The Joy of Being Jolie

I interviewed Jon Voight at my home in 1978 when he was filming The Champ. Now, 23 years later, I am talking to his daughter, Angelina Jolie. I’m curious to see if she’s at all like her father, who was (and still is) intense, focused and original in his thinking. 

You’ve already won an Oscar and you’re starring in a huge action movie that could make you even more powerful. Do you feel like your living a fantasy?
Yeah, I feel extremely blessed. But it wasn’t only about getting here. I enjoyed all the steps that got me here.

You’ve said that playing Lara Croft in Tomb Raider was one of the hardest things you’ve ever done as an actor.
I said that because it was such a challenge physically, and because playing the character was difficult too. It’s easier to act crazy than to hold your head up high, stand up, make an articulate speech, and be lovely. Nobody wants to do that without laughing.

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Your father plays Lara Croft’s father in Tomb Raider, and it’s an interesting coincidence that both he and the character he plays were largely absent from their daughters’ childhoods.
I never remember a time in my life when I needed my father and he wasn’t there. But he’s an artist, and it was a certain time in his life. And it was the 70’s, a strange time for everybody. To this day, I think my parents love each other. I saw them at Christmas-they came to our house. They helped put the house together because Billy and I were both away working. When we came home, they were finishing off the Christmas tree. They’re wonderful to each other.

Do you think your dad is an intense person?
He’s always been very intense. We sat in my office the other night and just talked about amazing things: great people in history, great artists, great work, great music. We can talk for hours. Or we’ll call and we’ll be in character and we’ll tell each other what scene we did that day and why it was funny, and we’ll act it out for each other.

Did you have many battles with him over the years?
My dad and I are a lot alike. We can push each other’s buttons.

Your father said that he took a lot of his work home with him, which wasn’t necessarily a virtue. Do you do that as well?
I do that, but thank goodness I’m with Billy. While preparing for Tomb Raider, I went through a slow change to play this strong woman. Billy was playing a neurotic, unstable person at the time, so the two of us together were just very funny. [Laughs] My character loved to attack his.

What’s the best aspect of making an action film on this grand a scale?
We were able to film in amazing countries. In Angkor, Cambodia, I met monks who performed a ceremony for us. We also went to Iceland.

Did working in foreign countries broaden your world view?
I’ve just started to travel a lot with Tomb Raider. We filmed in London, and while I was in Europe I had an awakening. The news is very different there, and I heard a lot about what was going on around the world. I was seeing how other people lived. I hadn’t been educated about things that I now think are very important. I didn’t understand what was going on in Sierra Leone-and when I’d see something about it, I couldn’t stop crying. The world is so much bigger than I had thought about before. Then I realized that it doesn’t take a lot to help out-and I’m in a place where I can do that. Selfishly, it feels good to do something important with your life.

So, I understand you’re about to leave for Africa. What will you be doing down there?
I’m working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

What is the U.N. asking of you?
They didn’t ask me to do anything. I called them and explained that I wanted to get to know their organization. I was asking them to help educate me-and to let them know that if I could help them in the future, I’m willing. I have no idea what’s going to happen.

An action star rarely gets through a film without an injury. What did you experience on the set of Tomb Raider?
I pulled ligaments, burned myself on a chandelier. I just went to a masseuse recently who said, “Your shoulders are clicking.” Well, no surprise. But the most difficult thing was learning how to do bungee ballet. It took a while to learn how to work with the harnesses.

How happily married are you?
Very. It just hit me the other day when I was at home with Billy and his children. My dad stopped by, and then my mom came by, and I was baking with an Easy-Bake Oven. And Billy and I looked at each other and smiled.

An Easy-Bake Oven? Isn’t that a toy?
[Laughs] It’s a fake oven, yeah, but you can make small cakes with it. I’m very excited by my oven.

What are the two of you like when you’re alone together?
We open up to each other, talk about painful things we’ve gone through, the times when we felt like failures. We’ll hold each other and we feel like things are going to be OK.

When you met Billy Bob on the set of Pushing Tin, was there an immediate attraction?
Uh-hmm.

John Cusack was also on that set. Did you notice him?
He’s a cute guy as a friend. Billy’s my kind of cute, know what I mean? When I met him, my first thought was, Oh, that’s the kind of person I was hoping existed. The way he talks to people, the things he laughs at, the way he looks, the way he dresses. And just the smile in his eyes, his sense of humor, his mind when he talks about his work. I’m so happy to have met somebody that makes sense to me. It’s like discovering an author who speaks to you. You think, Thank God, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say.

