Friday, June 24, 2005

Vogue April 02 - Angelina Jolie

Ode To Perfection: Angelina Jolie does not carry a cell phone. She doesn't wear a watch. She doesn't have an e-mail address. Though she's always had a manager, she employs no publicist or agent, because she doesn't like the idea of anyone speaking on her behalf. "Also," she says, "I just don't get along with a lot of people." The huge walk-in closet in the house in Beverly Hills that she shares with husband Billy Bob Thornton is filled with his clothes. Hers take up one little rack. She frequently travels by herself with nothing but a backpack and a duffel bag. "Everybody says, 'How can you go to the airport alone? How are you going to change planes?'" she says. "And I'm like, 'God. I remember I used to be able to do this. I swear I can.' It's freedom! I like to feel free."

Mostly, people call her Angie. As her husband points out, "To say 'Angelina' sounds like you're about to recite a poem." It takes a little getting used to—thinking of her as Angie—but once you do, it goes a long way toward dispelling many of the preconceived notions about Angelina, a name that calls up all sorts of conflicting associations: light and dark, good and bad, heaven and hell. Angie, on the other hand, does not. In fact, Angie sounds an awful lot like the nickname of a girl whose mother grew up hanging out in a bowling alley in Chicago.

The media Angelina is steeped in Gothy darkness. There's the vial of Thornton's blood she wears around her neck on a long silver chain, the preference for black clothes and pale makeup, the many tattoos, the early fascination with knives, the confessed bisexuality, the public display of sisterly love at the Oscars that many felt was a little creepy. The actual Angie takes giddy pride in being a "really good wife" and stepmother to Thornton's two boys from another marriage, calls her mother every day, doesn't smoke, stays home most nights and watches TV, and is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). But, really, haven't we always suspected there was more—much more—to her than the sum of Angelina's peculiarities? If not, then you heard it here first.

She's not so strange.

It's mid-December, and Jolie is in Montreal rehearsing for Beyond Borders, a film directed by Martin Campbell (Vertical Limit, The Mask of Zorro) set in the world of war refugees and aid workers. The script was originally supposed to be directed by Oliver Stone, which is to say that it is both a love story and a complicated sociopolitical drama. Jolie plays Sarah, a young, somewhat flighty American working at a London art gallery. At the beginning, Sarah has just married into a wealthy British family and is about to lead a comfortable life of having kids, attending charity balls, and collecting art. Then she meets a doctor (Clive Owen) who is working with Ethiopian refugees. He awakens a passion in her to do something with her life, and by the end of the film she has grown up—and become a spokesperson for UNHCR.

Over a couple of days, Jolie and I spend a good many hours in her hotel. In fact, we never once set foot outside the climate-controlled splendor of the Omni. We sit, instead, in the same restaurant, at the same table, drinking the same red wine and eating the same food—lamb, well done; red-pepper-and-tomato soup—on both days. She appears to take great comfort in the familiar. If it was good yesterday, why not eat it again today? When I tell her that I wear a slight variation of the same outfit nearly every day, she hoists her glass in a toast: "God bless you!"

Many of the things Jolie has said over the last several years—as she went from playing tragic supermodel Gia to earnest superhero Lara Croft—have been misconstrued. She's often half-kidding—being arch or perverse—and that aspect of her personality seems to get lost in translation. One has to see the raised eyebrow that accompanies some of her more eccentric utterances to fully appreciate them.

Because she is a first-class talker, Jolie often launches into long jazzy riffs—virtual thickets of verbiage. She'll start to talk … then stop. Start again … and stop. Sometimes she will abandon the beginning of her riff several times until, at last, she hits the sweet spot. At one point, I ask what she's sick of talking about, and a great big smile spreads across her face: "Probably what you're sick of hearing about."

"I'm always shocked by the perception of me," she says. "I can never figure it out, and I actually try not to think about it because it's so confusing. The weird thing is, it's not totally wrong. But it's only the surface of me. I can understand why people think it's strange to wear blood around your neck, but I don't think people think it's strange that you're obsessed with the person you love and you're lucky you found him and things are sacred to you. Yeah, I have a lot of tattoos. Maybe it's strange because it's not typical for an actress. But I don't think it's abnormal that someone who spends their life in other skins wants to claim their own by marking things on it that matter to them.

