Pitt began his acting career with television guest appearances, including a role on the CBS prime-time soap opera Dallas in 1987. He later gained recognition as the cowboy hitchhiker who seduces Geena Davis's character in the 1991 road movie Thelma & Louise. Pitt's first leading roles in big-budget productions came with A River Runs Through It (1992) and Interview with the Vampire (1994). He was cast opposite Anthony Hopkins in the 1994 drama Legends of the Fall, which earned him his first Golden Globe nomination. In 1995 he gave critically acclaimed performances in the crime thriller Seven and the science fiction film 12 Monkeys, the latter securing him a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Academy Award nomination. Four years later, in 1999, Pitt starred in the cult hit Fight Club. He then starred in the major international hit as Rusty Ryan in Ocean's Eleven (2001) and its sequels, Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). His greatest commercial successes have been Troy (2004) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Pitt received his second Academy Award nomination for his title role performance in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Following a high-profile relationship with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Pitt was married to actress Jennifer Aniston for five years. Pitt lives with actress Angelina Jolie in a relationship that has generated wide publicity. He and Jolie have six children—Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Knox, and Vivienne. Since beginning his relationship with Jolie, he has become increasingly involved in social issues both in the United States and internationally. Pitt owns a production company named Plan B Entertainment, whose productions include the 2007 Academy Award winning Best Picture, The Departed.
The son of Jane Etta (née Hillhouse), a high school counselor, and William Alvin Pitt, a truck company owner, Pitt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Along with his siblings Doug (born 1966) and Julie Neal (born 1969), he grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where the family moved soon after his birth. He was raised as a conservative Southern Baptist.
Pitt attended Kickapoo High School, where he was a member of the golf, tennis and swimming teams. He participated in the school's Key and Forensics clubs, in school debates, and in musicals. Following his graduation from high school, Pitt enrolled in the University of Missouri in 1982, majoring in journalism, with a focus on advertising. As a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, he acted in several fraternity shows. As graduation approached, Pitt saw his friends getting jobs but did not feel ready to settle down himself. He loved films—"a portal into different worlds for me"—and, since films were not made in Missouri, he decided he would go to where they were made. Two weeks before earning his degree, Pitt left the university and moved to Los Angeles where he took acting lessons and worked odd jobs.
While struggling to establish himself in Los Angeles, Pitt took lessons from acting coach Roy London. He took on various occasional jobs, spending some time as a chauffeur and dressing up as an El Pollo Loco chicken to pay for acting lessons.
Pitt's onscreen career began in 1987, with uncredited parts in the films No Way Out, No Man's Land and Less Than Zero. His television debut came in November of the same year with a guest appearance on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains. He appeared in four episodes of the CBS primetime soap opera Dallas between December 1987 and February 1988 as Randy, the boyfriend of Charlie Wade (played by Shalane McCall). Pitt described his character as "an idiot boyfriend who gets caught in the hay." Speaking of his scenes with McCall, Pitt later said "It was kind of wild, because I'd never even met her before." Later in 1988, Pitt made a guest appearance on the Fox police drama 21 Jump Street.
In the same year, the Yugoslavian–U.S. co-production The Dark Side of the Sun (1988) gave Pitt his first leading film role, as a young American taken by his family to the Adriatic to find a remedy for a skin condition. However, the film was shelved on the outbreak of the Croatian War of Independence, and was released only in 1997. Pitt made two motion picture appearances in 1989: the first in a supporting role in the comedy Happy Together; the second a featured role in the horror film Cutting Class, the first of Pitt's films to reach theaters. He made guest appearances on television series Head of the Class, Freddy's Nightmares, Thirtysomething, and (for a second time) Growing Pains.
Pitt was cast as Billy Canton, a drug addict who takes advantage of a young runaway (played by Juliette Lewis) in the 1990 NBC television movie Too Young to Die?, the story of an abused teenager sentenced to death for a murder. Ken Tucker, television reviewer for Entertainment Weekly wrote: "Pitt is a magnificent slimeball as her hoody boyfriend; looking and sounding like a malevolent John Cougar Mellencamp, he's really scary." The same year, Pitt co-starred in six episodes of the short-lived Fox drama Glory Days, and took a supporting role in the HBO television movie The Image. His next appearance came in the 1991 film Across the Tracks; Pitt portrayed Joe Maloney, a high school runner with a criminal brother, played by Ricky Schroder.
After years of supporting roles in movies and frequent television guest appearances, broader public recognition came for Pitt with his supporting role in the 1991 road film Thelma & Louise. He played J.D., a small-time criminal who befriends Thelma (Geena Davis). His love scene with Davis has been cited as the moment that defined Pitt as a sex symbol.
After Thelma & Louise, Pitt starred in the 1991 film Johnny Suede, a low-budget picture about an aspiring rock star, and the 1992 film Cool World, although neither furthered his career in light of their poor reviews and box office performance. Pitt took the role of Paul Maclean in the 1992 biographical film A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford. His portrayal of the character has been described as a career-making performance, proving that Pitt could be more than a "cowboy-hatted hunk", although he admitted that he felt under pressure when making the film. Pitt added that he considered it one of his "weakest performances ... It's so weird that it ended up being the one that I got the most attention for." Pitt believed that he benefited from working with such a talented cast and crew, going on to compare working with Redford to playing tennis, saying "when you play with somebody better than you, your game gets better."
In 1993, Pitt reunited with Juliette Lewis, co-star from Too Young to Die?, for the road film Kalifornia. He played Early Grayce, a serial killer and the boyfriend of Lewis's character in a performance Peter Travers of Rolling Stone described as "outstanding, all boyish charm and then a snort that exudes pure menace". Pitt also garnered attention for a brief appearance in the cult hit True Romance as a stoner named Floyd, providing much needed comic relief to the action film. He capped the year by winning a ShoWest Award for Male Star of Tomorrow.
