Brad Pitt for the August issue of GQ, photographed by Elizaveta Porodina

Brad Pitt tries to remember his dreams. He keeps pen and paper on his bedside table and records everything he can recall when he wakes up in the morning. “I’ve found that to be really helpful,” he says. “I’m curious what’s going on in there when I’m not at the helm.” He tells me this one recent afternoon in the brightness of his living room, at his Craftsman home in the Hollywood Hills. For a long while, his sleep had been haunted by a particularly persistent and violent dream—the particulars of which he later describes for me in an email exchange. He writes:

For a solid four or five years there, the most predominant dream I would experience would be getting jumped and stabbed. It would always be at night, in the dark, and I would be walking down a sidewalk in a park or along a boardwalk and as I’d pass under an Exorcist-like street lamp, someone would jump out of the abyss and stab me in the ribs. Or I’d notice I was being followed and then another flanked me and I realized I was trapped, and they meant me grave harm. Or being chased through a house with a kid I’d help escape but got pinned in on the deck—and stabbed. Always stabbed. And I would awake in a terror. I didn’t understand why it/they would want to hurt me. This stopped a year or two ago only when I started going straight back into the dream and asking simply why?

One might be tempted to psychoanalyze a dream like that. Brad Pitt—the golden boy from Missouri who moved to California on a lark at 22 and became the biggest movie star in the world, who reportedly makes up to $20 million a film, who was twice part of perhaps the most famous relationship on the planet—cannot go anywhere without being stalked by the paparazzi. It’s easy to see how this man might feel hunted and haunted. What’s perhaps surprising is how the bad dream eventually went away: Only by studying this nightmare—by taking careful note of it and trying to pin down its meaning—did it begin to have less of a hold on him.

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