Their first day on set Brad’s sitting in the director’s chair with one foot over his knee and a cigarette in his hand.
You’ve just gotten out of your trailer and the first thing you see is him sitting there in David’s seat—the two of you you haven’t met for real before, and this is the first you’ve seen of him. His hair is messy and his skin looks brown, dirty. It’s the first day. You wonder if that’s for the part or if that’s Brad Pitt.
He glances up through lidded eyes, unfazed. “Norton,” he says, just that; a quick flick of his hands and he’s got a box of Marlboros held out to you. “You want one?”
“No thanks,” you answer, clear your throat. “I don’t smoke.”
Brad smiles, slow, leaning back in that chair with his arm wrapped around its black fabric and his lips coiled smug around knots of smoke. “That’s funny,” he says, the tiniest hint of Southern twang—“You’re gonna have to.”
You ask Fincher about it later, an offhand question between takes. “Well, what did you expect?” David laughs, running an antsy hand across his face. “He’s from Missouri.”
“But to the press he never talks with an accent.”
“To the press he’s afraid the only thing separating him from McConaughey is the lack of a Southern twang.”
“That’s stupid of him,” you say, and Fincher’s head goes up. He gives you a sharp glance—just once—and then he lets it go.
“Norton!” it’s Brad’s voice, calling to you from across the parking lot. You look up, you turn around—he’s in his Tyler garb, rose-colored sunglasses, red leather jacket. Still hasn’t turned off the swagger he carries around in his back pocket for when the cameras roll. He gestures to you, cocky, “C’mere a second.”
You do as he says, huddle near the bumper of his trailer, his hand ushering the small of your back into secrecy. It’s one in the afternoon and perfectly bright out, the interns and Kraft Services guys hustling all around you. This isn’t exactly a Deep Throat meet-up, but Brad makes it seem like one.
“Listen,” he says, clearing his throat and jerking his knees, a ball of clandestine energy. “I’m gonna get drunk.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” you tell him. “I understand your working methods, man—how else would you have gotten through Interview with the Vampire?”
“Very funny,” he deadpans, “but I meant for the sake of the movie.”
“Of course,” you smile. “Of course you did.”
“You’re just a fuckin’ comedian today, aren’t you,” and Brad leans a hand against the back of the trailer, scratches into his pockets for a lighter. He offers the box to you, as always. “Want one?”
“Nah, man,” you shrug. “I only smoke for the role.”
“Right. Deep, man. Very Method of you.”
“So’s this drinking idea—”
“—for the sake of the movie.” Brad leans close to you expectantly, and you roll your eyes. It’s cold and gray in Los Angeles and the wind is acting up—you cup your hands around his cigarette and light it for him, his blue eyes watching you with that insipid smirk while you do.
He finally leans away from you, exhaling. “Thanks.” Brad adjusts his jacket on his shoulders, sniffs and runs a hand by his nose. “Tyler and Jack are gonna hit some golf balls into the side of a van, drunk. And we’re gonna help them out.”
“I would make some comment about you roping me into this type of shit,” you say, “but I could really use a fucking drink.”
“‘’Atta boy,” Brad snorts, and he steps into your space, straightens the collar of Jack’s white button-down—I am Jack’s personal space; I am constantly invaded by Brad Pitt—and steps away again, surveying his work. “C’mon,” he says, already sauntering away, hips shifting. “There’s this place down the street.”
“In Missouri,” Brad says, “everybody had trucks.” He takes a drag on his cigarette and passes it to you—technically you’re between takes, but the scene you’re running now has Jack smoking in it and Fincher’s been away for like an hour now trying to work some shit out, and Brad’s looking at you knowing you’re going to smoke it with that look on his face that says he knows you’re going to smoke it purely because he wants you to, and it’s that simple. You smoke it.
You’re both sitting on the floor against the chest in Tyler’s room, and Brad’s head is leaned back against it with this nostalgic far-away look in his eyes. It’s dark, dank in here as always. Brad looks even dirtier than the first day here, and you realize so do you. “Not a fuckin’ Volkswagen Beetle to be seen.” He takes the cigarette back from your hand, and there are callouses on his fingers, rough, scratchy. “Illegal in the state of Missouri.”