1994 marked a significant turning point in Pitt's career. Starring as vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac in the feature film Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice's 1976 novel of the same name, he was part of an ensemble cast that included Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater, and Antonio Banderas. Despite winning two MTV Movie Awards at the 1995 ceremony, his performance was poorly received. According to the Dallas Observer, "Brad Pitt ... is a large part of the problem [in the film]. When directors play up his cocky, hunkish, folksy side ... he's a joy to watch. But there's nothing about him that suggests inner torment or even self-awareness, which makes him a boring Louis."
Following the release of Interview with the Vampire, Pitt starred in Legends of the Fall (1994), a film set during the first four decades of the twentieth century. Pitt portrayed Tristan Ludlow, son of Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), and received his first Golden Globe Award nomination, in the Best Actor category. Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas co-starred as Pitt's brothers. Although the film's reception was mixed, many film critics complimented Pitt's performance. Janet Maslin of The New York Times said, "Pitt's diffident mix of acting and attitude works to such heartthrob perfection it's a shame the film's superficiality gets in his way" while the Deseret News predicted that Legends of the Fall would solidify Pitt's reputation as a lead actor.
In 1995, Pitt starred alongside Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow in the crime thriller Seven, playing a detective on the trail of a serial killer (played by Kevin Spacey). Pitt called the film a great movie and declared the part would expand his acting horizons, expressing a desire to move on from "this 'pretty boy' thing and play someone with flaws". His performance was critically well-received, with Variety saying that it was screen acting at its best, further remarking on Pitt's ability to turn in a "determined, energetic, creditable job" as the detective. Seven earned $327 million at the international box office.
Following the success of Seven, Pitt took a supporting role as Jeffrey Goines in Terry Gilliam's 1995 science-fiction film 12 Monkeys. The movie received predominantly positive reviews, with Pitt praised in particular. Janet Maslin of the New York Times called Twelve Monkeys "fierce and disturbing" and remarked on Pitt's "startlingly frenzied performance", concluding that he "electrifies Jeffrey with a weird magnetism that becomes important later in the film." He won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film and received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The following year he had a role in the legal drama Sleepers (1996), based on the Lorenzo Carcaterra's novel of the same name. The film received mixed reviews. In the 1997 movie The Devil's Own Pitt starred, opposite Harrison Ford, as the Irish Republican Army terrorist Rory Devany, a role for which he was required to learn an Irish accent. Critical opinion was divided on his approximation of the accent; "Pitt finds the right tone of moral ambiguity, but at times his Irish brogue is too convincing – it's hard to understand what he's saying", wrote the San Francisco Chronicle while a contributor from The Charleston Gazette opined that it had favored Pitt's accent over the movie. The Devil's Own grossed $140 million worldwide, but was a critical failure. Later that year he led as Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer in the Jean-Jacques Annaud film Seven Years in Tibet. Pitt trained for months for the role, which demanded significant mountain climbing and trekking practice, including by rock climbing in California and the European Alps with his co-star David Thewlis. The film received mostly negative reviews, and was generally considered a disappointment.
Pitt then had the lead role in 1998's Meet Joe Black. He portrayed a personification of death inhabiting the body of a young man to learn what it is like to be human. The film received mixed reviews, and many were critical of Pitt's performance. According to Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, Pitt was unable to "to make an audience believe that he knows all the mysteries of death and eternity."
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pitt was involved in successive relationships with several of his co-stars, including Robin Givens (Head of the Class), Jill Schoelen (Cutting Class), and Juliette Lewis (Too Young to Die? and Kalifornia), who, at the age of sixteen, was ten years his junior when they started dating. In addition, Pitt had a much-publicized romance and engagement to his Seven co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, whom he dated from 1994 to 1997.
Pitt met Friends actress Jennifer Aniston in 1998 and married her in a private wedding ceremony in Malibu on July 29, 2000. For years their marriage was considered a rare Hollywood success; however, in January 2005, Pitt and Aniston announced that they had decided formally to separate after seven years together. Two months later Aniston filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Pitt and Aniston's divorce was finalized by the Los Angeles Superior Court on October 2, 2005, legally ending their marriage. Despite media reports that Pitt and Aniston have an acrimonious relationship, Pitt said in a February 2009 interview that he and Aniston "check in with each other", adding that they were both big parts of each others' lives.
During Pitt's divorce from Aniston, his involvement with his Mr. & Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie attracted vigorous media attention. While Pitt denied claims of adultery, he admitted that he "fell in love" with Jolie on the set. In April 2005, one month after Aniston filed for divorce, a set of paparazzi photographs emerged showing Pitt, Jolie and her son Maddox at a beach in Kenya; the pictures were construed in the press as evidence of a relationship between Pitt and Jolie. During the summer of 2005, the two were seen together with increasing frequency, and the entertainment media dubbed the couple "Brangelina". On January 11, 2006, Jolie confirmed to People that she was pregnant with Pitt's child, thereby publicly acknowledging their relationship for the first time. In an October 2006 interview with Esquire, Pitt said that he and Jolie would marry when everyone in America is legally able to marry. In February 2010, Pitt and Jolie successfully sued the British tabloid News of the World over reports that they were separating.
In an October 2007 interview, Pitt revealed that he is no longer a Christian and does not believe in an afterlife. "There's peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and I'm responsible." In a July 2009 interview he said that he did not believe in God, and that he was "probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic."