William Bradley Pitt, 47, spouse of Angelina Jolie, father of six, star and movie producer, has grown up a lot since he first made a splash 20 years ago as the boy-toy hitchhiker in Thelma & Louise. As he enters the room at a suite at the Carlton hotel, site of Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, he's looking fit and very Côte d'Azur in a white knit sweater, white jeans, gold chains and tortoiseshell sunglasses.
What's unusual is seeing Pitt, often notoriously inarticulate in his early career, stepping up as the primary spokesman for a film. He's standing in for reclusive director Terrence Malick, whose Palme d'Or winning The Tree of Life opens in Toronto on Friday and more cities next week.
Pitt acknowledges that chief point man is one role that has taken a lot of time to learn. "I loved movies and wanted to be part of the movies," he says of his initial years in the business, "but I didn't really think it through. I wasn't prepared for the intense focus. … I lost my balance a little. Now I'm a bit older, a bit more mature, and I understand it better."
Besides, he adds, The Tree of Life "is a movie that needs some discussion around it."
As well as starring in the role of stern fifties father Mr. O'Brien (who casts a shadow over his grown-up son, played by Sean Penn), Pitt is also a producer on the film. His Plan B Entertainment previously co-produced such films as Troy, Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed and Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
For a celebrity of Pitt's wattage, selling the movie inevitably means talking about his personal life. He's obviously prepared for the question when asked to contrast his own parenting style with that of his character in The Tree of Life.
"They say actions speak louder than words and it's even more true with my kids," who reportedly want their famous parents to get married.
"So it's quite important for me not to put my frustrations on them or bring them to the door. I want to keep them free, not burdened with my junk.
"In the film it's the exact opposite of that. [O'Brien]is a very sad man who feels embittered by his situation, doesn't feel like he's able to get ahead, always feels like he's on the losing end and feels quite oppressed by his surroundings and predicament.
"He doesn't know why it isn't working out for him when it is working out for other people."
Pitt and Jolie, 36, often take their children with them on location, usually travelling by night while the kids sleep and arranging their schedules so that one parent is always at home. The children don't see their parents' films. Movies, Pitt says, are "just what mom and dad do and it's a bummer when mom's got to go to work, you know, or when dad's got to go to work.
"We're quite comfortable living out of suitcases," he adds. "We've got it down, and the kids have got their backpacks. … Mom's really good at the packing. She's militant. She's really, really talented. I couldn't do it."
Packing, travelling, children: Does the star of such movies as Seven and Fight Club think he has become more cautious, in his choices, with age?
"Maybe more adventurous," Pitt says. "I want it to mean something. I want it to mean something to the children [in future viewings] I think that, before, I enjoyed more colourful characters, and now I want them to know their dad has maturity. I want to do stories where I can make a difference - not a difference in the world - but stories where you couldn't just plug any actor into the role, where I've got something to add. Otherwise, why do it?"