The biggest misperception about me is that I'm not a conscious person or a smart person. I've been reckless, certainly, but I'm not a rebel without a cause. I'm not out to piss people off or irritate people or shock people. I was actually always coming from a place of trying to express something I've learned. Like when I was trying to explain that I fell in love with a woman, and that I understood something about life, or what that might feel like, or how interesting or beautiful that was. I thought I had expressed that; instead it just became some shocking tabloid thing, which was upsetting.

"I think I'm exactly the opposite of unpredictable. I'm extremely focused. When I have a feeling to do something, I just do it. So it seems like it's come out of nowhere. My mom used to say that about me: that some things seem like they happened overnight. But she knows I've been in the process of figuring it out and talking about it for years."

She was born Angelina Jolie Voight in 1975 in Los Angeles to actor Jon Voight and actress Marcheline Bertrand, who was 20 years old when she met and married the 32-year-old Oscar winner. Bertrand (who did in fact grow up in Chicago hanging out in her family's bowling alley) gave up her youthful dream of becoming an actress to raise Jolie and her older brother, James Haven Voight.

Her parents separated when Jolie was six months old; the kids lived with Bertrand in a series of rented apartments in New York. When Jolie was eleven, Bertrand moved her family back to L.A., into yet another series of apartments—in the 90210 zip code so that Angie and Jamie could attend Beverly Hills High.

While the kids were growing up, money was tight. "We weren't poor, but because I was the child of an actor there was an idea that we had a lot of money." Because of the constant moving, Jolie and her mother and brother seem to have an us-against-the-world bond. Bertrand has helped guide both her children's careers (James is an actor who has worked as an assistant director on several films). "Since I first started working, my mom was kind of my manager," says Jolie. "And she's fucking great."

When I first ask Jolie about her father's family, she swats the subject away: "I don't know much about them." When I ask if I can talk to her mother, she says no—"She's never done an interview"—and then adds, "My father would not be a good person to interview because he'll just … ." She laughs. "God only knows what he'll say. We don't really speak that much anymore."

This comes as a bit of a surprise. While Jolie and Voight haven't been all that close over the years, I read that they had reconnected during the making of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which Voight, at Jolie's suggestion, played her long-lost father. At the time, Jolie and Voight did interviews together, and it seemed like they had finally bonded. She told USA Today, "If we weren't related, we'd be friends. I like who he is."

For his part, Voight is quick to point out their similarities. "Angie and I are a lot alike, and for whatever reason, we speak our piece," he told me on the phone. "We're very passionate people, and we've had our ins and outs, but mostly there's a lot of love between us."

Within her nuclear family, Jolie seems to be closest to her brother, James. When I bring up the flap over their demonstrative affection for each other on her big night at the Oscars in 2000, she starts to laugh. "To me, it was just amazing that people didn't understand," she says, still incredulous. "Saying I'm 'in love' with him is just an expression. It's just the way I was talking. What I meant was, in this moment, with all this shit going on, all that matters to me is that guy sitting right there who has stood by me and is so fucking happy for me."

Jolie started working when she was fourteen, and after her sophomore year she transferred to the continuation high school of the Beverly Hills school district, called Moreno, where they send students who have fallen behind or are working at full-time jobs. She graduated a year and a half early. At sixteen, she rented an apartment above a garage a few blocks from her mother's place. By the time she was nineteen, she was earning enough money to buy her own apartment in L.A. It was the first time in her whole life that she lived in a nonrented home.

Aside from Lookin' to Get Out, a film she appeared in with her father when she was six, Jolie's first big break was the 1995 cyberthriller Hackers, which costarred English actor Jonny Lee Miller (best known for playing Sick Boy in Trainspotting), whom she met on the set and married in 1996 (they divorced after three years). Her real moment, however, came thanks to cable television. In 1997, she was cast in the TNT biopic George Wallace as Wallace's second wife, Cornelia, for which she won a Golden Globe.

