In a year marked by a triumphant Oscar win and a sudden marriage, the actress seems to have undergone a startling transformation.
She comes around the corner from the bank of elevators in the discreet London hotel where she’s been living for four months, and steps tentatively into the narrow lounge – which is almost empty. A young, handsome hotel employee points her in your direction, and she takes a few more steps into the room, her head tilted to the side, curiosity growing soft in her eyes.
She sits down beside you and expresses some regret that you’ve got cigarettes – she’s trying not to smoke – but she takes one anyway, and while she smokes (only half), she says that she’s just gotten off a plane from L.A., where she spent only a day with her husband of four months, Billy Bob Thornton.
“I went home just to lay next to him,” she says a few minutes later, in the small dining room, “just to put my head near his neck.”
She pauses, and you watch her eyes following some picture in her mind. “Yeah,” she says, “I lie in bed and, like, my feet, they just go searching for him. In the middle of the night, I wake up and I find his hand if I’m half-awake. And sexually he’s just the most . . .” Someday, her smile will most likely be famous, though it will remain mysterious. “We joke sometimes about it. We think we’re going to knock each other out, because you just love somebody so much, you just want to push them over.
“I never liked being touched, ever,” she says quietly. “People used to say I held my breath when they were hugging me. I still do. But I’ve never liked . . . You know, I was married young.”
Jolie, now 25, was married at 20 to Hackers costar Jonny Lee Miller. Their marriage lasted a few years, disintegrating, along with Jolie herself, during the shooting of Gia.
“I was one of those people who felt like I didn’t really live in this world,” she says. “I was very dark, and just didn’t have very much hope, didn’t really settle, didn’t think I’d ever feel grounded or centered or warm and safe. I thought I’d burn until I went out. I didn’t…” She pauses and mulls this over. “And then I met Billy and it all changed. We have the same things that haunt us, maybe, in many ways. And I think we understand each other, and also we accept each other completely as we are. So nothing feels bad. It’s like being with somebody who really wants me to be who I am, and who lets me see who he is. And that just makes everything in life very real. And,” she says and then goes silent for a few seconds. “Yeah.”
After working on Gia, an emotionally drained Jolie spent a year alone in Manhattan attending NYU and “reevaluating a lot of things” before returning to acting, with a role as Thornton’s wife in Pushing Tin. This was when she first met Thornton.
“As long as I don’t upset anybody with my work, that’s all that matters to me,” Jolie says as a waiter pours water into a crystal glass. “My dad always said: ‘If you can, explore things in life, and try to learn about life; try to just do things that say some little that’s good, and try not to do anything negative or bad.’“ (Jolie used to quote her mother as saying, “Be brave, be bold, be free.”)
“And it’s hard for me because I’ve taken the wrong way a lot of the time. I’ve gone through periods where I just think I’m this dark person, because I was somehow portrayed that way. And the part of me that’s funny, or the part of me that’s a friend, or the part of me that likes to think I’m not just a dark energy in the world; you start to wonder if you are.”
Girl, Interrupted director James Mangold said a year ago, talking about her role in that film, “There’s incredible control and lyricism and pain, but also rhythms and speed; the way she jumps from here to there is just a different kind of acting. She’s a provocative person. She’s very challenging. She’s incredibly smart.”
“Angie wasn’t in such great shape the year before we started shooting Original Sin,” says director Michael Cristofer, who also helmed Gia. “She’d done Gone in Sixty Seconds, and I think that was not a good time for her. So we kind of wrapped her in a blanket, took her down to Mexico, and took care of her.”
Over time, Jolie got healthier, and considering that she portrays a con artist who deceives the man who loves her, she became, Cristofer says affectionately, “almost too happy.” In the midst of filming, she was nominated for and then won her first Academy Award, for her supporting role in Girl, Interrupted. Jolie flew from Mexico to L.A. for the Oscar ceremony, and flew back at about 4 a.m. that morning. She was asleep when the mariachi band that Cristofer and costar Antonio Banderas had hired began playing outside her trailer.
“She stumbled out,” Cristofer says, “and everyone handed her a rose. Finally, she was standing there with about 200 roses in her arms. She was dripping roses.”
