There’s a lot to chew over in Esquire’s forthcoming profile of Brad Pitt, including his admission that his drug use during his marriage to Jennifer Aniston got out of control. But one of the most striking revelations in the profile comes from Frank Pollaro, a friend of Pitt’s who collaborated with him on a furniture line. Since he began his relationship with fellow mega-star Angelina Jolie, Pollaro explains, Pitt’s done something unusual. As the New York Daily News reports, Pollaro told Esquire, “This is a guy who has tried not to do any sexy scenes with other women since he’s met Angelina. He’s crazy about her, and she’s the same way about him.”
It’s not exactly unusual for Hollywood couples to get jealous of their partners’ on-screen love scenes. Lisa Rinna has tweeted about getting jealous when her husband, Harry Hamlin, is shooting sex scenes. Patricia Arquette wouldn’t watch then-husband Thomas Jane in Hung, the show in which he played a gym-teacher-turned prostitute. Eve McGregor has said that being pregnant while her husband Ewan was filming sex scenes with Kelly Macdonald for Trainspotting was exceptionally difficult. Of course, many actors have learned to manage the painful emotions brought on by watching a loved one love someone else on screen. Rarer are the actors who have decided to spare their significant other that misery entirely.
Though Pitt’s been known more for action roles in recent years, early in his career he was famous for sex scenes in movies like Thelma and Louise (which he later called “discombobulating”), Meet Joe Black, Fight Club, and of course, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in which he starred with Jolie. Hollywood math dictates that Pitt could have kept playing romantic roles pretty much forever—and kept playing them opposite actresses in their 20s. But Pitt also has action roles and, increasingly, comedic chops to fall back on. Not to mention that he’s dabbled in Serious Acting roles for films like Tree of Life and Moneyball.
Has Jolie reciprocated her partner’s vow? It’s hard to say: The actress has appeared nude in a number of movies since she began seeing Pitt in 2005, including Wanted and Beowulf. Yet she hasn’t done a sex scene since Mr. and Mrs. Smith (on whose set the relationship supposedly began). A shower sex scene was originally included in the script for 2010’s The Tourist, but it was reportedly cut at the request of co-star Johnny Depp’s then-partner, Vanessa Paradis.
Good for Pitt for being so sensitive to the needs of his relationship (although the gesture seems oddly fussy for a pair of professional thespians). That said, as an A-list actor, he can better afford the luxury of turning down roles than most older actresses. The majority of roles for women in the top 100 grossing movies released in the United States in 2012 were for characters 39 or younger. Even actresses with similar profiles to Pitt’s—mega-stars in presumably high demand—have continued to do sex scenes. Kate Winslet shot sex scenes for both Revolutionary Road and The Reader. Julia Roberts got in bed with Bryan Cranston in Larry Crowne. And Charlize Theron has done sex scenes in a significant number of her movies, from serial killer drama Monster to Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s Young Adult. Maybe substantive, juicy roles for women are simply more likely to include sex, whether it’s because audiences enjoy seeing attractive actresses naked or because great female parts usually revolve around domestic life and relationships. In any case, it’s hard to completely divorce Pitt’s promise from the privilege that makes such a move possible.
Pitt’s gesture of respect for Jolie may be good for their family. And it might be good for him creatively, too, helping him leave behind his early status as man-candy, without going the overly dour route that Leonardo DiCaprio chose to walk. But it’s also a reminder that, compared to many actresses in his position, he’s got the option to turn down certain kinds of work, in full confidence that there will be other parts out there for him.