The following year, she brilliantly inhabited the role of Gia Marie Carangi in the HBO production Gia. It was as if she understood a thing or two about lesbian supermodels and drugs. Indeed, a couple of years earlier, while making the film Foxfire, she had fallen in love and carried on an affair with her costar, the Calvin Klein model turned actress Jenny Shimizu. For Gia, she was awarded yet another Golden Globe, which led to her being cast as the raging id that is Lisa in Girl, Interrupted, which led to an Oscar for best supporting actress, which led to her acceptance speech in which she said she was "in love" with her brother, which led to her being thrust onto the world stage as the dark and creepy Angelina.

One evening after dinner, Jolie and I head upstairs to her hotel suite so that she can meet Lou, her piano teacher. She has been learning to play a pretty little piece by Robert Schumann from a series called Scenes from Childhood. "In Beyond Borders," she says, "my character is supposed to play the piano, and I was either going to fake it or learn it. And I said, 'I'll do this. I will learn exactly how to play this classical piece.' And it's become the nightmare of my existence."

Jolie is known for taking her work home with her. A few years ago, I interviewed Winona Ryder just as Girl, Interrupted was about to be released, and I asked about Jolie. "She's an incredibly, phenomenally, naturally talented actress," Ryder said. "But the dynamic between us was very strange. She kind of warned me. She said, 'In this movie, this girl runs the place. And that's probably what I'm going to be doing.' And I was like, 'What do you mean?' Some of the girls, they really kind of became this group. That was her gang. She really took on the character."

Just before Lou arrives, we sit down at a big, round table and I ask Jolie how she experiences acting. Is it hard work? Is it fun? "Acting is very real to me," she says. "I've gotten to play characters I identify with. Like Gia and Lisa. I completely identified and needed to go through that."

I ask if she has ever seen a shrink. An eyebrow goes up, and she says, "Why?" Nervous laughter, and then: "My films are my therapy." I ask her to explain, and she does. "When I was doing Wallace, which was one of the first things I did, it was the beginning of the end of my first marriage. Because of the mistakes my character made, I learned to appreciate my husband, Jonny, during that film. I realized I wasn't as right-on as I thought I was, and my character had a flaw, and it was a flaw that I had."

There is a way in which making films—playing characters—seems to be an almost dangerous proposition for an emotional creature like Jolie. When Gia wrapped, Jolie found herself separated from Miller and living alone in a hotel in New York with a shaved head (Gia's shaved head). She decided to stop acting because she "had nothing to give," and started taking night classes at NYU—in directing and screenwriting.

"I would be by myself in the middle of the night in New York and feel like I didn't really know my direction," she says. But then, the movie came out, and something wonderful happened: people identified with Gia. A couple of years later, Jolie went through it all over again with Girl, Interrupted. "When we finished that film I thought, Well, people are going to hate Lisa and not understand her, and that's just going to fuck me up. When people whispered to me that they somehow did identify with her, it gave me such relief. I was so grateful. I felt so OK."

Of course, it was the notices that Jolie received for her portrayals of those "bad" girls that allowed her to even consider taking on the cartoonishly goody-goody Lara Croft. "You never know if you'll be able to return to dramatic acting if you do something like that," says Jolie. "Because Lara Croft is such a … character. She's probably the hardest role I've ever played. I sometimes think almost anybody could go into the quiet madness of the mind. But not everybody can stand front and center and go, 'Hi!' It was harder for me to be her than to be Lisa, because Lisa felt much more comfortable. Lara's so positive and alert all the fucking time."

When I compliment Jolie on her very believable English accent in the film and tell her that she reminded me of Jacqueline Bisset, she looks stunned. "Are you kidding?" She leans across the table. "You're serious?" I am serious, I say. Turns out Bisset is her godmother. "I don't mind the comparison," says Jolie. "Jackie's somebody who's comfortable with her sexuality, but there's not a lot of effort that goes into it. She's a strong yet not simple woman. And also not a modern angry woman. I read the first draft of Tomb Raider, and Lara Croft was always kicking somebody in the nuts, and they were always making a point that she was a girl, and there was always something about how stupid men are, and I hated that. I, along with the director, removed it all. That wasn't the point."