Did you sense Billy had a thing for you?
No. I understood right away that he was with someone, and I would never have assumed that he liked me.

You’ve said that Billy is the most amazing man you’ve ever met. What’s so amazing about him?
He’s just an amazing person and it could be the thing that will drive him mad. It’s hard for him to live in himself sometimes. We all have a bit of that, but he has it to an extreme. He feels everything. He notices everything. And he can’t help but be completely honest.

What makes him so sexy to you?
Oh, You ask me that and you want me to stay here and talk to you? [Laughs] He’s an amazing lover and he knows my body. He knows things that I don’t know. Somehow he just brought me to life. [Laughs] Just the way he walks. The way his boots look in the closet. The way he looks first thing in the morning, when he’s half-awake and I can jump on him. He’s just sexy being who he is. When he’s passionate about something and he can’t get off the phone or he can’t stop writing. He used to sit in his car and listen to music and think until he ran the battery down. That kind of intensity translates in every way, and when it’s directed towards you, it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.

You also said the same things haunt both of you. What are they?
We both can’t stand things that are superficial or false or somebody trying to hurt somebody or things that aren’t free. We both have felt sad and alone a lot in our lives. We feel like there is no end to a certain restlessness in our spirit.

How would you describe yourself?
I think a lot, maybe too much. I’m very loving. I like who I am better today than I have before. I’ve come to a place where I’m very comfortable, settled. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been able to be soft, and I’m finding strength in that.

Do you see yourself as a beautiful woman?
I don’t not like the way I look, but I don’t think I’m pretty. I’m actually a bit strange-looking. I’ve come to a place where even the things I used to hate about myself, I’m like…

What could you possibly hate about yourself?
Lots of things. At different times in my life I wished I had a different hair color. I have an eye color that nobody can figure out. I used to want to have one solid hair color, one solid eye color. But all those things I love now. They’re just me.

Gossip columnists have had a field day predicting how long your marriage will last. Does that upset you?
Are they still doing that? We’re two of the weirder people in this business, so you’d think they’d say we’re perfect for each other. A lot of marriages in this town come and go. We’re an exception to that rule, I believe. Time will tell. It’s upsetting in a way when they say we don’t love each other or put out rumors of us with other people. Billy heard something about me and Antonio Banderas on the set of Original Sin. To me it was like, “What are you talking about?” I heard something about him with somebody, and I asked him if it was true. He said, “Of course not.”

Are either of you jealous?
No. We both are desperately in love so we need each other to survive. We’ve finally found our match. It’s impossible for anything to happen to us.

What if you caught him fooling around with another woman?
I’ve told Billy if I ever caught him cheating, I wouldn’t kill him because I love his children and they need a dad. [Laughs] But I would beat him up. I know where all of his sports injuries are. And I’d beat her, too! 

You’ve said that you’d like to have children, but you don’t know if there will ever be a time when you are not going to be too selfish. Where do you stand now?
I want to have children when I’m not traveling all the time. I have always felt strongly about adopting. Being around Billy’s kids now, they’re part of my family. [Holds up her hand to show paper ring] They made this for me. Billy and I are both big kids, so when they come on the weekends, it’s like the four of us are having slumber parties.

How many boyfriends did you have before you got married the first time, to Jonny Lee Miller?
One. I’m not one of those people who notices guys. I’ve never really dated. I’ve slept with four men in my life, so it’s funny to think that people think I’m a sex maniac.

How tough was the split with your first husband?
It was tough because we never wanted to hurt each other. We never have, to this day. But we just didn’t really love what made us different. We didn’t encourage what was best about us. He was so strong and stable. He’s not a boring guy, he’s quite wild, but he was a little more mature than I was, more settled.

You’ve spoken openly to the press about your fascination with violence during sex. Is this something you’ve also discussed with your mother?
I’ve talked to her about my sexuality. I needed to explain that sometimes we don’t feel anything. I didn’t feel anything. That comes out in a lot of different ways, but for me it was with violence. I feel enough now for my husband that I don’t need to attack him to feel him. In the past, I never met anybody that loved enough, that wanted enough, that was crazy or open enough.

