Sex and the Single Mom

“You know, you’re sleeping with your kid all the time and you’re like, I haven’t had sex in months, let alone tempted anyone,” says Angelina Jolie. She’s sitting cross-legged beside me on an overstuffed couch at a hotel bar in Beverly Hills. She’s slender in jeans and a silky tunic. A soft black shawl keeps slipping from her bare left shoulder, where there’s a tattoo of a dragon and a smudge of makeup covering up the shadow of the lasered-away name “Billy Bob.”

When you said you sleep with men in hotel rooms, I was like, Oh, yeah, I do that.
“Exactly, thank you,” says Angelina, 29, who says she prefers to be called Angie.

Because what else are you going to do?
“Yeah, if you’re a single mom.”

(She adopted a son, Maddox, now three, from a Cambodian orphanage in 2002. She said she has two lovers.)

It sounds like you’re lucky. You have a regular setup.
“It takes a long time to create a situation like I have. I was always not wanting to take them to meet my kid. A few months into it with one he started to ask about can he spend time with Mad or get to know Mad.

And I had to become very clear, like, ‘This stays where it stays. You don’t have to talk about my son, because that’s not who you are. And that’s O.K., I appreciate it, but please don’t assume that that’s O.K.’

When I was married to Billy, I met a man I never slept with. We had dinner once, and it ended up being, ‘Look, I’m married. I can’t sleep with you. I can’t even finish dinner, cause it’s uncomfortable. Three years later I called him and asked if he wanted to be lovers, and it was one of these phone calls of just, you know, a single mom sleeping with a baby and just, I’ll call a man up and ask if he wants to be my lover.

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And we spent a few dinners kind of discussing the details of how this was going to happen. It was actually fascinating. It was interesting between a man and a woman to say, This is what we’re both worried about and this is how we won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

I think even with that man it took about two months until he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you’re really serious, you’re O.K. with this, you’re really fine to just have a lover.’ I think women are much easier about having a lover than a man is, even.”

I think men like to think that—
“They’re more sexual. And we’re very much the opposite… and we love, we love to love, but we can also draw the line.”

She and the lovers “have become great friends. We watch the news, talk about life.”

She gasps, looking up. Charlie, our waiter, has come over with a large silver tray of chocolates.

“You always do this and I love you for it!” says Angie.

“It’s so healthy,” says Charlie, trembling. “This is healthy Swiss chocolate.”

“Thank you very much. I feel better about it already.”

She makes between $12 and $15 million per picture. Her mother is the actress Marcheline Berrand, who is part French and part Iroquois. Her parents separated when she was one.

“Her power is volcanic, it’s huge, it’s electric,” says James Mangold, director of Girl, Interrupted.

So, it’s a romantic comedy about married assassins?
“For me it was funny because I’m terrible at relationships—”

You might be surprised one day.
“One day, one day. And it’s hard now ‘cause I look at Mad and think, it’s got to be somebody who’s worthy of that kid. You think you’re good enough to be his parent?”

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I gave up thinking there were any wonderful men.
“I have, as of late.

Mad has made me a woman! He’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to my life, and I’m just so amazed, because he’s adopted, that life led me to him, led me to his country, and led us to each other, and thank God because both our lives would be so completely different if that didn’t happen.”

She saw him for the first time in an orphanage when he was three months old. “I held him for the longest time, and finally he woke up and stared at me, and we stared at each other, and I was crying and he smiled and I felt, ‘cause my discomfort with children is because I assume I can’t make them happy, because I’ve been accused of being dark. I wasn’t sure I’d be a great, loving, perfect mom even though I wanted to be so bad—could I make someone comfortable and happy? But he smiled and we hung out for a few hours, and I could make him happy, and we felt like a family.”

They live in an eight-bedroom converted farmhouse in Buckinghamshire, England—the same county that is home to Lara Croft. She says she just liked the area. They also have a house in Cambodia.

She recently attended her first parent teacher conference at his pre-school. “I changed the time three times. I remembered being sent to the principal’s office, so the idea made me nervous.”

He travels with her everywhere and was somewhere in the hotel as we spoke, being watched by an assistant who seemed very responsible.

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“A lot of [people] have asked, Are you looking for a father? Does he have a father? Is there a man in your life? To a point where my standard answer has become: ‘It’s better to have nobody than somebody who is half there, or doesn’t want to be there, or is there and then disappears.'”

She was still married to Thornton when she adopted Maddox. They split a few months after bringing him home—he was then 11 months old—amid rumors of Thornton’s infidelity on the road with his band, rumors he has said were false. “I don’t think they are untrue,” Angie was quoted saying at the time.

“He wasn’t, uh, ready” for adopting a child “but, uh, he sent me his love. It’s kind of uh”—she fell silent—”tragic.”

You don’t want to be married to someone who’s afraid of antiques.
“And the funny thing,” she laughed, “is I’d actually have antiques in the house and I’d say to him, ‘It’s a reproduction, don’t be insane.’ And there was one day I kept saying that ‘it’s a reproduction, don’t be crazy,’ and he opened up a drawer and it said ‘Dynamite.’ It was [a chest] made of an old dynamite box, and so I was busted.”