Her instincts served her well. Tomb Raider grossed more than $270 million worldwide and turned Jolie into a bankable star. It comes as no surprise that a sequel is in the works. "It will be interesting to step back into it," she says. Her favorite thing about being Lara Croft? Having kids approach her, "which is really, really nice. A lot of kids ask me about other countries. I get letters from, like, societies of archaeologists."

For someone so strongly identified with the characters she has played—both in her own mind and in the eyes of her fans—Jolie has a surprisingly noncommittal relationship to her self-presentation. "Actors, by their nature, live through other characters," she says. "But their sense of themselves? Their confidence as them? They're the last people on Earth to be clear about that."

On the first day that we met she was dressed in black jeans, black motorcycle boots, and a plain black jacket. She appeared to be wearing very little, if any, makeup. The vial of blood was on the inside of her shirt. On the second day, she was wearing a slightly revved-up version of the same outfit, but with pointy, spiked black boots and obvious makeup, vial of blood in plain sight. "I always wear a little makeup," she says. "Well, not always. When I'm tan, especially, I go natural. The only makeup I always wear—and this is going to sound funny, but my lips on their own are bright red, which I hate—is gray lipstick." She digs into her bag and pulls out a tube of M.A.C. lipstick; it is, indeed, the color of a dead person.

I bet you hated your lips when you were young, I say. "I went through a weird period where I would see these fine-featured women, and I liked that," she says. "We always want what we can't have. I've always thought that I was too angular. I don't think of myself as voluptuous or even feminine. In a perfect world I would walk around with no shirt, in leather pants and boots and not think twice about it and never comb my hair and be covered in tattoos and just be thrilled."

Do you have favorite designers? "No," she says, laughing, "which is probably why I have what are considered fashion accidents. That Oscar night I was just thinking, My hair's black, so I'll get a black dress that fits! It was the only dress I saw. And then you kind of go, 'Oh, my god, people react to things. Do I have to think about this?' "

Designers will be happy to think about it for you, I say. "Apparently they think I like to wear black leather," she says. "Once, at a photo shoot for something, my clothes got mixed up with another actress's; basically, I got her box of flowered dresses and she got a box of dog collars and black leather pants. And I thought, I've got to be somewhere in the middle! Mind you, I'd rather have the box of black leather."

There's a boy in you somewhere trying to get out, I say. "Oh, very much," she says. "I think I'd make a good boy. I think I went through a period where I was denying anything feminine about myself. And it took me a while, until I met Billy, to actually feel like a girl. I was almost shocked into being a girl."

One afternoon in late January my phone rings, and it's Thornton calling from a car in Montreal. He's on his way to the set of Levity, a film he's shooting there costarring Morgan Freeman. "Angie and I have worked it out so that we don't have to be apart anymore," he says. "There are so many ways we can work together. We've just got all kinds of plans for the future, and a lot of it has nothing to do with movies, and I think that's also our salvation. We're not hooked on it."

Back in December, when Jolie and I are in her hotel suite, which is filled with antique reproductions, she mentions that Thornton will be arriving in two days. Jolie is worried. "Billy has an antiques problem," she says to me as she looks around the room at the furniture. "He has a thing about certain kinds of antiques—doesn't feel comfortable around them, can't eat around them. I know it sounds silly, but it's a real thing. I think they remind him of things that are sad. I don't think even he can explain it."

There's no denying that Jolie and Thornton are a bit odd. They both seem to be experiencing life as perpetual adolescence, with the kind of do-or-die intensity that teenagers wear like a badge of honor. It's a way of seeing the world with very little perspective, as if everything that is happening to them has never happened to anyone before. To be fair, many actors exhibit this trait; but what is so refreshing about Jolie and Thornton is that it feels sincere.

