She’s a human rights advocate and, in summer action flick Wanted, a remorseless killer. In a frank interview, the star with the disarming and dangerous persona talks about sex, tattoos, motherhood, war, and peace
Think it’s difficult finding a Father’s Day present for the man in your life? Try being Angelina Jolie.
”Brad is the hardest person to shop for,” she says while checking out a window display of Corum watches at the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat in the south of France. ”He has impeccable design taste. And whenever he sees something he likes, he buys it for himself.” Pitt’s most recent gift to Jolie — the gun-charm necklace she wore to her EW photo shoot — is also a tough act to follow.
”Mad, our 6-year-old, draws lots of war scenarios,” she explains. ”He’s all into war and guns. So for Mother’s Day he drew a machine gun, and Brad had it made into a necklace, which is really sweet. It’s really cute. I think it’s really good!”
Leave it to Angelina Jolie to drop the words cute and machine gun in the same breath. The 33-year-old Academy Award winner has always cultivated dual identities: On the one hand, she’s been the Mistress of the Dark (as in her fascinations with tattoos, knives, and blood); on the other, she’s the Minister of Light (her work promoting international peace). Her next starring film roles keep that dichotomy alive: On June 27 she appears as Fox, a morally driven assassin who mentors a shlubby office worker (James McAvoy) in the graphically violent Wanted. And in October she stars in Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Changeling, as a 1920s single mom whose 9-year-old son disappears.
Changeling‘s premiere at the recent Cannes Film Festival earned Jolie strong reviews, but her life off screen garnered even more attention: Paparazzi have been tailing Jolie, Pitt, and their four children (Maddox, 6; Pax, 4; Zahara, 3; and Shiloh, 2) all over southern France. And last month’s false reports that Jolie, who’s expecting twins later this summer, delivered early caused a media maelstrom. (”I just think it’s all a bit crazy,” she says of the tabloid insanity in general. ”They just have to make up stuff. We find it odd all the time because we’re probably very boring people when it comes to many things.”) Over a lunch of filet mignon and iced tea, Jolie discussed her new films and her polarizing public persona.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was describing the plot of Wanted to a friend and she said, ”So instead of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this is just Mrs. Smith.”
ANGELINA JOLIE: Maybe this is Mrs. Smith after she killed Mr. Smith, went into depression, and got very, very, very moody. Fox is not happy, and she’s not easy to be around. She was interesting to me because she isn’t the love interest and she isn’t having fun with it like the Tomb Raider. She’s darker.
What’s she unhappy about?
Well, her father was killed, and she’s dedicated her life to this idea of a code. And she doesn’t really have a life outside of that. She’s that person on the police force or something where their badge is their life and you can’t communicate with them on any other level.
What convinced you to do the movie?
I was in between A Mighty Heart and Changeling, which were two very, very emotionally difficult films to do. And my mom had passed away in that year. And I’d had a baby. So everything in me was just feeling very fragile. And so, knowing myself, I thought, What I need to do most is get up and get focused and get aggressive and get out of myself a little bit. We discussed that at home — that that would be good for me. Then I read this and knew they were casting McAvoy, and I thought, That sounds really unusual. I met Timur and I knew that he’d include a story. I know that sounds odd, but a lot of action movies rely so much on generic special effects or a story we’ve heard before.
The official production notes say you were very involved in working on your character’s dialogue.
That’s probably the nice way of saying I cut all my lines. But that’s really the truth. It wasn’t that I cut them because they were bad. I just really felt like she didn’t talk very much. So that’s the producers’ way of being very polite and saying ”She was sculpting her character,” when I really just said, ”I don’t think I talk here. I don’t think I talk here either.”
Do you worry that people will have a hard time squaring this gun-toting character with your role as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador? They do seem quite incongruous.
I am a strong believer that without justice there is no peace. No lasting peace, anyway. I’m somebody who’s very curious about the International Criminal Court and supportive of following through on the arrest warrants in Darfur. I’m not somebody that just wants to hold up a white flag and say, ”Let’s all just get along.” I think people that do horrible things should be held accountable. I don’t think like in Wanted people should [just] be killed. I think there should be trials and justice. But the idea behind Wanted is not that she’s a badass assassin that just likes to kill people. It’s that, if you ran into Hitler before he did everything, and you knew, should you shoot him? And I would. These assassins are getting lists: They find out who is going to slaughter other people ahead of time and they remove them. So that was the side of me that identified with her. But it is a confusing thing, certainly for rights activists. Don’t read too much into it. I am holding a gun, but there are so many people that have done so many horrible things. Pol Pot died a grandfather in the jungle, most likely of old age. Never was punished for what he did.
