May 19, 2024

The Hidden Gem: Unveiling Brad Pitt’s Unsung Mentor Who Shaped His Remarkable Career

Brad Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. From Fight Club to Ocean’s Eleven to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he has starred in some of the most iconic films of the past three decades. However, Pitt’s road to superstardom was not without help. Behind the scenes, there was one pivotal figure who helped shape Pitt into the remarkable actor he is today – acting coach Roy London.

London is the hidden gem in Pitt’s career. Though not a household name himself, he had an immeasurable impact on Pitt’s development as an actor. Pitt has been open about the many influences in his career – from on-screen legends like Harrison Ford to directors like David Fincher. But he consistently credits London as the most important mentor he ever had.

So who exactly was Roy London? And how did he help transform Brad Pitt into a legendary leading man?

The Life and Career of Roy London

Roy London was born in 1926 in the Bronx. From a young age, he was drawn to the theater world. As a teenager, he began working backstage and acting in summer stock theater troupes. Though he loved the creative energy, he struggled to make a consistent living as a working actor.

In the 1960s, London’s mentors urged him to consider teaching. He began coaching actors at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York City, where he developed his unique philosophy and approach. London was deeply intellectual and immersed himself in teachings from legendary acting teachers like Constantin Stanislavski and Sanford Meisner.

Over the years, London developed an almost mystical reputation. He was known as a devoted teacher, spending countless hours to help actors find their truest voice and deepest expression. As director Mike Nichols said, “There are acting teachers and then there is Roy London…he was the best acting teacher I know of or have heard of in the world. He was absolutely astonishing.”

London’s fame as a masterful teacher grew, and actors clamored to study with him. In the late 1970s, London relocated to Los Angeles, where he began teaching regular intensive workshops. His candid yet compassionate style resonated with actors. As Angelica Huston said, “Roy had a way of paring away all the nonsense that gets attached to us as actors.”

Brad Pitt Discovers His Teacher

It was in 1987 that a young Brad Pitt found his way to Roy London. Pitt had moved from Missouri to Los Angeles just two weeks earlier. He was taking acting classes at the Roy London Studios when his classmates urged him to join London’s Sunday class. Pitt was immediately struck by London’s perceptiveness and wisdom.

Pitt has described his first meeting with London: “He was the first one I felt ‘got it’ or ‘got me’ – the first one to address obstacles or blocks I wasn’t even aware of at the time. He had this ability to see things in people, things they couldn’t see in themselves.”

At the time, Pitt was a handsome 23-year old just starting out in Hollywood. But London saw beyond the surface, recognizing Pitt’s raw talent and fiery ambition to be a truly great actor. When Pitt moved to the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute months later, London followed, becoming an artistic director and continuing to mentor Pitt.

Over the next few years, Pitt studied intensely with London. In interviews, he has credited London with teaching him “pretty much everything I know about acting.” So what core lessons did the wise teacher impart on his eager student?

London’s Lessons: Preparation and Honesty

One of London’s key philosophies was the importance of rigorous preparation. He pushed actors to fully immerse themselves in their characters. Pitt has said London taught him “to be rigorous about researching my character, understanding their history.”

Pitt took this lesson to heart throughout his career. He became known for his meticulous approach to roles, surrounding himself with details about a character and their world. To play cowboy Jesse James, he hired a diction coach to nail the perfect Missouri accent. For Fight Club, Pitt trained for months in boxing and grappling to transform into Tyler Durden. No matter the role, Pitt embodied London’s mandate to deeply research and prepare.

London also impressed upon Pitt the need for truth and honesty in acting. As Pitt put it, “He focused on honesty and vulnerability. He taught me that if you can express those two things, you’ve got the character in the palm of your hand.”

In scene work, London pushed actors to find the rawest, most vulnerable parts of themselves. The teacher and student relationship developed into a close friendship. Pitt felt London provided a safe space to take artistic risks. As Angelina Jolie said about their relationship, “He was probably the only person who could get Brad to reveal his soul.”