When I ask Thornton about the disconnect between the media and the actual Jolie—the Angelina-Angie conundrum—he says, "What I always saw is that she's a sweet, vulnerable girl who was instantly my friend. People say, 'What's it like to be married to Angelina?' And I go, 'Oh, you mean Angie? She's a stuffed animal.' In the beginning, we probably played up the edgier sides of ourselves because that seemed to be the only thing people were interested in. It's almost like being in high school in the beginning of this business when you're trying to find your place. You don't want to talk about your home life and that kind of thing if you don't have one—if you truly don't have it in your heart. And then when you do, it's easier to say, 'Look, here's who I really am.' "

There's a song on Thornton's 2001 album, Private Radio, called "Angelina." In the liner notes he explains that the song is the "story of how I met the Love of my Life. Without her I wouldn't exist." It opens with this lyric: "I walked into an elevator / And you walked into a wall / You said you wanted to be with me / I never dreamed I'd have it all / But something changed that day inside me / And I believe it changed inside you, too."

Jolie and Thornton have shared the same manager, Geyer Kosinski, for years and had heard about each other and been in the same room, but their eyes didn't meet until they were cast together in Pushing Tin in 1998. Says Jolie, "I would always hear, 'Billy Bob's doing this and that, and you two are driving me crazy.' " Says Thornton, "Geyer said to me a long time ago, 'There's this girl, and she's kind of like you as an actor. She's the female you. I'm afraid to introduce you because I'm afraid you'll get married.' " Finally, one day, on the set, they met. Jolie was getting off an elevator and Thornton was getting on. They stopped, shook hands, said hello, and then Jolie turned around and walked face first into a wall. They've been together ever since.

Thornton has been married four times before and with his second wife has two boys, seven and eight, with whom he is very close. "Anytime we're not working we want to be in L.A. so we can see them on weekends," says Jolie. "They're wonderful, wild boys." Thornton thinks his children have changed Jolie. "She's just a delight around them, and I think they've given her so much. I think they've really brightened her whole world up."Jolie says she's wanted to adopt children since she herself was a kid. "My mom will tell you this," she says. "I've been talking about it ever since I can remember, since I was, like, twelve years old." I had heard a rumor that the couple is adopting a child from Cambodia, where they have set up a foundation to help build schools in the war-torn country.

When I ask Jolie about it, she smiles coyly and then denies it. Finally, she says, "I plan to adopt." When I ask if she thinks she'll ever give birth to her own children, she says, "I don't have strong feelings about it, but I'm drawn to kids that are already born. I think some people are meant to do certain things, and I believe I'm meant to find my children in the world somewhere and not necessarily have them genetically. It's just a different calling."

Clearly, Jolie has thought hard about becoming a mother. "I think it's a big thing to admit that you're good enough to be a parent. It's the most important thing you could be." But despite the fact that Jolie knows that she is "a pretty decent, pretty centered" person, she can't quite shake the feeling that she might be mocked for her decision. "If you have tattoos and opinions about things and you act in very free ways, then you aren't considered a person who would be a wife and a mother," she says. "They write about me as if I'm unattached to anything. Why is it so funny to everybody that I could be a mother? But it's the same with our marriage. Why is it nobody wants to hear about the fact that we have a strong marriage? Why is it everybody would rather talk about how fucking kooky we are? It's the same as the way people can't imagine that gay people could possibly be traditionally in love. Why can't they be? And why can't we be?"

One day in Montreal, Jolie tells me a story about how Time magazine wrote about her journey to Africa as Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR. She told the reporter about how she walked into a room in Sierra Leone filled with babies born to women who had been raped. The babies, who were lying on the floor, had never seen a white person before, and they all started crying. "They wanted to calm the kids and let me sit there, and I just couldn't," says Jolie. "I left the room and said, 'I'm sorry. I can't.' But somebody wrote something like, 'she went into a room, and babies started crying, probably because she wears blood around her neck.' " She pauses for a moment. "God, laugh about me. Whatever. But I'm trying. It was very hurtful. And I actually thought, Maybe I shouldn't be doing this. Maybe if I'm involved in it, it's not going to be taken seriously as an issue. That had me for two days like … . " She caves in her shoulders and squeezes her eyes closed.

Clearly, the UN is not worried. I called the office of the High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, in Geneva to ask about Jolie's work with the organization, and he sent me a rather officious statement that included the following: "Last year [2001], Ms. Jolie traveled to refugee camps in several countries, working with UNHCR field staff in Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and Pakistan. During these often arduous field missions, she shared the conditions of fellow UNHCR staffers, bumping along for hours over bad roads in jeeps, sleeping on floors, observing minefield detonation exercises, visiting schools and hospitals, sharing meals with families in homes they had returned to after long years in exile. … She is active on many fronts, inspiring us with her courage and her commitment to refugees."

