Brad Pitt just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Many felt that recognition was long overdue; that Pitt, while obviously a movie star (in the best sense of the term), is also underrated as an actor.

The answer is a resounding yes, according to Ad Astra's writer and director James Gray:

He is an unbelievably subtle actor in a way that I didn't even anticipate. And he's extremely intelligent, very shrewd, understands human behavior very well. In some sense, I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Pitt is kind of an underrated actor ...

The expression is he can "fill it up," which means you give him some tidbits and he does the work. He thinks about it, you roll the camera, all of a sudden you can see the inner workings, the turmoil ...

Yet you might think of Pitt as "just" a movie star: a person hired for his looks, presence, and charm.

Even though he's also won a Best Picture Oscar as a producer for 12 Years a Slave. And his production company, Plan B Entertainment, has produced films like Selma, Moneyball, The Big Short, Moonlight, and The King, a movie I've already watched three times. (Who doesn't love Henry V?)

One Example: Tattoos

Judging a person on the basis of his or her "cover" -- whether looks or education or experience or any number of other factors -- is commonplace.

For example, at least one study found that hiring managers prefer candidates who don't have tattoos. In fact, applicants with "extreme" tattoos are seen as less competent and committed than those without body art.

And if a hiring manager does decide to hire a person with tattoos, they tend to offer them a lower starting salary. 

Although there is this: Relatively inexperienced hiring managers were less likely to hire applicants with extreme tattoos, but those with more experience were not as likely to "penalize" applicants for having tattoos.

In short, the more experience you have, the less likely you are to judge an employee book by his or her cover.

"Looks" Are Only Skin Deep

What you look like, the clothes you wear, the school you attended: Those things have nothing to do with your knowlege, expertise, work ethic, and drive to get things done. 

What a person "looks like," in person and on paper, doesn't matter nearly as much as what they can do. If you run a business:

  • You can train skills. But you can't train enthusiasm.
  • You can train processes. But you can't train a solid work ethic.
  • You can assign responsibility. But you can't train genuine, earned authority. 

Think of Brad Pitt solely in terms of looks and charisma, and you miss the fact he's one of the most talented actors (and producers) of his generation. 

Think of prospective employees solely in terms of whether they possess relevant experience, and you may miss out on people with the raw talent, hunger, and drive to get things done. 

Entrepreneurs often recruit early team members simply because they "look" the part -- even though, in time, what someone looks like on paper doesn't matter. You need people who can actually do the job.

Who want to do the job.

Some people look the part but can't play the part. Others don't look the part at all, but will absolutely crush it.

Those are the people you need around you, because no one accomplishes anything truly worthwhile by themselves. 

In business or in life.

Published on: Feb 11, 2020
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