She said she didn’t speak to him for a year and a half after leaving him, in 2002. “We finally kind of talked and purged. I wasn’t planning on talking. But maybe ‘cause we’re both artists, and he’s a writer, he’s very in touch with ways to express something, so he was able to call and say, This is what I understand about you and me, about life, and this friendship.”

“He’s a really good man. He’s hysterical—we had a lot of laughs. Probably one of the reasons I loved him so much is I don’t giggle that much, and we met as two people who had been through pain and addiction”—she has said “heroin has been very close to me in my life”—”and life and just drama and deep inside ourselves and we got together and just started laughing.”

“What went wrong, or not even wrong but what wasn’t meant to be was he was focusing on his music and I was upstairs reading. I went through a change in my life and started paying more attention to the news and learning about other countries and becoming more politically active.”

“And I was saying, O.K., well, listen, you’re going to finish this song and I’m going to Washington and I’ll see you Monday, and then I’d come back and we wouldn’t discuss what he wrote in the studio and we wouldn’t discuss what I learned in Washington, and then two weeks later it would be, O.K., I’m going to Sierra Leone and Tanzania…”

“And so in a year I became who I am today, very much, and he became who he is today, and it was just totally different paths in life, and then we just looked at each other one day and we had nothing to say to each other.”

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“One of my favorite scenes from the movie is where they’re having dinner and they’re not talking and they have a conversation and it’s about peas.”

She was attracted to the script, because she’s “had two failed marriages.”

“It was a study in partnership and the things that go wrong and the things we fight through. At the end of the day, it’s: Can they work as a team? And do they have each other’s back?”

She and Brad Pitt, did [have each other’s back] while preparing for the movie. “We went to gun training, which is actually one of the most dangerous things two actors can do. We would go to rifle ranges and actually compete with each other.”

“They would have these obstacle courses, and you have to learn to enter rooms and shoot at moving targets, get from one wall to another and protect yourself. They had us do it together—which is, if you don’t know somebody really well, when you’re holding loaded shotguns, and you’re back-to-back—”

They were using live ammunition, she said. “You had to trust each other to cross under or over and only move when the other person moves, so the trust, when somebody’s got a loaded gun at your back.… It made us trust each other quickly, you know?

During the filming, a scandal erupted over the question of whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had had an offscreen romance, possibly contributing to the January 7 breakup of Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston.

“It’s obviously been difficult with all this bulls* going on.”

‘Eyewitnesses,’ were quoted as saying that Pitt admired Angie’s political activism and was very attentive to Maddox on the set. Which could just mean he’s a nice guy.

“I’ve been tied to everybody I ever worked with,” Angie said resignedly.

When I asked how the current tabloid mania had been affecting her, she said, “I live in England,” with an elegant shrug. “When [Pitt and Aniston] separated, I was in Niger in a place where there are no newspapers and nobody gossips.”

I asked her about the rumor that Aniston overheard her and Pitt having phone sex. “Absolute bulls*.” One report quoted her saying that she had been merely ‘a shoulder for Brad to cry on.’ “If you track that, it was printed from a British journalist who says that a friend said that Angie said that she was a shoulder to cry on.” She said she had her lawyers ‘send word to’ Aniston and Pitt that she never said anything like that.

As for the picture of her and Pitt in Italy, walking along embracing? “You mean the picture from the movie? If you look closely, it looks like my hand is in his shirt ‘cause they’ve actually moved two pictures together. I called the studio and said, Don’t you guys have a still where the camera’s in frame? They did some damage control. I didn’t pay attention.”

“I knew nothing about their marriage. All I know is they seem like wonderful people and wonderful friends and they seem like—I wish people could learn from them and how they seem to obviously be so close and—”

They seem like they’re getting back together.
“Yeah. Maybe.”

Aniston filed for divorce on March 25.

“I think I married men I wanted to be.”

You wanted to be Billy Bob?
I wanted to be an artist and he was this great artist. And then, when I did Lara Croft, he told me, ‘I’m an artist and now you’re a movie star.'” The movie grossed more than $250 million internationally.

“A great man is one that can be a survivor, as opposed to somebody who is born into something and made a few right business decisions and has accomplished, what, money? Someone who can make love to a woman. Somebody who’s capable, somebody who’s not just going to whine and think about themselves, but somebody who can get out of themselves and think about the needs of the person right in front of them.”

Someone great with kids.
“That’s a real man. I know if I ever saw a man be great with my child, then that would be it for me. I actually know that.”

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Angie and her father, Jon Voight, have not spoken in more than three years. After they stopped talking, Voight appeared on Access Hollywood in what he says was an attempt to “get her help” for her “serious mental problems.” She legally dropped his name from hers soon after.

They had never had a completely smooth relationship, going in and out of contact over the years.

When I talked to Voight on the phone some time after meeting Angie, he was very emotional in expressing his love for her and his regrets that he may have ever hurt her in any way.

“Everything I’ve ever done in my life since the birth of my children, every gesture and every breath I take, is with their happiness in mind and if I’ve made a mistake or two, and I have made mistakes in my life, I’ve paid dearly for them, but my love has always been there for the children.”