In a way, her relationship with UNHCR actually began three years ago, when she read about an organization like it in an early draft of the Beyond Borders script. Not long after, she wound up in London for several months working on Tomb Raider, and she began to follow the news of what was happening with refugees in Sierra Leone. When the Tomb Raider production moved to Cambodia, she was further enlightened about the plight of displaced people. "I had always been interested in the UN and what they represent, so I got a book, and I opened to this page, and it said, 'UNHCR, today dealing with over 20 million [displaced] people. …' And I thought, How the fuck is that possible? So I called them in Washington."

In a strange art-imitates-life-imitates-art moment, Jolie now finds herself in the awkward position of acting out something on-camera that she's actually been living for the past year and half. One day on the phone in January she says to me, "I had to give a UNHCR speech yesterday," and it takes me a second to figure out that she means for the film. "Doing a film about something that has become real to you feels kind of backward," she says, "and yet it feels like the best way to communicate a lot of things that I've come to understand."

In December, just before I met up with Jolie, it was reported in Us Weekly that, besides traveling to several troubled nations, she donated $1 million to Afghan refugees. "Anyone who's identified with me by feeling alone or a bit crazy should know that I've figured it out," she told the magazine. "Get outside yourself. Get outside your environment. Do something for other people."

When I read this quote back to her she says, "It's true. It's done more for me than I think I could ever do for them—though I hope to do more for them."

This month, Jolie stars in her first comedy—Life or Something Like It, directed by Stephen Herek (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Rock Star). She plays a very ambitious young woman named Lanie who works as a television reporter in Seattle but dreams of making it in New York. Katie Couric is her idol. The conceit of the film is that Lanie thinks that she's going to die in a week and is forced to wrestle with her screwed-up priorities. Jolie took the part for three reasons: 1) She "loved the message" 2) Everybody always told her she couldn't do a comedy 3) "Because Lanie's everything that I hate. "She's very false in many ways," says Jolie. "But when things go wrong, instead of retreating, she just gets more determined in the gym, more flamboyant and a little more like, 'Fuck all this shit! I'm fabulous!' But her life is a wreck. She's rude, condescending, and awful. Hopefully you'll love to hate her."

So, is Angelina funny?

"She is funny," says Herek. "Doing a movie like this is a little bit out of her skin. But she's actually funny in a very different way than you might expect." Because Jolie has a tendency to take on the coloration of her characters, during the shoot she herself "became this blonde, bumbling, tripping-over-things moron. I had these long nails on, and I couldn't zip my pants and couldn't wash my hair." She laughs. "I was dialing phones with a pen."

Angelina Jolie is only 26 years old, and yet she has already brought to the screen two unforgettable, award-winning characters—Gia and Lisa. Part of the reason those women seem so real has a lot to do with the fact that they were very real to Jolie; there is a big part of her that is Gia and Lisa. With most dramatic actresses there is a clear separation between "craft" and real life. With Jolie, the lines are blurred. It is this aspect of her personality, perhaps, that makes people so uncomfortable. Now Jolie has found two new women to inhabit—Lanie and Sarah—and they, too, have become a part of Jolie. They're both women who are shedding old skins—and finding out there's more to life than being rich or pretty or famous.

When I ask Jolie if she has any regrets about her past, she doesn't hesitate: "No. I personally can't afford regret or else I would be more careful about my life. I really don't have a time where I've thought, Oh, I wish I could go back and turn it around. But I have had times in my life where I think, God, that's fucking scary. Thank god I lived through that. I've actually gotten bolder as I've gotten older because I'm just more focused. Now, at least, I know why I'm risking my life. I have a purpose. Do something. Get fucking angry about something you believe in and fight for it. How great is that? And if that's wrong, and really the idea is to kind of adjust and go with the masses, then I don't know how to do that." She smiles her ornery smile and says, "To do something good, it has to scare you."