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Archive for Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pitt puts career on hold to help resurrect N.O.

December 16, 2007

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— Forget about the movies, Brad Pitt is all about resurrecting New Orleans.

The actor says he's put his Hollywood career on hold, with no film projects under way, while doing all he can to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina.

"This is my project," he said earlier this month, sitting at a table on a tiled slab where Katrina's flood pushed a house off its foundation in the Lower 9th Ward more than two years ago. He said he and Angelina Jolie and their children planned to spend the holidays in New Orleans.

The slow recovery from Katrina's destruction in August 2005 has attracted many celebrities, among them Sean Penn, Denis Leary, Kirstie Alley, Ellen Degeneres and New Orleans native musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis.

Few stand out as much as Pitt, who has made a personal and financial commitment to rebuilding shattered neighborhoods.

He and Jolie bought a home in the French Quarter. He has pledged more than $5 million to rebuild one of the city's most devastated neighborhoods and has spent countless hours listening to residents' needs.

"I believe in what's going on down here," he said after the launch earlier this month of Make It Right, the Pitt-backed project to rebuild 150 homes in the Lower 9th Ward.

Katrina was especially devastating in the Lower 9th, one of New Orleans' most impoverished areas. Less than 10 percent of its population has returned, one reason Pitt has launched two projects to build affordable, environmentally friendly homes.

Make It Right calls for construction of its first house to start by summer. Pitt has pledged to match up to $5 million in contributions. So far, more than $3.5 million has been raised.

Pitt, 43, was born in Oklahoma and raised in Missouri, but is no stranger to New Orleans. He filmed two movies here - "Interview With a Vampire" in the 1990s and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in 2006 and early 2007. "Button" is due out next year.

Pitt says his passion to help the people of New Orleans is simple: it's the right thing to do. He said the storm "illuminated the fact that there's a portion of our society that we're not looking after."

"It's going to take a long time to address the issues here, but this is a viable, viable start," he said.

Pitt said Make It Right and another project he launched last year with Global Green USA will help fill the need for affordable housing while also rebuilding "smarter" with energy saving, environmentally friendly materials.

Both projects have attracted national supporters, including Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Pitt said he hopes the city's recovery will be a focal issue of the 2008 campaign.

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