The redemption of Brad Pitt: From tabloid fodder to Hollywood's golden boy reborn, the star's journey in four parts
If you ever wanted a masterclass on how to craft an IRL redemption arc for yourself, look no further than Brad Pitt.
Back in September 2016, it seemed like the actor's A-list, Hollywood royalty status had been irretrievably muddied when he went from being one half of a power couple and father to six children to being branded as an abusive drunk.
His change in status came after an alleged private-jet altercation between Pitt and their oldest son Maddox in which the teen is said to have stepped in to defend his mother. In a video of the incident, Pitt was reportedly yelling and appeared drunk.
An anonymous phone call was made to authorities, which triggered an FBI investigation that was ultimately closed with no charges after the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services cleared him.
Five days later, Jolie filed for divorce. By then, his drinking and drug use had come under close scrutiny and he was labeled as a man who could fly into drunken rages and hurt the people closest to him.
With a tough custody battle ahead, Jolie's PR machinery cranked into action with Jolie giving tell-all interviews about how broken she was and the devastating effect of having a trusted a man who could be violent towards her children.
For Pitt, the backlash was tremendous at the time and he responded by going underground, bunking with friends to get away from it all. And then in May 2017, we got the GQ cover, the official start of Pitt's redemption campaign that culminated in this year's awards season.
Part 1 of the redemption arc was an admission of wrongdoing and the promise that, while he was in crisis, he wanted to do better in the future.
The GQ story had him posing in wild desert landscapes in a variety of vulnerable poses — from one in a fetal position to one where he was crashing into the sand and other similar poses that made him look like a "wounded gazelle".
It was a radical shift from the self-assured, golden boy image he had created for himself till that point. The point was to show the cracks — to show a man who was struggling.
In the interview, he told GQ: "I do remember a few spots along the road where I've become absolutely tired of myself... And this is a big one. These moments have always been a huge generator for change. And I'm quite grateful for it."
He continued, "But me, personally, I can't remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn't boozing or had a spliff or something. Something. And you realize that a lot of it is, um — cigarettes, you know, pacifiers. And I'm running from feelings. I'm really, really happy to be done with all of that."
"I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know — things I wasn't dealing with. I was boozing too much. It's just become a problem," he shared.
Pitt added, "And I'm really happy it's been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I've got my feelings in my fingertips again. I think that's part of the human challenge: You either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve."
The interview was also a bit of a pity party as he went into how he was "too sad" to stay at his place (where he had Jolie and the kids over in the past) and had "stayed on a friend's floor for a month", which was incidentally situated very close to his friend David Fincher's house before the paparazzi had descended.
He also spoke of taking up sculpting as a form of therapy at another sculptor friend's studio and "squatting in there". Reactions to the interview and the pictures were mixed.
It was too soon after the domestic violence drama but it did set Pitt on the path to winning back the public support he had lost.
It also outlined his key asset in the fight to get sober and on-track, career-wise — his close-knit circle of friends who offered him both the privacy to get his act together and the support system he needed at a critical time.
Part 2 of the redemption arc saw Pitt keeping his head down and focussing on work, both in front of the camera and behind it, but also keeping out of the limelight for the most part.
He starred in Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Holywood' and James Gray's 'Ad Astra', playing flawed but affable hero figures who stumble into doing the right thing.
In both films, whether intentional or not, his characters were parodies of his brand of masculinity, with an amplified rendering of stereotypical characteristics ranging from emotional detachment and alienation to posing shirtless, being estranged from women and having "daddy issues".
He also executive produced 'Moonlight' that snagged the Best Picture Award in 2017, which he witnessed on TV sitting in Gray's house eating spaghetti and far away from the spotlight.
This is when Part 3 kicked in with friends coming in to provide character certificates for Pitt, along with Pitt examining how he has grown since September 2016 and being vulnerable and open about his journey.
Gray spoke to the press about the calm and even-keeled way Pitt handled the 'Moonlight' win. His ex-Gweneth Paltrow spoke of how Pitt had protected her from Harvey Weinstein to remind the public that Pitt was essentially a good guy.
