Brad Pitt on Quitting Drinking, Divorcing Angelina Jolie and Fighting for His Kids: "There's No Love Without Loss"

"I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka," he tells GQ Style

By Zach Johnson May 03, 2017 12:00 PMTags

This is Brad Pitt laid bare.

Eight months after Angelina Jolie filed for divorce, ending their two-year marriage and 12-year partnership, Pitt gave his first in-depth interview to GQ Style, in which he owned up to his own shortcomings and revealed what he's now doing to become a better father to their six children.

"You know, I just started therapy," said Brad, whose entire family sought individual and group counseling after the split. "I love it. I love it. I went through two therapists to get the right one."

Last September, while aboard a private plane en route to L.A., there was a reported altercation between Brad and his 15-year-old son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt. An anonymous phone call was made to the police, leading to an FBI investigation (which was later closed with no charges). Angelina filed for divorce five days later, which resulted in months of back-and-forth fights in the courts.

"I was really on my back and chained to a system when Child Services was called," the War Machine star said, publicly addressing the ordeal for the first time. "After that, we've been able to work together to sort this out. We're both doing our best. I heard one lawyer say, 'No one wins in court—it's just a matter of who gets hurt worse.' And it seems to be true. You spend a year just focused on building a case to prove your point and why you're right and why they're wrong, and it's just an investment in vitriolic hatred. I just refuse. And fortunately my partner in this agrees. It's just very, very jarring for the kids, to suddenly have their family ripped apart."

Ryan McGinley exclusively for GQ Style

Thankfully, relations are better today than they were last fall.

Part of that, Brad said, is because he and Angelina agreed to handle their divorce "with great care and delicacy" out of consideration for their children. "There's a lot to tell them because there's understanding the future, there's understanding the immediate moment and why we're at this point, and then it brings up a lot of issues from the past that we haven't talked about. So, our focus is that everyone comes out stronger and better people—there is no other outcome."

In the aftermath of the split, Brad holed up at a friend's bungalow in Santa Monica, Calif., since living alone in his Hollywood Hills home felt "too sad," he said. But, after a month and a half, Brad decided it was time to go. "I was out there one morning, 5:30, and this surveillance van pulls up. They don't know that I'm up behind a wall, and they pull up—and it's a long story—but it was something more than TMZ, because they got into my friend's computer. The stuff they can do these days...I got a little paranoid being there. I decided I had to pick up and come here."

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Ryan McGinley exclusively for GQ Style

But his Hollywood Hills home doesn't feel like a home anymore. "This house was always chaotic and crazy, voices and bangs coming from everywhere, and then, as you see, there are days like this: very...very solemn," he said. Brad's been "squatting" at sculptor pal Thomas Houseago's place for a month and a half. "They've been kind," Brad said. "I'm taking a s--t on their sanctity." He's been playing around with clay, plaster, rebar and wood, "just trying to learn the materials."

"You know, I surprise myself," Brad said. "But it's a very, very lonely occupation."

But the solitude has been good for Brad, as he's been able to take a long hard look at what got him to this point in life. "I remember literally having this thought a year, a year and a half ago; someone was going through some scandal," he said. "Something crossed my path that was a big scandal—and I went, 'Thank God I'm never going to have to be a part of one of those again.' I live my life, I have my family, I do my thing, I don't do anything illegal, I don't cross anyone's path. What's the David Foster Wallace quote? 'Truth will set you free, but not until it's done with you first.'" What Brad realized after his breakup, he said, is that he's "really good at cutting myself off, and it's been a problem. I need to be more accessible, especially to the ones I love."

Ryan McGinley exclusively for GQ Style

"I certainly shield. Shield, shield, shield. Mask, escape," he said. "Now I think: 'That's just me.'"

Brad admitted he didn't want to divorce Angelina—at least not at first. "The first urge is to cling on. And then you've got a cliché: 'If you love someone, set them free.' Now I know what it means, by feeling it. It means to love without ownership. It means expecting nothing in return. But it sounds good written. It sounds good when Sting sings it. It doesn't mean f--k-all to me until you live it. That's why I never understood growing up with Christianity—don't do this, don't do that—it's all about don'ts, and I was like, 'How the f--k do you know who you are and what works for you if you don't find out where the edge is, where's your line?'" asked Brad, who no longer considers himself to be an actor. "You've got to step over it to know where it is."

But ignoring the obvious wasn't going to save his marriage.

"Delusion is not going to let you go...We, as humans, construct such mousetrap mind games to get away from it all," the Academy Award winner told GQ Style (on newsstands in L.A. and New York City May 8 and nationwide May 16). "You know, we're almost too smart for ourselves."

Brad said he would use substances to avoid facing his issues. "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," Brad admitted. "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."

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Ryan McGinley exclusively for GQ Style

It wasn't hard to stop smoking pot, but alcohol was tougher. "I mean, we have a winery. I enjoy wine very, very much, but I just ran it to the ground. I had to step away for a minute. And truthfully I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka. I was a professional. I was good," said the actor, who ultimately decided that he didn't "want to live that way anymore."

Today, Brad claimed he only he drinks "cranberry juice and fizzy water." In fact, he joked, "I've got the cleanest urinary tract in all of L.A., I guarantee you! But the terrible thing is I tend to run things into the ground. That's why I've got to make something so calamitous. I've got to run it off a cliff. I do it with everything, yeah. I exhaust it, and then I walk away. I've always looked at things in seasons, compartmentalized them, I guess, seasons or semesters or tenures or..."

"For me this period has really been about looking at my weaknesses and failures and owning my side of the street. I'm an a--hole when it comes to this need for justice. I don't know where it comes from, this hollow quest for justice for some perceived slight. I can drill on that for days and years. It's done me no good whatsoever. It's such a silly idea, the idea that the world is fair. And this is coming from a guy who hit the lottery, I'm well aware of that," the twice-married star acknowledged. "I hit the lottery, and I still would waste my time on those hollow pursuits."

Ryan McGinley exclusively for GQ Style

Facing "those horrible feelings" was a difficult but important step forward, he said. "In the end, you find: I am those things I don't like. That is a part of me. I can't deny that. I have to accept that. And in fact, I have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself. I am those mistakes. For me every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It's the real missing out on life. It's those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better."

"By the way, there's no love without loss," the single star said. "It's a package deal."

As for the rumors about the end of his marriage to Angelina, he said, "So little of it is accurate, and I avoid so much of it. I just let it go. It's always been a long-run game for me. As far as out there, I hope my intentions and work will speak for themselves." It's not fun to have "things drug out in public," but Brad said he's far more concerned about his kids "being subjected to it."

To protect them, Brad puts his family first. "People on their deathbeds don't talk about what they obtained or were awarded. They talk about their loved ones or their regrets—that seems to be the menu. I say that as someone who's let the work take me away. Kids are so delicate. They absorb everything. They need to have their hand held and things explained. They need to be listened to. When I get in that busy work mode, I'm not hearing. I want to be better at that."

Everything else, Brad said, feels unimportant.

What the public thinks of him is none of his business. "What did Churchill say? History will be kind to me: I know because I'll write it myself. I don't really care about protecting the narrative. That's when I get a bit pessimistic, I get in my oh-it-all-goes-away-anyway kind of thinking," Brad told GQ Style."But I know the people who love me know me. And that's enough for me."