This revelation of the soul was central to London’s teaching. Pitt learned to let down his guard and eliminate façades. As a result, his performances took on new gravitas. In films like Fight Club, Snatch, and 12 Monkeys, he stunned audiences with his ability to disappear into gritty, often damaged characters. The honesty and vulnerability London pulled out of Pitt allowed him to fully inhabit these difficult roles.

A Shared Love of Comedy

While London helped Pitt tap into darkness and vulnerability, he also nurtured Pitt’s comedic side. From early on, Pitt had a gift for physical comedy and improvisation. London recognized Pitt’s natural playfulness and encouraged him to cultivate it.

Pitt fondly remembers improv games London would use in class “that forced you to loosen up and be comfortable looking foolish.” London taught Pitt not to be afraid of falling flat. Taking risks – even silly ones – was all part of finding one’s most creative impulses.

This shared appreciation of comedy strengthened the bond between student and teacher. When Pitt broke through with manic comic performances in films like True Romance and 12 Monkeys, London was immensely proud. That comic spark Pitt first honed in London’s classes burned brightly throughout his career, leading to hilarious roles in films like Burn After Reading and Deadpool 2.

A Lasting Friendship

For six years, Roy London was Brad Pitt’s most trusted mentor and confidante. They developed a deep friendship rooted in mutual respect. London nurtured Pitt’s talent with wisdom and compassion. For his part, Pitt embraced London as a true father figure.

Pitt has spoken poignantly about his memories of time spent with London. He treasure quiet evenings sitting on London’s porch in Topanga Canyon, discussing life and art deep into the night. The two maintained a close bond even as Pitt’s star rapidly rose in the early 90s.

When London died of a heart attack in 1993, Pitt was devastated. He took out a full page tribute to London in the Hollywood Reporter, extolling his gifts as a teacher. At the end, Pitt’s simple words speak volumes: “I lost my friend. And the world lost the purest heart of the purest mind. I love you Roy.”

Even today, Pitt keeps London close to his heart. He named his production company Plan B in tribute to his mentor, who often spoke of the importance of a “Plan B.” Pitt even credited London in his Academy Award acceptance speech for Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave.

For Brad Pitt, his formative years training with Roy London were a gift. Their friendship enriched his life, and London’s lessons enriched his work. Though largely unknown, this brilliant teacher profoundly shaped Pitt’s remarkable career through his wisdom and belief in the power of honest, vulnerable art.

The Enduring Impact of London’s Teachings

Brad Pitt’s moving tributes make it clear just how meaningful Roy London was to him as a mentor and friend. Though London passed away over 25 years ago, his teachings have rippled out through Pitt’s storied career.

After London’s death, Pitt continued developing the rigorous preparation style he learned from his mentor. To portray schizophrenic Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys, he spent weeks at a psychiatric ward. For Fight Club, he worked at a soap factory and studied boxing and grappling. No matter the role, he immersed himself completely.

Pitt also continues striving for the visceral honesty London drew out of him. As his career evolved, he gravitated towards characters that required a raw, stripped down vulnerability. Films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Tree of Life feature stunningly open performances by Pitt. The risk-taking and revelation of the soul London cultivated is evident.

Even the comic energy London nurtured in him remains a constant in Pitt’s work. He revealed deft comedic skills in Ocean’s Eleven and Burn After Reading. And he continues improvising on camera, keeping London’s teachings about playfulness alive.

Finally, it is clear London instilled in Pitt an utter devotion to the craft of acting. At 57, Pitt’s passion and work ethic remain tireless. His acclaimed performance in 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood showed an actor still striving to push his limits. London’s influence permeates Pitt’s dedication to his art.

An Eternal Gift

Great teachers shape lives. Though their time with students is fleeting, the spark they ignite can burn for decades. This was certainly true of Roy London and Brad Pitt’s time together.

In just a few intense years of training, London was able to profoundly impact Pitt’s trajectory. The discipline, honesty, and vulnerability he drew out of Pitt molded him into one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors.

Pitt carries London’s inspiration with him in every role. Though the teacher is gone, his gifts live on through his student’s phenomenal career. Brad Pitt is an eternal testament to the power of Roy London’s guidance. And for Pitt, keeping London’s legacy alive will always remain the highest honor.

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