You created an interesting scene with your brother at the Oscars last year when you kissed him and said that you loved him. What did you think of all that was written?
I thought it was stupid. I didn’t realize until recently that I maybe upset my brother. We haven’t talked about it, and we didn’t take it seriously, but at the end of the day it was extremely sad because it was just an example of a love between siblings. A simple, normal love. It was a moment where I was so amazed, and to be in that moment with my brother, with whom I used to compete and who was the person most happy for me, who had supported me up to that moment… Then everybody got freaked out because we kissed on the mouth. A lot of people kiss on the mouth. If it seemed like a real kiss, it was probably because we held each other too long, but there was nothing but a pure love. When I said, “I’m so in love with my brother,” it was me very honestly saying, “Right in this moment, I’m in love with this guy sitting right here because he’s so wonderful and supportive of his sister.” And he loved me in that moment.

Didn’t you almost miss accepting the award because you were locked out of the auditorium?
Yes. I was late because I tend to say hi to a lot of people. That happens to me all the time. On the way to the SAG awards, I got stuck in the drive-through at an In-N-Out Burger.

How did you feel about Gone in Sixty Seconds?
I didn’t like the film, but I didn’t expect to. After doing Girl, Interrupted, I couldn’t have done another film that took much out of me. I like cars and I thought the movie was about friends coming together, which a lot of Jerry Bruckheimer’s films are.

Did you like The Bone Collector?
Yeah, I did. A lot of people say it was just a fun film-which is fantastic. Nobody said anything about Denzel Washington being paraplegic or a different race or different age group. Because he and I couldn’t physically touch, and because he couldn’t physically grab me or chase me, he had to really look at me and really hold me in that room with what was inside of him. Every scene with us had to be about that. I couldn’t hold his hand where there was a moment when you’d do that to somebody, so instead you look at them with everything inside your heart. I think it was much more intimate than any physical thing could ever be.

How good an actor do you feel you were when you first started making movies?
I was all right. I had a few honest moments. But I’ve grown as a person. I know crazy better now than I did years ago. [Laughs] I know sexy better.

How long have you been drawn to acting?
Ever since I was little. Any time I had a problem, my mom would say, “What are you feeling? What are you thinking? What are you doing?” That’s what you’re asked when you studied with Strasberg.

When did you attend film school at NYU?
Right after Gia. I was 21. I took writing, directing and photography to understand cinematography. It was a healing time for me. I felt very alone. My head was still shaved from the last scenes of Gia. Jonny and I had separated. I was alone in New York. I traded being number one on the call sheet, having my trailer, and doing interviews for being on the New York subway with a shaved head and a backpack, going to school.

Sharon Stone said, “When fame comes upon people who are really young, they don’t know that they’re being eaten by it. They think they’re being fed by it.” She was, however, impressed with your tattoo: “That which nourishes me also destroys me.” She said, “Can you imagine what you must know at that age to have done that to yourself?” What did you know?
I never thought of it as having anything to do with fame. I got it two years ago, when I was 23. I meant that hunger for life, that thing that kept me up all night, that made it impossible for me to ever sleep. I’m never comfortable or settled. As much as I love acting-and I love my work, and I love life-sometimes you feel the madness is killing you. But it’s also the thing that keeps you alive.

Where’s that quote from?
Lord Byron.

Explain your fascination with tattoos.
It’s like a statement of who you are, a reminder of the things that matter to you. I actually had one removed that said “Death” because people kept taking it the wrong way. I had it over my left shoulder because we could all die tomorrow, so we should live today. I don’t fear death and I don’t think of it as an ugly, scary thing.

I read you had the letter H tattooed on your arm for both your brother and Timothy Hutton.
The H is for my brother. Tim and I were just a rumor. I never actually saw him. We were friends who both lived in New York and we hung out. We never went to dinner for two years after we did Playing God because I was married.

Were you brought up religious?
Nothing was forced upon me. My mom’s Catholic. My dad was raised Catholic but has studied all different religions.

Do you pray?
I’ve prayed-that I wanted to do good things. This business can make you forget what’s important, or it can make you realize what’s important. When I was upset about not being able to do Oliver Stone’s Beyond Borders-which I thought was so important, I wanted to go to these places and do good things with my life-I prayed.

You’ve said you collect knives. What kind of knives?
They’re all kinds from different countries. Some have been gifts, some are antiques. They’re not expensive museum pieces. My favorite ones are the ones that probably cost me five dollars on the street in some country. They’re all in a locked case.

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in Movieline Jun.2002.

June 17, 2002 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links