Nachos, popcorn, sandwiches, dumplings, peanut butter, a possibly poisoned pot roast and rat blood.
These are things that Brad Pitt has ingested on screen over the course of his three-plus-decade career. They are things among many things because it seems that while Brad Pitt might not chew the scenery in his films — he’s often praised for restraint — it seems that he’s always eating.
On YouTube, you can find videos showing clips of Pitt, in various roles, shoveling, tossing and otherwise cramming various foods into his mouth. There are lengthy versions, like one simply titled “15 Minutes of Brad Pitt Eating,” as well as a snappier three-minute compilation (together, these two videos have been viewed almost 1 million times).
There are supercuts chronicling the food the actor eats in individual movies, including “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Moneyball.” Some viewers even saw a scene in the recent Quentin Tarantino movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which Pitt’s character whips up and then devours a box of neon-hued mac and cheese, as a sly meta-style wink to Pitt’s reputation for cinematic noshing. (Tarantino’s ode to the end of Tinseltown’s golden era is littered with so many self-referential touches that such a read seems plausible.)
Maybe Brad Pitt doesn’t eat any more than any other actor out there. That’s possible, says Fabio Parasecoli, a professor of food studies for New York University at Steinhardt who has studied food on film (and even wrote a dissertation on men eating in blockbuster movies). With the exception of food-focused films, such as “Chef” or “Big Night,” he notes, most eating that goes on in movies is overlooked.
“Food is so embedded in scenes of everyday life, so you don’t notice it – but it’s there,” he says.
When you hyper-focus on the eating that’s going on your screen, he says, you might find there’s more than you’d think. In other words, if you go looking for a particular actor eating, you will likely find examples of it. And Pitt’s oeuvre is relatively vast, spanning some 60 movies – and a lot of chewing.
Let’s stipulate, though, that Pitt does eat more than your average actor. In which case, maybe it’s just time to face it: We just like watching Brad Pitt eat.
Caroline Liem, a casting director and professor at Pace Performing Arts, says one reason might be that Pitt is just really, really good at on-screen eating. “He’s the Laurence Olivier of eating!” she says.
Even talented actors sometimes screw up what seems like a simple task, she says. They might take bites that are too big. Or tiny bites — a dead giveaway that they’re dealing with multiple takes. But Pitt? “He makes it look like an actual human being eating, and you don’t get that a lot,” Liem says. “He’s just one with food.”
Some of Pitt’s eating is central to a scene. Think of him in “Interview With the Vampire,” in which his brooding undead Louis is trying to kick the habit of human blood and instead chomps into rats. Or in “Meet Joe Black,” when his titular character – who is death itself inhabiting a human body – eats peanut butter for the first time.
Other times, eating has been a way to subtly express something about his character. As Rusty Ryan in the Ocean’s franchise, he’s forever snacking. Pitt has described in interviews why that was – Rusty’s a con man and always on the move, he said, so he figured he wouldn’t have time for a proper sit-down meal. And in 2011, he told NPR’s Terry Gross that his “Moneyball” character’s snacking was a way of showing his intensity and “need to accomplish something.”
Liem says actors can use food to develop their characters in ways that might not even be called for in a script. “As a casting director, I know that an actor knows the character inside and out – better than anyone else on set – and so if the actor says the character needs a sandwich, he needs a sandwich,” she says.
Asked in a recent interview about the mash-up video of his chomping, Pitt described it as just that: part of his craft. “I like to busy myself,” he said.
Parasecoli sees the fixation on his eating as an overlap of our collective obsession with food and celebrities.
“Food is at the forefront of culture,” he says. “Now, depending on where we shop, whether we’re vegan or paleo or shop at Walmart – it’s all a sort of performance of our identity.” At the same time, Parasecoli says, we like to see famous people doing normal human things (which might explain why tabloids are filled with pics of grocery-shopping stars). Pitt’s “humanity is more visible if he’s doing something we all do,” he says.
Ultimately, perhaps we can simply blame our brains’ ancient hard-wiring for this not-so-guilty pleasure. After all, millions of people watch mukbang, the genre of videos depicting people eating gut-busting quantities of food. And others tune in to videos meant to trigger ASMR, or “autonomous sensory meridian response,” a pleasurable sensation that can be brought on by watching people do mundane things like drumming their fingers, brushing their hair – and eating.
Craig Richard, a professor at Shenandoah University and the founder of ASMR University, says the experience of watching Pitt eat is different from either of those categories, though it can trigger the same response. “With mukbang and ASMR videos, they are meant to relax you – so the intent isn’t there, but the effect might be,” he said.
There’s a reason watching someone eat can be pleasurable, he says. Millions of years ago, when our ancestors might have encountered someone who looked friendly eating in front of them, the cues were clear: Here is a nonthreatening person in possession of food that is demonstrably edible. “When you see that, that is reason to switch your brain from fight-or-flight to a calm state,” he says.
And maybe it’s just that we . . . you know, like to watch hot people do stuff? Blame science for that, too. Richard described experiments where even infants trained their gaze longer on certain people: “We do seem to be hard-wired to prefer to stare at people determined, through whatever cultural definition, to be attractive.”