This was a particularly important moment for Jolie: The director and much of the crew of Original Sin had also worked on Gia. These people handing her roses had seen Jolie, just a few years earlier, fall completely apart.
“Everybody was emotional,” Jolie says about the day after the Oscars. “It was kind of like I was their little girl. And I felt like the little girl was going to survive, maybe, this business. I’d been very fragile with all of them, and then [while shooting Original Sin] they saw me fall in love, and they saw me find a home. But they also knew me when I was really, really worried that I would just die young and have very little life. So it was amazing.”
Banderas, when asked if he knew that Thornton and Jolie were in love during the shooting of this film laughs and says, “It was very obvious that this girl was in love. When somebody’s in love, you don’t hide it. I was very happy for her because actually I like Billy.”
“It’s hard to live in the world and still be honest,” Jolie is saying. “That’s what I discovered during Girl, Interrupted. I felt that character was really honest, and it was awful for other people. People didn’t really want that.” She looks at you, and says, “I’m quite honest.”
“I used to think that being in love would be really hard somehow. But the thing is, it’s really easy. I’ve never been so open, and I suddenly felt I really wouldn’t want to live without him. I really wouldn’t . . . almost wouldn’t . . . I couldn’t.”
The subject of Jolie’s sensuality comes up, and she bristles: It confounds her that people think she’s a big sex bomb.
“I’ve kind of played the boyish person,” she says. “I really haven’t, you know, had big sex-scene movies. I remember reading about Lisa in Girl, Interrupted – that she was really sexual, and I was like, ‘Sexual?!’ She never wanted to have sex with anybody. She wouldn’t. It’s energy. I think it’s mistaken for – well, it’s not mistaken – I think it is sexuality. And when you’re really intrigued by people, really hungry for something in them, it’ll seem like a sex scene. Because that is sex, to me anyway. “
“There’s only been a handful of people I’ve ever slept with in my life,” she says.
“Because I really don’t . . . I can be sexual with people, or talk to people, certainly, or feel intimate, but I never really did trust that somebody was really touching me or really looking at me or really . . .” Jolie kind of smiles to herself. It’s only when she’s two sentences into her next thought that you realize that when she had smiled, she had been thinking of Thornton. “But it’s really funny, ’cause I’m such a hungry little kid who just wants, like – I’m insane. I just want to touch him and hold him all the time.”
The waiter smiles at Jolie but otherwise leaves her alone. She says she’s only eaten in the hotel restaurant once, because she’s been working on Tomb Raider. In order to get in shape for the role, she’s had to work out – learn to box, shoot a gun, paddle a canoe – and she’s on a strict diet to help her build muscle and get generally healthy.
“I can only eat a few things,” she says. “I have steamed sea bass or steamed beef at this time of night. And vegetables. It’s a weird thing to eat a lot of food all throughout the day, but never have anything that weighs you down. All the stuff that they’re making me do is an interesting test because I used to smoke and drink and eat lots of sugar and anything else I wanted. And I used to not eat breakfast – I used to have a cigarette and coffee. But now I have less coffee and more tea in the morning. And I have lots of eggs and meat. I eat lots of meat. “
Earlier, Jolie had said that thought she wants very much to live now, she didn’t always.
“I never felt settled or calm,” she says. “You can’t really commit to life when you feel that. I think I just always wanted to be a good person, so I was always very worried, thinking that maybe I upset someone, maybe I wasn’t home enough for my family if I was off working, that I wasn’t there for my first husband, or that I wasn’t a good enough friend. And I’d go from film to film and almost detach from one world and jump into another. And I was living as these people and not having a self. So it was not only that I was not a good person – I didn’t know who I was. And things just get really dark. And when you’re in that dark space, you’re so busy saving yourself that you can’t really help other people. You’re very selfish. Those people who are in that dark space, they’re not bad people, but your world becomes isolated, very much about your survival, how much time you’re choosing to spend unhappy, trying to fill that void . . .