Your other film this year, Changeling, is the first role you’ve played where motherhood was so central to the character.
I wasn’t old enough to play the mom [before]. And I don’t think I really knew what it was to be a mom until these last few years. Especially the mom of an older son. It’s one thing playing the mom of a new baby, but my relationship with Maddox was very much on my mind and I just couldn’t shake the thought of him through the whole film. He’s the one that I talk to the way I talk to the little boy in the movie. So I see the movie and Brad sees it and [we recognize] things in it — even just little things. The boy says, ”Am I too heavy?” Mad says that all the time. ”Am I too heavy?” ”Oh, never! One day you’re going to carry me!”
Clint Eastwood is one of our most famous Republicans. Did you talk politics with him on the set?
Actually, we don’t disagree as much as you’d think. I think people assume I’m a Democrat. But I’m registered independent and I’m still undecided. So I’m looking at McCain as well as Obama. Clint can teach me about things domestically and I’m more aware of some things internationally. So it was less a debate and more things we found interesting. But for the first few weeks I was just too nervous to get into any deep conversation!
Who helps you read scripts and make decisions? Brad? Your longtime manager, Geyer Kosinski?
I’m terrible at reading scripts. I love to read and I hate reading scripts. Brad reads a lot because he’s also producing. We’re always joking about the fact that I just hate it. I have no patience. I can’t watch movies either. What usually will happen is I’ll talk to Geyer about what stage I’m at in my life and what type of a woman or story I’m looking to tell. Like with Wanted, I call and say, ”I really feel like I have to do something that’s physical right now.” Right now I don’t want to work at all. I want to stay home, so the few things we’ve talked about are the amazing, once-in-your-lifetime things, like Atlas Shrugged. But other than that, I’m not looking.
Are you and Brad thinking about doing Atlas Shrugged together?
We’ve talked about that. But we’ve also talked about, Would that be good for the film? It would have to really work for the audience and not hurt the story. It’s been 50 years of people trying to pull a movie together. If it comes together it’d be hard to say no to. The people who have the rights are itching to do it. They were itching to do it before, but [looks at her pregnant belly] I got myself in a state!
Your best-known roles are these fantasy women, like Lara Croft and Mrs. Smith. Do you think that’s why audiences mostly stayed away from A Mighty Heart, where you played a real woman?
I don’t want to think so. I don’t think so, because fortunately I’ve had a long career of doing a bit of both. I think with Mighty Heart, it was a very difficult time, and I just think, especially when the country’s at war, it’s a hard thing to sit down and want to absorb. A lot of people are looking for escapism, and I understand that. It’s a hard film to watch, it’s a hard thing to think about.
In many ways you’re a very polarizing figure. People either worship you or they can’t stand you. Have you thought about why that is?
I’d like to think it’s because I’m not neither here nor there in my life. I think anybody that makes a decision about where they stand is going to cause strong opinions about them. But I think that’s what you should be hoping for in life, so I take that as a very good sign. That some people support me and some people really don’t like me tells me that I’m making decisions and I’m standing strong for something I believe in. I’m making choices in life. And that’s the right thing to do.
Some people can’t reconcile your old persona, where you talked about knives and cutting, with your more recent identity as a mother and activist.
But again, it’s not that different. The reason I talked about going through certain pains or even cutting myself is that I was already out the other side. I knew there were people that do that — and somehow are happy that somebody admitted they did and discussed how they got out of it. I don’t see the point of doing an interview unless you’re going to share the things you learn in life and the mistakes you make. So to admit that I’m extremely human and have done some dark things, I don’t think makes me unusual or unusually dark. I think it actually is the right thing to do and I’d like to think it’s the nice thing to do.
Is there anything you’ve said that you wish you hadn’t? Like all that business about wearing the vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around your neck when you two were married?
