Forget the curse of "Gigli," the mystery of Brangelina just may fuel ticket sales for "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's steamy spy-vs.-spy, hubby-vs.-wife action flick.
"I think these two people ooze sex in a way that very few people in Hollywood do," said Danielle Stein, Radar magazine entertainment editor. "We are clamoring to see this heat on screen. The fact that it might exist in real life makes it that much sexier."
Star magazine first reported on the alleged relationship, proclaiming "BRAD GETS NAKED WITH ANGELINA!" on an April 2004 cover.
Pitt and wife Jennifer Aniston announced their separation in January. Although Pitt, 41, has denied Jolie, 30, is the reason for the split and Jolie has said she's never had sex with Pitt, the A-listers have never fully explained the extent of their off-screen involvement. Neither Pitt nor Jolie's spokesmen immediately returned calls for this story.
"Brad and Angelina are handling it completely the opposite of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' crazy relationship," said Suzanne Rozdeba, Star entertainment editor. "Brad and Angelina have kept it this tight little secret, but it brings more attention to it and people are dying to see this film now. They don't care about the plot line."
Elayne Rapping, professor of pop culture and media studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo, said unattached actors sharing top billing always attract hookup rumors. Sometimes it's true - Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman in "Gattaca." Sometimes it's not - Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in "Grease."
"This relationship is so mysterious," said Rapping. "Unlike the Ben Affleck and J.Lo relationship where the publicity was so ridiculously overdone, in this case, people are more intrigued because Brad and Angelina are both so closemouthed about their relationship."
Jolie and Pitt have been promoting the film, which opens Friday, much like their characters do their secret spy work in the movie - apart. Pitt and Jolie haven't appeared together at press junkets, which required journalists to sign strict interview agreements.
Sample clause: "In the event Interviewer does ask Ms. Jolie any questions regarding her personal relationships, Ms. Jolie will have the right to immediately terminate the interview and leave."
Pitt chatted with Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Primetime Live" while Jolie spoke to Ann Curry on NBC's "Dateline" and "Today." The pair didn't pose for photos together at either the Los Angeles or Mexico City premieres this week.
Anthony Mora, publicist and author of "Spin to Win," called the equal-but-separate public relations maneuver "ridiculously transparent."
His advice? Whether Pitt and Jolie are or aren't or they did or didn't, their handlers should just put them together.
"Their publicists are saying, 'Let's not be seen here. Let's not be seen there,"' said Mora. "So what's everybody talking about? Well, them not being seen together. I don't get the reasoning. It's a knee-jerk reaction. Logically, when you really think it through, it doesn't do any good. It's the pink elephant in the room."
Pitt and Jolie did get together, however, as a dysfunctional 1963-era couple in an artsy W magazine photo spread for the July issue. The photos find the pair playing with three Brad-like children in the backyard, antagonizing each other in the kitchen and sexing it up in boudoir.
Fairchild Publications Chairman and Editorial Director Patrick McCarthy said the 58-page spread, conceived in March and photographed by Steven Klein in April, was Pitt's pet project, including casting the child models and the domestic setting. McCarthy said Pitt wanted to capture the "dark side of a classic American family."
The only qualms about the saucy spread came from Pitt's people.
"Of course everybody had reservations," said McCarthy. "Brad's agent had reservations. Brad's publicists had reservations. Brad never did. If he did, he never shared them with us."
By Derrik J. Lang