“And I think that’s why I run home sometimes; ’cause I’m running around and doing this film, and you don’t realize sometimes how you’re just doing it, and there’s no place to just curl up and . . . Usually, at the end of the night, you’re by yourself and you’re reading or something, but it’s not like it is with him. I’m calm with him. I’ve found that I can be really soft. And I never was before. When I go home, I can really breathe. And I feel so, it’s just . . .” She inhales. “I need it. Yeah.” She exhales. “It sounds so corny, it’s so terrible. Seriously, half the time when I talk to him I’ll go, ‘What happened to me?! I’m like a f**ing Hallmark card!’ But I think it’s just a welcome relief to be able to just be settled. To actually know what home is.”
“I never knew what the word home meant,” she continues. “I used to think it was just in various hotel rooms, and that I was one of those people – and I was kind of proud of it – who didn’t have a home, who didn’t fall in love. . . . Even when I was married to my first husband – and I love him and we are friends – I would go away to work, and I wouldn’t tell him very much, and he didn’t want to know very much. Whereas with Billy, when he calls and wants to know what I did in the day, he really wants to know. And I love all the things he tells me about.”
Though Jolie has been living in London essentially since she and Thornton were married in Las Vegas, on May 5, he’s yet to visit her.
“He hates flying,” she says, confirming her 45-year-old husband’s famous phobia. “He’s never been to Europe. And he’s also got a problem with antiques. So England’s not the choice location for him. Those paintings could do it,” Jolie adds, pointing to several old-fashioned murals traipsing across the walls in front of you. “And he couldn’t have those chairs,” she says, waving to a couple of elegant, upholstered affairs with claw feet. She picks up the porcelain teacup in front of her. “Or it could be this that he’d have a problem with.”
She’s kind of laughing at this point. “It’s pretty funny,” she admits.
As it turns out, Thornton made the trip a few weeks later, which shocked even him. “It’s ridiculous to even say it, because you know, I don’t fly,” he says. “And yet I flew to London. I’ve never done that for anybody.” The actor is well aware of the fact that his marriage has become tabloid fodder. “Contrary to popular reports, I don’t only eat orange food,” he says of recent published rumors.
Did he mind the sex scenes between you and Antonio?
“Well, Billy and I weren’t really together together then,” Jolie says, a little uncomfortably. “I mean, I’d go back [to L.A.] and spend time and we’d talk. We weren’t . . . It was only a few weeks before we got married that we were actually intimate. It was just the way it happened.”
She doesn’t talk about it, but it was around this time – when Jolie was filming Original Sin in Mexico and flying into L.A. on breaks to see Thornton – that Thornton broke up with his longtime girlfriend, Laura Dern.
“With Antonio,” she says, returning to the subject of shooting love scenes, “we’re just buddies. There’s nothing romantic or sexual or intimate about that kind of stuff. It’s like a weird dance: You’re not exposing yourself to each other because it’s for each other; it’s not. And you’re not actually feeling the other person near you, and you’re not looking at them. And you’re not really intimate – you’re just pretending to be.”
While Jolie is talking, you finally allow yourself to feel protective of her, to get scared. What will happen, you worry, to this woman whose happiness and stability seem to depend solely on one man – a famous actor who’s been married four times before, no less. So you say, “Doesn’t it scare you?”
“What?” she asks.
You don’t want to say, “If he leaves you?” So instead, you say, “Life is so fragile.”
She looks at you dead on, knowing full well what the question really is. “Does that scare you?” she shoots back.
Caught, you say, “I should shut up. “
She laughs, and backs down. “Don’t know where that came from,” she says, and laughs again, and then genuinely smiles at you. No hard feelings.
“No,” she says, “I trust it. I trust what we have. I know that if he suddenly wanted to leave tomorrow, I’m permanently in love with this man. I just care that he’s out there. It doesn’t matter. And nobody can take away what I have with him, even if he wanted to be somewhere else. It would break my heart, but I always want him to be happy.”
The waiter drops off a large plate of cookies and chocolates. A gift for the beautiful actress who has decided to come downstairs.
“I can’t,” she says, eyeing the delectables. “You know what it is? I probably can, but it’s not worth it.” She scans the plate, and points to something that looks like a chocolate-covered cherry. “That one’s not worth it,” she says. Suddenly, deftly, she snatches up a tiny ball of white chocolate. “But that one might be.”