Is it possible to be one of the most famous people in the world and still somehow underrecognized? Apparently so, as Brad Pitt won his first Oscar for acting on Sunday night, picking up the statue for his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” as Cliff Booth, stuntman, best friend, hired driver, handyman, dog lover, war hero and possible wife murderer.
Pitt previously won an Academy Award as producer on the best picture winner “12 Years a Slave.” Pitt has also been nominated as an actor for “Twelve Monkeys,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Moneyball” and as a producer for “Moneyball” and “The Big Short.”
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Pitt had previously starred in Tarantino’s 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds,” which examined the legacy of WWII. In “Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood,” Tarantino looked at the transitional moment of Hollywood in the late 1960s. Pitt’s character of Cliff Booth is a stunt double and general aide-de-camp for an actor on the downslope of his career, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The two of them confront the end of an era in Hollywood, while grappling with what comes next.
For Pitt, the role utilized both his matinee idol good looks — a moment in which he removes his shirt is already indelible in the minds of many — as well as his knack for eccentric character roles. While Booth has his charms, living by his own cowboy code, there is an enigmatic darkness to the character which Pitt unflinchingly shades in.
In his Oscars acceptance speech, after making mention of John Bolton and the impeachment proceedings — “maybe Quentin does a movie about it and in the end, the adults do the right thing” — Pitt also made a pitch for a long discussed Oscar recognizing stunt work.
Winning the award for a film that considered Hollywood’s past caused Pitt to reflect on his own. He recalled going to the drive-in with his parents and loading up a car to move to California to pursue his dreams as an actor.
Pitt said, “Once upon a time in Hollywood, ain’t that the truth.”
As Pitt has made his way through awards season, picking up a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, a BAFTA and many other prizes, he has delivered a series of charming, self-deprecating speeches in which he’s landed punchlines about Tinder, Quentin Tarantino’s foot fascination and Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Titanic.” At the SAG Awards, he said of his “Once Upon a Time” role, “A guy who gets high, takes his shirt off, and doesn’t get on with his wife. It was a big stretch.”
Then, at the Golden Globes, a backstage photo of Pitt and his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston was examined in such detail it became the Zapruder film of the 2020 awards season.
Backstage at the Oscars, Pitt said, “I’m definitely writing [my speeches],” but candidly admitted, “I have some very, very funny friends who help me out.”
Why did he reach out to his friends?
“Historically, I’ve always been really tentative about speeches; they make me nervous,” he explained. “This round, I figured, if we’re gonna do this, [then] put some work into it and try to feel comfortable. … It was about getting cozy in front of a mass of people. I know this sounds antithetical given the profession I’ve chosen, but it’s not really my thing.”
Still, Pitt said that the sentiments he’s expressed onstage “gotta come from the heart,” which is why he decided to mention Bolton.
“I was really disappointed with this week,” he said of President Trump’s acquittal in the Senate. “When gamesmanship trumps doing the right thing, it’s a sad day, and I don’t think we should let it slide. And I’m very serious about that.”
Pitt also appeared this year in James Gray’s emotional space epic “Ad Astra,” turning in an interior, taciturn performance that was in marked contrast to the easygoing ways of Cliff Booth.
In an interview with The Times’ Glenn Whipp, Pitt said of “Hollywood,” “We’re all just passing through, doing the best we can in these movies. But this one, I would say it’s one of the few times where the experience is as special and unique as the final film. Like our life is as important as the final product. For me, that’s, ‘We’re livin.’”
All the other nominees for supporting actor this year were previous Oscar winners, making the 56-year old Pitt an unlikely up-and-comer in the category up against Anthony Hopkins for “The Two Popes,” Joe Pesci and Al Pacino for “The Irishman” and Tom Hanks for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
Read his full speech here:
“Thank you. This is incredible, really incredible. Thank you to the academy for this honor of honors. They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week. I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it, and in the end, the adults do the right thing.
“This really is about Quentin Jerome Tarantino. You are original. You are one of a kind. The film industry would be a much drier place without you. And I love the ethos you gave Cliff Booth: Look for the best in people. Expect the worst, but look for the best. Leo, I’ll ride on your coattails any day, man. The view’s fantastic.
“And to the rest of the cast and crew, big bad Bob Richardson, Robert Garcia, Richie, my man Mike Moh. You know, I also want to say, you know while we’re doing all this I think it’s time we give a little love to our stunt coordinators and our stunt crews.
“Listen, I’m a bit gobsmacked. I’m not, I’m not one to look back, but this has made me do so and I think of my folks taking me to the drive-in to see ‘Butch and Sundance’ and loading up my car and moving out here and Geena and Ridley giving me my first shot, to all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way to stand here now.
“Once upon a time in Hollywood ... ain’t that the truth. This is for my kids, who color everything I do. I adore you.”
Times staff writer Ashley Lee contributed to this report.