No! It was never a vial anyway. It was like a flower press. It was like from a slight cut on your finger and you press your fingerprint in. It was kind of a sweet gesture. I thought it was kind of romantic! I still love him dearly and think the world of him and I’m proud to have been his wife for a time. I don’t believe in regrets. It’s a dangerous habit to get into — it makes you pause in your life if you start thinking back and questioning yourself.
You mentioned your mother earlier. What did you learn from her about being a mother yourself?
When Brad saw Changeling he said he could see my mother. That was very much my mother. Hated yelling at people, really was so decent and so sweet, but when it came to protecting her children, she somehow found this odd strength. There’s an elegance to her that I don’t really have; there’s a kindness.
You don’t think you’re kind?
I kind of like to debate. I like to get into fights.
Would you say you’re drawn to extremes?
I think so, yeah. We joke about that at home a lot, because we walk in different worlds together, Brad and I. We joke about the extremes of the things we’ll do.
Well, certain things are private! But there’s a side of us that’s so mommy-daddy and then there’s a side of us that’s…very man and woman. I’ll leave it at that. We both like to ride motorcycles, we both like to fly planes, that’s the spirited side of us. Then the other side of us is very focused on silly mommy-daddy things. So I guess that’s extremes, but I just think of that as balance.
What would you say are the best and worst things about being pregnant?
It’s all just so nice. You just really can’t complain about anything as long as you know the babies are looking healthy. The only thing that’s hard for me now is with twins and having four kids, there’s a lot of the doctor saying ”Stop picking them up as much.” But we’ve worked out a system where Brad just lifts them to me every time they want to come up. I just don’t bend down. I’ll scream, ”Honey!” and he’ll come running and lift them up. Or they climb on chairs, so it’s not as big of a lift. So we’re trying to follow doctor’s orders, but I’m bending them a tiny bit.
I’ve heard people say it’s bad for the sex life.
No, I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s great for the sex life. It just makes you a lot more creative. So you have fun, and as a woman you’re just so round and full.
Pretty soon you’ll have six kids all under the age of 8. Have you thought about how you’re physically going to be able to handle that?
Well, we weren’t expecting twins! So it did shock us, and we jumped to six quickly. But we like a challenge. We really don’t know. His mom and dad are on standby to come out and help. And fortunately we can hire help if we need it, but we’re going to try as we usually do to balance it as well as we can. The only thing for us when a new child comes home is just balancing the others. Our real focus now is: How do we make sure that the babies’ coming is not upsetting to other kids and makes them feel included. They’re old enough to feel included to change diapers themselves, to feed bottles themselves, like if I pump into a bottle. We’re trying to find ways where it can be a fun group thing. But the hard thing is every single day trying to find time for each of them privately. ‘Cause that’s our big thing. With our eldest, we have that last half an hour at night; Shiloh tends to be the first up in the morning. Everybody gets special time so we can make sure we know where they’re at.
You and Brad aren’t married. How do you refer to each other?
We have that problem all the time. I say ”partner” sometimes. ”Father of my children” is too long. But half the time people refer to us as, ”So, your wife this, your husband that.” We’ve stopped correcting everybody. It’s not a big intentional thing not to marry. We immediately were a family when we became a couple, and children were the priority, and we’re both legally committed to the children. And that seemed to be the right thing.
What would be your ideal way to spend a free Saturday?
I have a lot of those. Very simple things. On weekends we usually have family sleep. We always have one night a week where everybody stays up late, watches a movie, and stays in our bed. We have, like, a slumber party.
Is there intense competition among the kids as to who sleeps where?
Yeah, but it’s funny: The boys tend to want to be near Mommy and the girls tend to want to be near Daddy. So it works out nicely.
What’s the deal with Brad’s new tattoo?
I drew that. We went to Davos. It’s not that we were bored at the World Economic Forum, but one night we didn’t have anything to do, so I was drawing on his back.
So it’s not permanent?
It is. But I was just sketching.
On him, yeah.
And you thought, ”Let’s make it a tattoo”?
He just liked it! The picture everybody saw was kind of awkward, but it just lines up beautifully on his back, just enhances the part of the body I like.
So it doesn’t mean anything per se.
I mean, it’s meaningful in that it’s us making angles and shapes out of each other’s body, that kind of a thing.