By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 7, 2012 at 6:32PM
Oscar Q & As are happening all over Hollywood this week' the Best Actor race, especially, continues to be a close one. Monday night Brad Pitt and Oakland As general manager Billy Beane, the man he plays in "Moneyball," joined moderator Elvis Mitchell at LACMA for an Oscar nominees panel including Jonah Hill, editor Christopher Tellefsen and lead sound mixer Deb Adair. Afterwards, Pitt and Beane followed me down into the basement for an exclusive talk. "This is our last interview, Anne," Pitt declared jubilantly as he headed for the airport to fly with Angelina Jolie to Berlin and Kosovo with "In the Land of Blood and Honey."
As a fan of baseball, Beane and Michael Lewis's book "Moneyball," on which this Best Picture nominee is based, I got a kick out of this interview. "I didn't think the movie would get made," Beane reminded--Lewis told him to take the money and run, it would never happen. At the time, none of his business behind-the-scenes books had been made into movies. And then "The Blind Side" happened, and Beane was afraid Hollywood would come knocking.
And sure enough, Pitt did. "This is going to be my best movie, the best work I've ever done," Beane says he told him. "I had no idea how it would turn out." The star stuck with the movie through thick and thin at Sony, after Steven Soderbergh's version fell apart with the studio, finally supporting Bennett Miller's vision of a 70s-style 35 mm film like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or "All the President's Men," focused on a central character who doesn't radically change, but rather evolves and devolves, says Pitt.
The movie, as written by A-listers Aaron Sorkin (who won the Oscar for "The Social Network") and Steve Zaillian (who won for "Schindler's List"), humanizes Beane, who walks his dog and loves his daughter, and reveals his two sides--the Machiavellian performer and the pensive introvert worrying late into the night. "What rages?" Beane said to Mitchell. "Some of it was for effect. I can't say there weren't some objects tossed during my ten-year tenure." As for the infamous 20th winning game in 2002, only during the movie could Beane, who rarely ever watches a game, enjoy it for the first time.
It took some arrogance for Pitt to be accepted inside the clubby As locker room, Beane told me. And it took some sensitivity for Pitt to play the doting dad (both men have twins the same age). Beane says the scenes with his daughter choke him up every time.
Pitt admits that he shares some of Beane's values--doing what's right for him, not chasing the money. Pitt nurtured his career with some bad choices at the start, he says, and they didn't satisfy him. George Clooney influenced him, in part, and even though Pitt lost money on Andrew Dominik's indie western "The Assassination of Jesse James," Pitt would do it again. In fact he's gone back into the fray with Dominik on the Weinstein Co. action movie tentatively titled "Cogan's Trade," and has also filmed Marc Forster's upcoming big-budget zombie flick "World War Z" (GK Films/Paramount, December 21).