He also said that he has tried to make amends, but she has denied his overtures. Angie said she didn’t trust his sincerity, and said he uses the media to communicate private and negative things.

“I’m terrified. I’ve scared myself. I have a dad in me that’s pretty hard. My dad was a nightmare, and so that’s all I have. I hear myself being a disciplinarian.”

“I think the best thing about being raised by two parents is you grow up watching two people love each other and respect each other. And it makes for a happy parent, too, like a really happy, nurtured parent.”

Nicole Kidman was originally slated to play Mrs. Smith but dropped out due to a scheduling conflict. “We started talking about who would you believe in that role?” says Lucas Foster, one of Mr. and Mrs. Smith‘s producers. “This is a woman who by day is a housewife and by night is a super-secret agent, jumping off buildings and getting in a taxi like it’s all perfectly normal. We thought, ‘Angelina Jolie’—she was the perfect person.”

The movie had a troubled shoot from the beginning. Its December 2003 start date was moved to January of 2004 because of problems with the set. “Brad started the movie injured and we had to adjust our schedule accordingly,” Foster says. “He was playing Achilles in Troy and hurt his Achilles tendon.”

Something was going very right, however.

“Brad and Angie have a lot of chemistry. Watching them on-screen, you’re like, Wow, that’s really—cool,” says Foster.

“They’re just really funny and really engaging on-screen,” says Akiva Goldsman, another producer on the film.

Pitt had to leave the production for several months over the summer of 2004 to make Ocean’s 12. Stopping and starting a film again is unusual and, Foster says, proved “very expensive.” The budget soared “north of $100 million.”

And then came reports that Angie wasn’t getting along with the film’s director, Doug Liman. Liman says, “I love Angie.… She’s really smart. And I do very well with people who have strong opinions.” Her nickname for Liman on the set was “Bunny,” which was actually also her mother’s nickname for her as a child.

“It’s a romantic comedy with gunfire,” Foster says. “We were trying to hit a specific tone that doesn’t easily fit into one genre…. At one point things got very strained. Everyone was fighting. I’ve been pissed off at Doug at various times. Angie and Doug don’t agree about everything. But I don’t agree with Doug about everything. That’s the nature of filmmaking.”

Additional shooting in March was done at an isolated, empty Ikea warehouse—chosen to dodge a now full-blown media obsession. (Most of the movie was shot on the Fox lot, in L.A.) “I spend my life sending away paparazzi,” says Foster.

As for the rumors of a romance between co-stars, Foster says, “Not to my knowledge. I think it’s demeaning to her talent, which is extreme.”

Pitt never responded to calls asking for a comment.

“Acting is not pretending or lying,” Angie once said. “It’s finding a side of yourself that’s like the character and ignoring the other sides.”

She seems to have often allowed these different sides of herself to change her life, or been unable to keep them from changing it. “Her commitment to a role does saturate her being,” says Michael Cristofer, her director on the HBO movie Gia and now a close friend. “I think she knows when she takes on a role it’s going to permeate her self and how she lives and who she is.”

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“When she did Lara Croft, I think she needed to—well, look,” Cristofer says, “I don’t know how much she told you, and I have to be careful what I say, but I think when she did Lara Croft she needed to find and explore and live inside that part of her personality that was strong and healthy and physically in extraordinary shape. I think she had come out of a really bad time and she was getting herself together in a very good way through the shoot of that film.”

“I think with Angie it is really hard to separate life from acting,” Cristofer says, “and that’s why it feels to me that this part of her that she’s living now really is an excellent choice for her.”

It was during her marriage to Thornton that she began preparing for her role in Beyond Borders; she played Sarah Jordan, “a naïve, married American socialite living in London,” say the film’s press materials, who “impulsively abandons her sheltered life” to work on behalf of refugees, against the backdrop of the “world’s most dangerous hot spots.” Which is pretty much what Angie has done with her life now.

When the production of Beyond Borders fell apart, in mid-2001, she pushed to get it back on track. “She was very passionate about doing the film,” says her co-star, Clive Owen. “It wasn’t a vanity thing of what a fantastic part it was. It was: I want to point people toward this subject.”


She walks into the ballroom of the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington looking like a more angular Jackie O. She’s in a dark-blue Dolce & Gabbana suit. It’s a few days after our first meeting, and now she is here to give a speech to lawyers from around the country, asking them to do pro bono work for immigrant children.

“When I was just an actress,” Angie tells the crowd of blue suits and little black dresses, “my life was no use to others…”

The next day, I go to meet with her in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

“This whole world is probably good for me. The whole Washington thing,” she tells me later. “When I’m here there’s a side of me that I just get into focus. I get my notes, my pen. I get my head together. And I do want to cover my tattoos, get into my suits, look clean, don’t dress too sexy, and just try and present the woman that I’m not sure I am, but would like to aspire to be? A little more? But everybody’s always been expecting me to be—or it’s been easier to be—the other girl.”

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Vanity Fair Jun.2005.

June 17, 2005 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links