She materializes in the dark lobby bar at the Hotel Bel-Air, a wisp of smoke, late but somehow unexpected.
It is our second meeting. In the three nights since last we met, she has stayed in three different hotels — two in Beverly Hills and one in New York City, where she went, she says, partly because she had a business meeting, but also because her son loves to play in Central Park.
Her son’s name is Maddox Jolie, and she adopted him in Cambodia in 2002. Like his mother, the boy is airplane mad. She promised him on his second birthday that she’d learn to fly. And just the other day, on his third birthday, she test-flew her new airplane. (She calls it “our new plane.”) She soloed for the first time in August.
Mounting the barstool, she removes her coat to reveal a tight black sleeveless top over low-slung jeans. On her left shoulder, skin-colored makeup barely covers an old tattoo. In the course of the evening, she will allow me to moisten the tip of my finger and try to wipe off the makeup, under which had once been written BILLY BOB. (Also, she will turn her back to me and pull up her shirt and bend over, all of which to show me her new tiger tattoo, which stretches roughly from her shoulder blades on down to the swell of her ass.) The shoulder itself, the arm, the neck, all of her, really, appears a bit too thin. She looks fragile, like a refugee.
Well known for blurring her personal and onscreen lives Jolie has reinvented herself once again.
On the eve of two big-ticket movie roles, as Alexander the Great’s mother in Oliver Stone’s epic Alexander, and as Brad Pitt’s professionally murderous wife in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the latest incarnation of Angelina Jolie is a cross between her comic-book hero Lara Croft and her passionate do-gooder in Beyond Borders. Newly responsible but still untamed, she speaks softly, almost a whisper.
“I’ve always been perceived as kind of wild or bad or weird or crazy. If you knew me privately, you might think I was even wilder than my reputation. But I’m also much softer. I’m a soft woman. Softer than people think.”
“I actually don’t have a place to live right now. I have a house in England and an office in New York, but I have a bug in me to change everything.”
“I’ve always hoped that one day I would have a life that was more exciting than the characters I was playing in the movies. Now I think I’m on the right track. My life is as interesting to me as my work.”
“There are all these metaphors from the early fliers about flying above the cynics of the world and being free. I don’t disagree with that. And I love the discipline of committing to something. Because this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Just the work of it and the commitment and how long it’s taken. The classes. The science and math of it. Meteorology. Navigation. All of it. I’m taking the English and the American courses at the same time. In America there’s one test; in England there are eight.”
“They say flying is better than sex. To me, it is. Absolutely. Hands down. It just is. Don’t ask.”
“For three years I’ve been a Goodwill Ambassador through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Initially it was just for myself, you know, wanting to get my hands dirty, to be a part of the real world, to get myself an education. But then I went to some hearings in Washington and I realized that a lot of people don’t understand what’s really going on.”
“In the last few months, I’ve been in a constant state of movement. I went to Chad — I spent my birthday [June 4, her twenty-ninth] in Chad — then to Cambodia. Then I went to Washington for Refugee Day, and then I went to speak at the secretary of state’s open forum on trafficking. Then I went to Italy to speak for We Are the Future, for children of conflict, and then I went to Spain for its Refugee Day. I went to Jordan for the Arab Children’s Congress. Then I went back to Cambodia to deal with the dams and the mining and the poaching. That was my summer vacation. In between, I took flying lessons.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be at one with the air.”
“I wanted to have a concrete skill where I could do something to help people in real ways. I’d love to be able to donate my services, to fly sick people to hospitals, you know, like people who have cancer, or people who have lost their limbs. I could deliver food. Anything. Just to be doing something practical would be great.”
“At first, the idea of me playing Alexander’s mother was weird. Then I read the script, and I love Oliver’s writing. I love him. When he casts people, he kind of casts their spirit. And hopefully, if I did my job right, you’ll see the kind of specific spirit Olympias has. She’s not a typical mother. She’s a follower of Dionysus, the god of chaos. In every other scene she’s got a snake. The first time you meet her, she’s handing a snake to a five-year-old Alexander, showing him not to fear. She was from a time when you raised your children for greatness. You didn’t raise them to be happy and safe and sweet. You raised them to be heroic. To fight and kill. To not be afraid.”
“I read something somewhere that if it doesn’t scare you, it’s not courageous.”
“I have a fire inside of me that maybe could be a little less. I’ve gone through two marriages because I couldn’t just be at peace and be at home and appreciate and enjoy my marriage or my life.”
