During this long awards season, Brad Pitt has largely stayed away from campaigning, but now that he’s stacking up honors for his supporting role as stuntman Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” his acceptance speeches have served to remind voters how fun it would be to hear him make more of them.
He’s pulled no notes out of his pocket, read down no numbing lists of names. The speeches have been a charming mix of self-deprecation, sweetness, sincerity and humor. The man wore his name tag ato the Oscar nominees luncheon, for goodness’ sake.
His speeches bring to mind such other recent award recipients as Olivia Colman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michelle Williams and Alex Borstein. And more recently, “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho. All are immensely talented, sure, but part of their award-winning appeal may be that they’re so damn good at receiving them.
It could be Pitt is using a writer for his clever speeches, but with his delivery, do we really care? And if he’s writing his own, he could easily put up a tight 10 minutes at the Comedy Store. Time after time, he has displayed all of his “Once” character’s cool, laid-back charisma, with none of the “did he or didn’t he deliberately harpoon his wife?” baggage.
His charm offensive began at the Golden Globes early this month. Accepting his trophy, Pitt started off with a “Holy moly! Thank you to the eclectic and ever-raucous Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.” He lauded costar Leonardo DiCaprio or, as he called him, “my partner in crime, LDC. Before ‘The Revenant,’ I used to watch, year after year, his costars accept awards and get up and thank him profusely. I know why. He’s an all-star, he’s a gent, and I wouldn’t be here without you, man. … Still, I would’ve shared the raft.”
The “Titanic” twitterati rejoiced at that one.
He then said hello to his parents “back in the Ozarks. I wanted to bring my mom but I couldn’t, because any woman I stand next to, they say I’m dating, and it’d just be awkward.”
Brought down the house.
His recent travails have been news — everything he does always makes news — and he hasn’t shied away from any of it. In fact, he seems to get a kick out of opening up. At the National Board of Review, he danced to the podium to a song from the film, before turning reflective as he acknowledged his presenter, Bradley Cooper.
“I got sober because of this guy, and every day has been happier ever since, and I thank you,” Pitt said. Then it was time to roast another friend: “It’s nice to be able to leave this thing carrying something other than George Clooney,” before ending with another zinger. “My goals in life now are pretty simple — just to be happy, stay healthy, and not get into a financial situation where I have to do ‘Ocean’s 14.’ We’ll see.”
Pitt and his producing partners at Plan B, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, won the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures at the Producers Guild Awards, and he started off: “Spielberg, Grazer, Zanuck, Kennedy. These are just a few of the names I’ve cheapened tonight by accepting this award.” (Two Plan B films, “Moonlight” and “12 Years a Slave,” have won best picture Oscars.) Since the show wasn’t televised, he could throw in an F-bomb. “When I started out as an actor, I wondered about producers, just what the ... do they do?” he said. “I’m now painfully aware of all that you do, and I commend you all.”
Back on TV at the SAG Awards the next night, he picked up his supporting actor trophy and said, “I gotta add this to my Tinder profile.” He thanked his costars, “Leo, Margot Robbie, Margot Robbie’s feet, Margaret Qualley’s feet, Dakota Fanning’s feet. Seriously, Quentin has separated more women from their shoes than the TSA,” addressing the director’s penchant for barefoot women in his films. Then, once more aiming at himself, Pitt said, “Let’s be honest, it was a difficult part — a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get on with his wife.”
The crowd went wild, and after a beat he let himself chuckle at the joke too, before getting serious again. “Listen, I love our community so much. ... Each of us in this room, we know pain, we know loneliness, we bring that to the screen. We know moments of grace, we’ve had moments of wisdom, we bring that to the screen. We’ve all had a laugh at our ridiculousness, and we know funny, and we bring that to the screen, and goddamn I think that’s a worthy endeavor.” No argument there.
He even looks relaxed in his interactions with old friends and partners. His moments greeting ex-wife Jennifer Aniston at the SAG Awards only added to the world’s renewed crush on him — and naturally, a frenzy of shipping hopes ensued — but mostly because it was just so dear. And when he stood transfixed in front of a backstage TV, watching her accept her award, it was impossible not to melt just a little.
Although he didn’t attend the BAFTAs, he kept the comic flourishes coming with help from his “Once Upon a Time...” co-star Margot Robbie, who read his acceptance speech. In it, he tweaked Brexit — “Hey Britain, heard you just became single, welcome to the club” — and recent royal turmoil: “He says he is going to name this ‘Harry’ because he is really excited about bringing it back to the States with him,” Robbie said of the mask-shaped trophy.
But it was at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where he received the Maltin Modern Masters Award from longtime friend and collaborator David Fincher, that he let a little sincerity come through along with the riffing. Pitt told the crowd he couldn’t believe Fincher’s intro lauding his talent. “If you could hear the way we rip on each other weekly. That was so kind, that was so nice. He’s never said that to me — ever. Ever.” Looking at the award, he said, “This is not going to help my hubris issues.”
He name-checked a few friends in the crowd, adding that they’d known him since the ’80s, when he first moved to Los Angeles sporting a glorious mullet. “It’s nights like this that remind me: I’m old. I can’t stand night shoots anymore. I’ll gladly hand a stunt over to a stuntman. I no longer remember the first rule of ‘Fight Club.’ But it’s also nights like this where I get to look back and feel really, really blessed.”
Here’s hoping we may all be blessed by yet one more speech on Oscars night.