Helmeted, Huge, Humble

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There is no secret strategy behind Brad Pitt's career choices. "It's pretty damn simple, really," he says. "I get sent several things, and then I try to find an angle that I'm excited about. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it's The Mexican."

Pitt can be laid back to the point of comatose, particularly when talking about acting. He hates the word craft and laughs at the preciousness of declaring any role his best work. To Pitt, it's all just work. "I felt the same going into Troy as I did about Snatch or True Romance, which was a two-day job," he says. "Prepare, show up on time, and be professional." Of course, True Romance required only that he sit on a couch and pretend to be high. For Troy, Pitt spent months training with a dialect coach to lose his "Missouri mush mouth," worked out three hours and ate five low-fat meals a day (he cheated with the occasional McFlurry) and slept as much as possible to soothe his endlessly aching muscles. "It sounds like a lot, but it's what the job required. It's no different than a haircut." Then: "You think people are gonna focus on the physical?"

Uh, yeah. The headline on Pitt at 40 is that he's still one of the world's most attractive people, and to his credit, he remains uncomfortable with the attention. "That's why I thought it was interesting that he took the role," says Troy director Wolfgang Petersen. "I knew he could play Achilles, but Achilles is the pop star of his day. And many times, like in Snatch or 12 Monkeys, Brad shies away from being the pretty boy."

"Fair enough," says Pitt, whose impeccable toning is being marketed heavily in advance of Troy's May 14 opening. "But I'll tell you why I did it. It's the scene when Priam"--played by Peter O'Toole--"asks Achilles for the body of his son. Achilles says, 'If I do this for you, you're still my enemy in the morning.' And Priam says, 'You're still my enemy tonight. But even enemies can show respect.' It's probably one of the best scenes I'll ever get handed, with one of the best actors of our time."

So perhaps Pitt cares about craft after all? "Talking about acting is for civilians," says O'Toole, who believes that Pitt is significantly underrated. "Brad's a modest man and a good-natured man and a proper man. And he approaches his acting with such style. If he were more expressive about it or proud — no, I must shut up. I sound like a f___ing granddad." When told of this, Pitt laughs. "See, that's so cool. I got to learn at the feet of a legend." Ask what exactly he learned, and the wariness takes over again. "I'd really like to keep that for myself."