“For some odd reason I don’t think that’s true,” you say, and you lay one leg down on the floor, one knee still up.
“Of course it is,” Brad corrects you, stubbing the cigarette out on the rickety floor of the room. Fincher doesn’t care; he’ll probably think that type of shit is organic, real. “Goddamit, son, why won’t you just let me reminisce about my good ol’ high school days?”
“I get the picture, we can all agree your high school experience was basically Dazed and Confused.” Your eyes are closed and you smirk, feeling Brad sit up beside you and turn his body to look at you.
“Nice! Hey man, fuck you! Fuck with my sensitive shit, why don’t you?”
“You mean your McConaughey complex?”
“My accent’s not that bad,” Brad grumbles, settling back into the knobby press of the drawers. “He fuckin’ plays that shit up.”
“So what?” you shrug, eyes still closed. “We’re all playing the game. He plays it up, you play it down. Same fucking thing.”
Brad’s already shuffling for another cigarette, his elbow jabbing into your torso while he digs in his pocket. There’s actually plenty of room to lean against this cabinet, but Brad sits close. He’s fucking physical as shit, and sometimes you can’t tell if that’s Durden or if that’s him—the other day you did a scene where he pulled you out of the wreckage of a car and Brad tangled his arms beneath your armpits, his hands wrapped on your chest. Hot, sweat-caked, bloody, black. He plays Tyler pushy. “You know what? Two can play at that game. I can fuck with your sensitive shit too, only I won’t dance around it, I’ll just fuckin’ hit you with it, man—you have a feminine voice.”
You open your eyes, scowl, look at him. “Nice,” you tell him. “That’s—real nice.”
“You never should’ve told me you were sensitive about that.”
“I never should’ve told you anything, let’s just be honest here.”
“Yes,” Brad says, and he rubs his thumb across the spot on your lip where makeup left a smudge of bruise. “Let’s.”
“For all intents and purposes,” Fincher said to you once, his hands shaky over a styrofoam cup of coffee and a cigarette at five in the morning, “the Narrator is in love with Tyler.”
The first thing you said was, “Fuck.”
You’re three weeks in and it feels like you’ve been here a year, feels like you were raised inside the headquarters of the Paper Street Soap Company, and everything now is dark and bleached and ethereal, even Brad nowadays. Brad does this unsettling thing where he switches between Tyler and himself so quickly, so seemlessly as the cameras stop rolling, that in your slow and addled mind lines get blurred and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Under a neon blue sign in the back of that bar Brad took you to the first time you got drunk and swung golf clubs he says to you, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can,” and you say, “You’re drunk.”
“I am,” Brad agrees. “That is true.” He nods; his face is sweaty, his shoulders wide and bare. “Now. I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
You’re laughing, not because it’s funny, because it’s not, really, it’s not, but because it’s ridiculous, and it’s dark, and it’s not funny. “I can’t believe this,” you say. “No, wait, fuck that, I can’t believe you.”
“That’s what they all say,” Brad grins, and he throws up his fists, stumbles drunkenly trying to hop around like Mohammed Ali—that sets you off again. “Come on, hit me.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” you tell him, rubbing at your eyes and your forehead with the grubby blue sleeve of your hoodie. Or Brad’s hoodie. You can’t remember.
Brad doesn’t respond; he just levels with you, keeps going hey, hey till you look him in the eyes. This time you’re not laughing, and he’s not moving. “Hit me,” he says, voice low, and for a split second there you swear you see Tyler Durden in his sharp blue eyes.
Your fist snakes out like lightning, beyond your control, but Brad’s reflexes are better and he never meant to be hit to begin with—he grabs your wrist, callouses scraping at the skin of your hand, and the shock of it sends you tumbling forward, then back, feet scrambling beneath you on the wet dark pavement till Brad yanks you by your wrist and pulls you forward.
He lifts your arm slowly and his mouth is tainted blue by the washed-out light of that sign, lips hanging open as he pants. He kisses your hand where Makeup left the traces of a chemical burn. Then his hand’s on the inside of your elbow, and his teeth are barely there against your lip.
“Hit me,” he says again.
You call him the day after the New York premiere.
“They’re saying our chemistry is off the charts,” you tell him.
And Brad just laughs. “No shit.”