He formed a strong bond with 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' co-star Leonardo DiCaprio — who Pitt calls "Lover" in jest — who was a great source of moral support and friendship. Similarly, Bradley Cooper helped him get on the path to sobriety.
Pitt revealed in interviews while promoting 'Ad Astra' to The New York Times and CNN in September 2019 about his journey towards sobriety, his own reckoning with the 'tough exterior' masculinity passed down to him from his father and why he had turned to drugs and drink.
"I had taken things as far as I could take it, so I removed my drinking privileges," he told NYT while talking about how he had been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a year and a half where his recovery group had only men.
"You had all these men sitting around being open and honest in a way I have never heard," Pitt said. "It was this safe space where there was little judgment, and therefore little judgment of yourself. It was actually really freeing just to expose the ugly sides of yourself. There's great value in that."
Talking about his reliance on drugs, he blamed the number fame did on his head. "In the 90s, all that attention really threw me," Pitt said.
"It was really uncomfortable for me, the cacophony of expectations and judgments. I really became a bit of a hermit and just bonged myself into oblivion." In the CNN interview, he spoke about his divorce and his need to escape his "feelings".
He told the interviewer: "What I realized is that I was running to avoid tough feelings, painful feelings. I just didn't know how to deal with them. Anything I found that I used for escape."
"Those kinds of em... those kinds of difficult feelings, I don't know how better to describe it. It can be anything, drugs, booze, Netflix, snacks. Anything. I don't want at this point to be running from anything," he added.
He also waxed eloquent about his present state of mind. "I want to sit in it, I want to feel it, I want to get through the rough night. I found in doing so, you come out the other side with a more profound understanding, of yourself and greater gratefulness of those in your life. And the birds and the trees and everything else."
As award season kicked in, it was obvious that Pitt had gathered a team of professionals and friends to script a fairy-tale comeback story. 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' won him several statuettes from the SAG Awards to the Golden Globes to the BAFTAs and finally the crowning event of them all, the Oscars.
In each of these events, there are plenty of videos and pictures of him being hugged by besties Bradley Cooper and Leonardo di Caprio — the scenes of bromance warmed the public's heart.
And if that wasn't enough, there was also that memorable backstage reunion with his ex-Jennifer Aniston that sent the Internet into a tizzy speculating about a reunion now that Jolie was out of the picture.
This had been preceded by Pitt being part of Aniston's Christmas party, attending Aniston's 50th birthday party and generally making nice with his ex since his break up with Jolie.
Part 4 of Pitt's redemption arc has been his awards shows' "joke campaign" getting friends and allegedly professional speechwriters to craft his winning monologues that cannily targeted "the room" at every event.
Humour is the best weapon to get positive press a-spinning and Pitt went over and above to provide grist for feel-good copies.
At SAG he was irreverent and casual. He got Margot Robbie to deliver some flawless Brexit and Prince Harry riffs on his behalf at the BAFTAs while he worked on "family obligations".
Rumors swirled that the "family obligations" were his efforts to make amends with Maddox but this was never confirmed nor denied.
On award show red carpets (from which Jolie was conspicuously missing this year), Pitt said that preparing speeches helped him battle his nervousness — again revealing vulnerability — and credited his famous friends for helping him pen his quips, from David Fincher to Jim Jefferies and Bob Oschack.
Through it all, Pitt has remained relentlessly single to keep the media's attention on his work, friends, his status as a father who loves his kids and his overall good guy, charming persona.
Romance is a complete no-no during this time of rehabilitation. Pitt brought his long-time manager Cynthia Pett-Dante as his plus one to the Oscars to avoid any rumors. He joked that he was thinking of bringing his mom but was afraid the media would pair him with whoever he brought to the show.
Pitt's journey over the last few years has shown that it is possible to craft a redemption arc. All you need are some solid friends, a team of spin doctors and being wise enough to let them pull you out of the quicksand.