Are they a couple? If they are, did that happen during or after the time they spent making a movie together? And if it is true or was true or might be true, how long will they last?
These are the nosy, rude, intrusive, unfair, wildly speculative, and completely titillating watercooler questions that an ever-widening global mob of gossips has been asking about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie ever since they started filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a $120 million spy-versus-spousal-spy spectacle that finally opens, on June 10, after a long and bumpy road to final cut. It's not the first time news of a much-rumored big-movie romance has gone supernova. But what's now being branded the saga of ''Brangelina'' sets a new, 21st-century benchmark a sort of perfect publicity storm centered on two beautiful people whom the public is treating as daydream playthings, to the chagrin of at least one player among Mr. & Mrs. Smith's creative team.
''I don't like the exploitation of personal lives in tabloids,'' says Akiva Goldsman, an Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind (Best Adapted Screenplay) and one of five main producers on Smith. ''I think it's grim. I don't think it helps anybody. Do I think it helps or hurts the movie? I think it's irrelevant. Do I think it hurts the people involved? Sure.''
In a business where marriages, divorces, and passing flings are anxiously evaluated as career moves, exactly what is or isn't true about Pitt and Jolie's alleged connection may never be clear. The costars, as well as Pitt's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, have made occasional pronouncements in the midst of the media carnival, none of them terribly revealing. (Pitt and Jolie declined to be interviewed for this article, though Jolie did tell EW earlier this year that while acting out the marital travails of her character, she drew on life experiences with two ex-husbands, Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton: ''For me, it was a lot of thinking about old relationships I had marriages I had and thinking, Oh, that's the point where I wanted to kill that person.'')
But another key player in the maelstrom did agree to talk to us at length: director Doug Liman, an outspoken fellow who's lately scored in TV (he directed the first two episodes of The O.C.) but who made his name with the indie movies Swingers and Go, before stepping up to summer-blockbuster territory with The Bourne Identity. We caught up with Liman just days after he previewed the finished film for audiences in New York and L.A. for a freewheeling talk about early casting hiccups, the perils of confessing cute nicknames, the nesting instincts of Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie's way with knives.
EW What's it like directing two of the world's biggest tabloid attention magnets?
DOUG LIMAN There were always paparazzi. Crazy paparazzi. One of my producers, Lucas Foster, made it his mission to keep them away [from outside locations]. I'd be getting ready to shoot, and there'd be a crane where I'm pointing the camera. I'd be like, Who put that there? Lucas would say, ''I'm not moving that crane. There's photographers in that hotel room up there, and I'm blocking them.'' It became a constant thing of, we're going to have to paint it out [with CG erasure tricks]. Ten grand a shot.