Guests sipped mulled cider, set beribboned gifts beneath the tree, and talked into the wee hours. But among Aniston’s intimate, A-list gathering was one visitor who for years had been persona non grata, his name an imprecation never spoken in her presence.
Aniston’s ex-husband Brad Pitt, 56, was among the first of her guests to arrive and, friends noted, one of years the very last to leave as the party drew to a reluctant close. It was the latest sign of a surprising new relationship blossoming between the long estranged couple – once dubbed “Braniston” – a “caring friendship,” as one friend describes it, that some believe may lead to renewed romance.
Their chemistry is evident to all around them. “Brad and Jen have a wonderful connection that might seem flirtatious at times,” confides a friend. Aniston, aged 50, claims she is in no hurry, recently saying of romance: “I feel like whatever it looks like, it will present itself, and it’s not about seeking it out.”
Pitt laughed when asked about a reunion, saying: “Oh my God” – but notably did not deny the possibility.
Fifteen years after Aniston and Pitt divorced, and after both have been through failed second marriages, the couple are growing close once more. And it’s reportedly driving to distraction the woman who first tore them apart,Angelina Jolie.
“Jen’s always been Angelina’s greatest rival when it comes to Brad,” says a source. “She hates the way that she has always been depicted as the evil femme fatale, and Jen as the girl-next-door victim in her famous love triangle.”
Jolie, 44, is said to be “green with envy over how fresh-faced” her older love rival Aniston looks, claims the National Enquirer magazine, which reports that the Oscar winner appears to have undergone cosmetic procedures to look more youthful.
Jolie will have plenty to keep her seething on January 5 when Aniston and Pitt are expected to reunite at the Golden Globe Awards in Hollywood, where both are nominees: Aniston for her hit new TV series, The Morning Show, and Pitt for acclaimed movie Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood.
The couple plan to meet at the gala event, but have agreed not to pose together on the red carpet.
“They don’t want to rush anything this time, and the last thing they want is to play out their relationship in the public eye, after the scrutiny they endured,” says an insider.
It’s the continuation of a rapprochement that began in private phone calls and text messages between the exes, and went public when Pitt made an unexpected appearance at Aniston’s star-studded 50th birthday in February at the Sunset Tower in Los Angeles.
JUST FRIENDS: Brad and Jennifer in the US soap
Hollywood royalty: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Pitt “wanted to support” Aniston because they had “been friendly” since their divorce, said a source. Since then, they have nurtured a slowly developing trust and intimacy that might have been unthinkable for more than a decade.They have met in secret frequently over the past two years, usually at one of their homes, and once at the Sony studio lot in Los Angeles.
“They dig each other’s sense of humour and have an infectious energy when they’re together,” says an insider close to the couple.
“They’ve always cared about each other, and think fondly of their time together.”
But that wasn’t always the case. “There’s a sensitivity chip that’s missing,” said a distraught Aniston in 2005 after being blindsided by her husband’s alleged infidelity with Jolie. Pitt and Aniston began dating in 1998, and married in a star-studded $ 1million Malibu bash in July 2000. Pitt had guest-starred in Aniston’s hit TV series Friends, and they were Hollywood’s golden couple – until Pitt fell for Jolie, his co-star on the 2005 spy thriller Mr & Mrs Smith.
Months before their breakup, Aniston was horrified when Pitt and Jolie portrayed a happy couple in a 60-page pictorial spread in W magazine, a move Aniston publicly branded “inconsiderate”, though in private she used choicer words.
Desperate to salvage their marriage, Aniston flew Pitt to the Caribbean isle of Anguilla, where paparazzi caught them kissing and cuddling on the beach.Yet the last ditch effort failed: the next day the couple announced their separation. “She felt bitterly betrayed by Brad,” says an insider. “Jen thought Brad was her soulmate, so her heart was smashed into a thousand pieces.”
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt
After nearly 10 years together and six children – including three adopted – Pitt and Jolie, popularly known as “Brangelina”, tied the knot in 2014 at their French chateau.The following year Aniston wed long-time boyfriend, actor Justin Theroux.
For more than a decade Pitt and Aniston went to extreme lengths to ensure they never met or accidentally appeared together in public, carefully avoiding each other on red carpets and at award shows. “Brad and Jen didn’t talk for many years,” says an insider. “They didn’t have contact while Brad was with Angelina. Angelina would never have put up with that.”
But the couple’s mutual affinity was finally allowed free rein when both had ended their second marriages: Jolie filed for divorce from Pitt in 2016 after an infamous fight aboard a private jet, and Aniston left Theroux in 2017 after nearly three years of marriage.
Days earlier, Pitt had tracked down Aniston’s phone number and called to wish her a happy 48th birthday. It opened to door to them talking more often. Pitt confessed that he was “having a hard time” with his divorce from Jolie.
“Jen and Brad have remained friends and have supported each other through tough times,” says a source. “They’ve come so far since their marriage, and plan to stay friends for life.”
Aniston with Justin Theroux
Says another insider: “It took a while for Jen to heal and for Brad to stop feeling bad for how he left her back in 2005.”
Pitt also won Aniston’s respect by undergoing therapy sessions and quitting booze in 2017, owning up to his role in two failed marriages.
Importantly, Pitt’s mea culpa is also winning over Aniston’s coterie of confidantes.When Pitt turned 56 on December 18, several of Aniston’s friends joined her in sending him birthday wishes – with Aniston’s blessing.
Pitt and Aniston have tried dating other people, yet these casual attempts at romance have fizzled. So could there be more than just friendship between the exes?
Hollywood is no stranger to couples who have divorced only to later remarry: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith; Robert Wagner and NatalieWood; and stars including Lana Turner, George C Scott, Paul Hogan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rosemary Clooney, Dionne Warwick and Pamela Anderson. Could Aniston and Pitt join that illustrious list? “Their bond is solid,” says a friend. “They’ve come a really long way.”
How much further they can go remains to be seen.