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Brad Pitt. Tab Hunter's agent couldn't have come up with a better name for a movie star, although maybe Brad Stone would have implied more gravitas. At any rate, the actor has taken time off from the Rhode Island set of his next movie, Meet Joe Black (the film is "inspired by"--and not, a chorus of publicists insists, "a remake of"--Death Takes a Holiday), to talk about his new release, Seven Years in Tibet. Just down the lawn from a Newport-style mansion, we are sitting in the estate's opulent boathouse, itself a minimansion slung over a bay so ludicrously sun-dappled it could double for Golden Pond.

Pitt, 33, is dressed casually but expensively, his well-tailored shirt an odd hybrid, country-and-western in style, but with extra long cuffs that the actor has chosen to leave unbuttoned so that they flap modishly about his wrists. It's a look that suggests sartorial detente between Garth Brooks and Austin Powers. Which, when you think about it--if, like me, it's your job to think about it--is pretty much where Pitt would fall on the spectrum of masculine iconography, his fidgety Midwestern guyness touched with just a hint of dandified self-regard. This isn't always the case with stars, but the charisma that works for him on screen is readily apparent in person too. It's that smile, the one that detonates in quick stages across his face, starting with just a shy quiver of amusement, then a wry grin, and then bursting into sheer amazement at--what? Its own infectiousness? You can't help being drawn to it, and neither, you feel, can he.

The first thing anyone would want to ask Pitt is, What really happened between you and Gwyneth? Gwyneth, of course, being Gwyneth Paltrow, the long drink of water whom Pitt met on the set of Seven three years ago, where she played his wife, and with whom he ended a well-publicized real-life engagement last summer. But Pitt will not discuss his private life. (Well, almost. "I keep hearing I'm a crazy party guy," he says. "I'm not. I'm boring... At least by party standards.") And so we are forced to turn to the more enlightening but less sexy topic--Richard Gere notwithstanding--of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibet, as viewers of awards shows well know, has been the subject of some interest in the celebrity community, but Pitt says he received no phone calls from colleagues like Gere or Steven Seagal--recently revealed to be the reincarnation of a particularly revered lama--worrying about how his film would portray key moments in the Dalai Lama's life. Pitt himself is not a particularly spiritual person. "I've always paid attention to religion," he says, "because I grew up in a religious background, but I've never felt a part of any of them. I think there's something to be drawn from most of them--other than goat sacrificing." He adds that last part with a minor-key smile that doesn't quite make it through all the paces. (Jackpot! A slipup in front of a reporter! Pitt's movies will now be boycotted by Satanists and practitioners of Santeria!)

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