Brad Pitt was in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, a place he loves, talking about the most important things in his life — his family and helping others. Behind him rose brand-new, self-sustaining housing built by his foundation, now occupied by the families who had the least and lost the most to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
“Now you see it. There’s actually families here who are home for the holidays. And it's really, really cool,” the actor/activist told TODAY’s Ann Curry in an exclusive interview that aired Tuesday.
Pitt and his partner, actress Angelina Jolie, own a home in New Orleans, which they call their adopted hometown. In the wake of Katrina, they organized an effort called “Make It Right” to not only rebuild the 9th Ward, but to do it in an environmentally friendly way, with housing that would not wash away in the next hurricane.
Off the grid
They raised millions of dollars, and donated millions more to meet their goal of 150 affordable housing units. As Pitt spoke, more than 80 units were under construction or finished and the first eight families had already moved into their units.
Despite the autumn chill in the air, the sun shone down on the solar panels atop the housing. “This time next year, you're going to see 100 homes here,” Pitt told Curry. “And not only that ... these homes, what you don't see is the way they work. It’s a sunny day. Those meters are running backward. They are off the grid. This is the road to affordable housing that you see right here.”
The houses are built on pilings, with carports underneath. In the event of catastrophic floods like those that accompanied Katrina, the homes will ride above the water — and survive.
“What I see is what I was talking about — quality of life,” Pitt told Curry. “I see the upbringing they're going to have there, the experiences and memories they're going to make in this place. And it's a good start, and it's a fair start. That's what I like about it.”
The 44-year-old star wore a scarf against the chill, and a stubby mustache nested on his upper lip. The facial hair is there for his role in the Quentin Tarantino World War II movie “Inglourious Basterds” that he is currently filming. His newest film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” whose title character is born old and gets younger as he grows up, is scheduled for a Christmas Day release.
As eager as Pitt was to talk about his dreams for New Orleans, he was reluctant to talk about Jolie and their six children, including twins Vivienne and Knox, who were born in France in July; biological daughter Shiloh, 2; and adopted children Maddox, 7, from Cambodia; Pax, 4, from Vietnam; and Zahara, 3, from Ethiopia. In a separate appearance on TODAY in October, Jolie told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that she and Pitt are thinking of adopting another child when the twins turn 6 months old.
“I'm really proud of this family,” Pitt said. “I look at my sons and my daughters, and one's from Vietnam and one's from Cambodia and one's from Ethiopia, and … they're all brothers and sisters. And they're fighting, they're laughing, they're going into hysterics and staying up late, and they're messing with their parents, and they're driving me crazy and I'm really proud.
“I truly feel rich being around them,” the actor added. “It's a rich home, and each one of 'em offers so much to the mix.” Then, with a smile, he deadpanned, “Surprising, though: Six kids is not as easy as you would think.”
Curry asked him why he’s reluctant to talk about Jolie and his children.
“It just gets cheapened somehow, as it goes through the filters in the airwaves,” he explained. “And some things you just want to keep close.”
Curry observed that a lot of people think about adopting children from Third World countries, as Pitt and Jolie have done, but are afraid they won’t be able to fully embrace and love the children.
“It’s automatic,” Pitt assured her. “It’s automatic.”
An avid photographer, Pitt took the cover shot of Jolie on the current issue of “W” as well as photos inside. The pictures, he said, “capture a side of Angie that’s so warm and big that you rarely see.”
Pitt and Jolie have been together three years. They’ve been asked many times whether they plan to marry and both have said they would when all people — gay and straight — can enter legal civil unions.
“Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able,” Pitt told Esquire magazine in 2006.
In New Orleans, Curry said she’d asked Jolie if they were going to get married. “Angie said I have to ask Brad,” Curry told Pitt.
Replied Pitt, “If we feel it’s important to our kids, we’ll do so.”