“In Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt and I are a married couple who have been together for a few years. I’m a little homemaker, and I’m totally psychotic about how I want the curtains and everything, and he’s mowing the lawn, all that. And we’re in therapy. And we’re both in denial about there being anything wrong in the marriage and whose fault it is. We even argue about how long we’ve been married. And then we realize, and the audience knows it before we do, that we both have a secret. It’s kind of a comedy. We spend most of the movie trying to kill each other.”
“Maddox is my little mate. We have long conversations. Before I got him, he was in an orphanage for seven months — seven months of other kids screaming and crying. He was living with kids who had AIDS and kids who had other diseases. I think in some weird way he feels an odd unity with loudness and suffering kids and stuff. He’s not used to being the only baby.”
“I want to take Madd to see one of my movies, but I have to pick the right one. It’s tough. I think he might cry if he sees me. Either I’m the bad girl or I’m killed or I’m a mess emotionally or I step on a mine.”
“I do believe I have to concentrate on my son. That’s why I have lovers right now and not a boyfriend. I don’t want my son to start calling somebody Daddy unless that person’s gonna stay.”
“I have mainly two very close lovers. Wonderful men. I’ve been married so much in my life, I never really had lovers. So it’s been a kind of fun time. Hopefully the men are enjoying it as well.”
“I don’t think there’s a man who is my lover who doesn’t feel empowered.”
“Men are part of my life now, but not the defining element.”
“Having the economic freedom to make your own decisions is defining.”
“I don’t do anything. I don’t hang out with friends. I don’t shop. It dawned on me the other day: I don’t have any friends that I don’t work with. I’m aware of that.”
“The tattoos, the blood, cutting myself — it’s all very much who I am.”
“In the world I’d like to live in, we could all discuss those things. Instead, it gets turned into prurient headlines.”
“In years past, I was just being myself. I was just sharing it more with people. Now I don’t feel like being constantly misinterpreted. Why share something if it’s just gonna be used for shock value?”
“I guarantee you, my life is much more wild and free and headline-worthy today than it was when I was in all the headlines.”
“If you ask people what they’ve always wanted to do, most people haven’t done it. That breaks my heart.”
“The first time I got married, I was young. I knew I wanted to be married and wanted to be his wife, and I wanted to know marriage, not just a boyfriend-girlfriend thing. And it was a great experience; it enriched both of our lives. But we knew it wouldn’t last forever.”
“Billy and I were just so similar in the sense that we were so damaged by similar things and so wild in similar ways and so sensitive in similar ways.”
“No, I don’t think I’ll be getting married again anytime soon.”
“I’m more careful about my flying than I’ve been about anything.”
“For a while there I started to experiment a little with g forces; I got a little g-force happy. I did it with Madd in the plane the other day. And his little face turned red and he couldn’t stop laughing.”
“The English: They might be repressed, but they’re good in bed.”
“I had a little window tattoo for a while, which is now covered by the huge tiger on my back. The tiger was done by a monk. There’s also a lot of ancient Buddhist script. I told him about the projects I was doing in Asia and what my intentions were for raising my son as a Buddhist. And I kind of gave him a point on my back not to go higher than. I just kind of trusted him. He spent an hour and a half working freehand. Part of it was intense pain. My lower spine, that really hurt. I had no idea what he was doing back there.”
“The window was this weird box, a tiny box, low on my back. Because ever since I was a kid, I used to stare out windows. I always wanted to go somewhere else. Wherever I was — I’d be married, I’d be on my wedding day, or I’d, you know, just had sex with my husband or just finished a shot in a movie or whatever it was — I’d always stare out the window and just think, There’s got to be something else. Now the window’s mostly covered by the tiger. Now, fortunately, I went through the window. I traveled there and lived there, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do. Now I stare at the sky thinking about flying.”
“My mom and I have always been close. People don’t know that because they’re always writing about my father. She’s a great lady. Catholic schoolgirl. Very sweet. Almost the polar opposite of me as a woman and yet so supportive of everything wild and sexual and free, because she also lived through the sixties. She grew up very proper but hung out on Sunset Strip. So she’s got a neat balance.”
“My mom is really proud of the fact that she gave me and Madd our last name. Jolie was my middle name until I dropped the Voight.”
“That’s a new thing with motherhood: the whole getting to know the mothers. Part of me wants to avoid it, and part of me wants to become the president of the PTA.”
“I had to get a good-conduct clearance recently, a certificate of good conduct. And I thought, Oh.”