’s such a silly idea, the idea that the world is fair. And this is coming from a guy who hit the lottery… I hit the lottery, and I still would waste my time on those hollow pursuits.”
Yet there is some light in all this darkness. For starters, Pitt has got his body back. After reporters described him looking “gaunt” at the November premiere of his film Allied, we see his sinewy, tattooed torso in one photo of him praying in the Everglades, his $500 Comme des Garçons shirt whipped up by the wind (bless you, wind). He may be curled up in the fetal position in the White Sands dunes, but at least he’s still ripped.
“If we’re going to do a celebrity shoot, let’s make something, work with an artist, see what we come up with,” Pitt tells GQ Style. “It’s always more interesting.”