This past weekend, I had the great honor of sitting down with two-time Academy Award nominated actor and star of the upcoming film “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt. In the film, Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who used unconventional methods for evaluating baseball talent to construct a playoff team on a very limited budget. Incidentally, at approximately $47 million, the cost of making “Moneyball” was, in fact, higher than the payroll of the 2002 Athletics. So that’s something.
We talked about everything from his career, to sabermetrics, to his family life.
Eric Augenbraun: Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule, Mr. Pitt. Before we start, I just want to say I’ve seen all of your movies and I’m a big fan of your work. 2005 sticks out in my mind as the year of two great snubs: Johan Santana losing the AL Cy Young Award to Bartolo Colon and you losing the MTV Movie Award for your performance in “Troy.”
Brad Pitt: Well, thank you. That’s very kind of you. To be completely honest, I had forgotten I was nominated for anything for my role in that.
EA: You’re too modest. You gave a fantastic performance and your lack of hardware to show for it stands as a wholesale indictment of the entire award-giving process.
BP: I can’t tell if you are being ironic or if you actually mean that.
EA: Totally, deadly serious. Moving on: let’s talk about your role in the forthcoming film “Moneyball.” I’m sure you’re aware that this film is based on book that is quite popular among those who frequent this web establishment. Am I correct in being sure of that?
BP: Sure, of course I know it’s based on a book. I didn’t know it was popular at your website. What site are you from again?
EA: It’s called Fangraphs.
BP: Oh, I know Fangraphs. That’s strange though, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen your work there.
EA: Sorry, I should have been more specific. I write for NotGraphs, which is a subsidiary of Fangraphs.
EA: In any case, I think it’s interesting that you know Fangraphs because my next question was going to be whether you read “Moneyball” at any point before or during the production of the film and what you learned from the book?
BP: Yes, I first read “Moneyball” a few years after it came out. It helped me see baseball in a completely different light. In particular, I think the book’s central idea of using non-traditional stats to identify players who are undervalued by the market to construct a competitive team on a low budget is really cool.
EA: I guess one could say you are like the anti-Moneyball actor. You’re really, really good, but you come at a steep price. If you are making a movie on a limited budget, tying too much money up on Brad Pitt would not leave much budget flexibility to fill other needs. It would make more sense for you to instead find really good actors who are for whatever reason undervalued by the market who can deliver strong performances for a more reasonable price.
BP: Maybe. But the difference is that films I am in will generally turn a profit just because I am in them, regardless of the strength of my performance.
EA: I gotcha. Sort of like “Troy,” right?
BP: See, there it is. I knew you were being a smartass.
EA: Aw, I’m totally kidding, buddy. I’m just breaking your balls. Just a little joke.
BP: Well, I don’t find it funny. If you do it again, this interview is over.
EA: Duly noted, Mr. Pitt. Next question: Having read Moneyball and, as you mentioned, being aware of Fangraphs, would it be right to say that you subscribe to sabermetrics?
BP: Yeah. I mean, I don’t have nearly enough time to become as much of an expert as I’d like to be, but in general I value the approach.
EA: You are pictured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated next to the formula for FIP. This led me to wonder: What is your favorite ERA estimator?
BP: Again, I have to apologize, I’m really not that well-versed in some of the specifics…
EA: SIERA! An excellent choice.
Shifting gears a little bit, I wanted to talk about your family life. You and your lovely wife Angelina Jolie have amassed quite an impressive litter of children over the past few years. If you had to liken your kids to players from the Beane-era Oakland A’s who feature prominently in the book or film, who would they be?
BP: That’s a really bizarre question.
EA: I’ve actually given it a lot of thought. Maddox is Giambi because he was there before you joined the family. Zahara and Pax are clearly David Justice and Scott Hatteberg because they were cast off by their previous families and, despite being wonderful children, were in desperate need of a loving new family to take them in (plus, we all know Zahara was a sort of experiment to test your parenting skills). Finally, Shiloh, Knox, and Vivienne are the “Big Three” — Mulder, Hudson, and Zito — because they are your “home grown talent” if you catch my drift.
BP: I didn’t think it would be possible, but you actually managed to make the answer to your own question more disturbing than the question itself. Are you seriously the best person NopeGraphs, or whatever it’s called, could send to conduct this interview?
EA: I’m sorry you feel that way, Mr. Pitt. I’m just asking the questions that I think would be of interest to our readership.
BP: Can we please wrap this up?
EA: Certainly. I’ll just skip to my final question. Favorite Troy: Glaus or Tulowitzki?