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Bon voyage, Brad; hello land of nod

June 10, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

I watched three episodes of HBO's "Entourage" the other night and then promptly fell asleep during Diane Sawyer's interview with Brad Pitt. I felt bad for falling asleep; Pitt and Sawyer were touring poverty-stricken villages in Ethiopia, and Pitt was saying, "We are so fortunate that we were born at a particular longitude and latitude where we come from ... and we've got to be really careful, because with that kind of comes a feeling of superiority."

"That you deserve your luck?" Sawyer asked as they walked and talked.

"Yeah," Pitt said.

There were kids tagging along; later, I was horrified to think that I'd probably fallen asleep because I knew none of them was bound to ask, "Why did you break up with Jen?"

Sawyer got to that later, but the "Primetime Live" interview was a bait-and-switch, ABC teasing the viewer with the promise of Brad Pitt and all that that implies -- Brad on Brad and Jen and Brad on Brad and Angelina -- and instead presenting Brad the Reluctant Humanitarian, the Brad Who Sincerely Cares About the Problems of Africa, and who is serving as a spokesperson for the One Campaign, helping the renewed push to deal with disease and poverty in the poorest nations of the world.

It's an honorable thing he's doing, even if you can't help but see it as a scandal-deflecting tactic. It's the way we're conditioned, probably why I fell asleep. In Ethiopia, Pitt said, they call him "Dabo," for "bread," which sounds like Brad. As such, it was a strikingly guilt-inducing hour, its sub-theme American abundance and excess, which includes our appetite, of course, for tidbits about Pitt and his love life. Indeed, for 16 bucks (roughly the cost of a ticket to his new movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"), you could educate a child in Africa for a full year, Pitt said.

Waste is always a sub-theme of celebrity scandal, but here the connection was being made more forcefully: The intense caring about his personal life, the setup went, if I understood Pitt correctly, is tangentially why kids in Africa are still suffering. Told by Sawyer that his Google is up to 2.7 million entries, Pitt's face fell. "I don't even know how to respond to that," he said. "It's a strange focus, isn't it?"

This exchange happened not in the Ethiopian village but during the in-studio interview embedded in the special. Sawyer -- who plays like a desperate housewife with these hunks, blouse figuratively unbuttoned two more buttons than might be appropriate -- got in her marshmallow questions ("Do you still believe in happiness?" Answer: "Yes"), and Pitt said nothing, really, about his divorce from Aniston or his relationship with Jolie and barely even plugged their new movie.

"There's not so much to talk about at this time," Pitt said tightly, on the subject of "Mrs. Smith." "If there is, I will."

Nor did Jolie, who has been working with the U.N. on poverty relief herself, make a surprise appearance at the end of the hour, as Katie Holmes did at the climax of Tom Cruise's mostly wordless, interpretative couch dance of love on "Oprah" a few weeks ago. In the end, as in his movie roles, Cruise came off clenched on "Oprah." If there's still a guy in there when it comes to Pitt, Cruise seems all construct. Thursday night they were back, Cruise short and 42, Holmes tall and 26, appearing together on "The MTV Movie Awards," where Holmes presented Cruise with some MTV version of the Irving Thalberg Award, lifetime achievement for 40-year-olds and up.

"Should I go get him?" Holmes said, echoing the "Oprah" appearance where he had gone backstage to get her. So she went backstage and got him, and together they continued to look less like a couple than an older brother/younger sister.

In the same oh-by-the-way fashion that Pitt plugged "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," Cruise is out rounding up attention for "War of the Worlds," which opens at the end of the month. Cruise, maybe to pass the junket time more entertainingly, has been offering the press guided tours of Scientology centers while insulting people who go to therapy and take antidepressants.

I believe this makes him the first major celebrity to officially come out against Paxil. Didn't movie stars used to just beat people up and have affairs and pop sedatives and offer to assassinate foreign despots and then go on Merv Griffin and laugh about it over a few highballs? Now it's all so heavy, so fraught, so interpreted and reinterpreted, the scandals themselves not even that exciting.

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