Tres Jolie

Angelina Jolie gazes out into the Royalton lounge. The six-day shoots for The Bone Collector have her shuttling from New York to Montreal on the Canuck red-eye. She looks sad.

Someone with as fully realized a presence as Angelina should not be unhappy.

“Listen,” I offer, “you wanna do something really cool?”

“Sure,” she smiles. “Hey, you ask me some good questions, I’ll answer them.”

“What’re good questions? There are no good questions.”

“New questions.”

“Nah, there are no new questions. What? Did you love your director? What was your motivation? What brought you to this role? That’s dreck – right? But – BUT! There’s one thing we can do that would probably reveal more about you than anything you could tell me.”

“You wanna go have sex?” She’s kidding. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” She’s kidding. “Well, what? What, what? Tell me what it is”

“OK. I want you to slap me.”

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Angelina is blinking. I think she understands the request, because her hands slide over her thighs as if she’s looking for her pockets.

“It’s OK. I’m asking you to slap me. Can you do that?”

“Well… yeah,” she nods, containing herself. “Backhand?”

“No. No knuckles. Just a good old-fashioned slap. And don’t hold back. I want your lifeline tattooed on my cheek.”

“Are you gonna smack me back?”

This is a fine question, although asked without any terrible concern, more with the uncertainty of doing a jigsaw puzzle when the box lid with the whole picture on it is missing.

OK. She’s left-handed, so it’s gonna come from the north. I’m ready. Angelina lets her arm dangle loose. She composes herself for a brief second. And then WHACK!

She certainly seems to have found her motivation, because the contact lens in my right eye buckles and has to swim through the tears to its former home.

“Wow. That was good, Ms. Jolie–“

“Thank you. Call me Angelina.”

“Angelina. But I made a mistake. I had my eyes closed. I’m afraid you’re gonna have to do it again. I’m not into pain or anything, I just… need to see you. OK?”

“OK, no problem.”

“Well-do it. Hit me.”

“Yeah, but you can’t be expecting it…can’t be expecting it,” she repeats to herself, as if she’s lost her train of thought. But then? WHACK. It was all a ploy to catch me off-guard. And this time she wound up, put some heat on her fastball and hit me so hard I’m smelling toast, like she shook loose memory traces lodged in my brain pan. And it was loud, a slap heard ’round the Royalton. Half the people in our vicinity avert their eyes out of the tacit social etiquette that makes everybody look as if they’re saying grace. The ones who stare probably recognize Angelina…

“So, how did that feel?” I ask her. She takes a little mental stroll around the Canadian wilderness to mull it over, then she’s back. “Good,” she’s decided. My thinking here is, how could it be otherwise, but it’s her party. “Did you have rage?”

“Oh no, not at all. I think it feels good to come in contact with somebody.”

“So… have you ever done that to anyone before?”

“Yeah,” she grins. “Yeah. Usually it’s with someone I know better, but, yeah… I think you should be able to, well touch with authority. If you’re gonna attack somebody, I’m more into hitting. But if I’m in love with somebody, I’m more into slapping. But not the face… and pushing… you know, not from across the room, but, more… connected… know what I’m saying here? The slap… reminded me of a lot of things. I felt a lot of things. Do you…?”

“Oh no, I’m fine. You don’t have to hit me anymore, or have sex with me. But bearing that in mind… when was the last time you were terrified?”

“… terrified? About a year ago, I was really scared. When I finished Gia and I did certain things.” She lapses into a kind of code-speak here, which she tends to do. It requires some getting used to. I’m not sure what these “things” might be. “I moved to New York, didn’t know anybody and didn’t know if I was gonna even be an actor anymore, went to school, didn’t know if I would miss being an actor. There were lots of terrifying moments, lots of uplifting moments, but for a few months, which included spending a Christmas alone… being on the subway a lot… I was terrified of being on my own.”

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There have been more recent fears, some perhaps more founded than others. She was scared doing her role as a passionate club crawler who falls for Ryan Phillippe in Playing by Heart. She thought there was nothing particularly funny or bright about her. She’s certainly harboring elaborate insecurities over her present effort in The Bone Collector – about not doing her job, not figuring her character out in time, not knowing how to deal with the fact that it doesn’t “feel like an actor’s movie.”

“I had a thing with a writer” -she’s using code again; by “thing” Angelina here means disagreement – “that grew out of the fact that I wrote a scene and he wrote a scene and we couldn’t come to grips as to which scene was gonna get used. I was in my cop character and I’d been wearing guns for the past year, so I said, ‘OK, come on, let’s just take it outside and whoever wins can do their scene.’ You get to a point in this business where everyone just kind of skirts around each other and everyone talks to everybody else instead of who they should be talking to, and nobody’s able to be straight with the other person, so nothing happens and nobody commits to anything solid. Well, that just kept happening, so I got frustrated. And I said, ‘Let’s take it outside.’ It sounded like a damn good idea at the time.”

If Angelina had some insecurities on a little ensemble picture like Playing by Heart, and on a straightforward cop drama like The Bone Collector, how did she survive the free-for-all of Pushing Tin?

“Actually, I was quite happy. See, Pushing Tin came along just as I was coming out of my dark period. I was really very happy on that set. It was free, it was fun, I had fun with the character, not to mention great people around me. But getting back to the fear thing – that’s what I live for. That’s why asking me about fear is such a strange question. It’s important to be terrified trying things. I’ve never done. So that’s the fun of it, but that’s the scary part, too.”

And the feeling part. Above all, the feeling part. Even if you haven’t been slapped by her, you’re bound to get the sense that Angelina likes/needs to feel. [She is]tough in the way you have to be to reckon with taxes, and vulnerable in the way you have to be to get your garden to grow. Hard to say what decides which reality dominates at any given moment in the actress’s life, but she knows full well that when you spend your life pretending to be other people, your own behavior becomes an odd affair.

”In real life I find myself not so much acting, but certainly being dramatic. Especially if I find myself in a situation where it’s really emotional, or I have to be real. Like I had to tell a girlfriend her dog died and somehow in doing it, I was studying her reaction instead of being there for her.”

“Acting is a weird reality, to be sure. My first wedding was on-screen. I’ve had more on-screen relationships with men than I’ve had in my entire life. And now, not so uncoincidentally, I have this weird thing with intimacy. When I did Wallace with Gary Sinise, there was a part where he was sick and we shot it at this hospital – and that became my image of a hospital. It felt real to me, even though it was far from it. But now, in real life, if I visit someone in a hospital, it’s this initial feeling like it’s fake – it’s not real and they’re not really sick. The clincher – a while ago I got sick enough to be hospitalized, and I would up in the same hospital where we shot Wallace.”

“Yeah, you could say my sense of reality is more than a little warped.” Throughout Angelina’s teenage years, the acting bug flared up and went dormant by turns; the bug she couldn’t quite shake was the effect of her parents’ divorce. It made for a stormy relationship with her father. “We had a heavy relationship because we were so much alike,” she says.

Angelina had the distinction of being cast as David Duchovny’s leading lady in Playing God, though it didn’t do her any good. She was sorely underused in the part – which, to hear Angelina tell it, was probably a good thing: “I had sex scenes that were cut, but left in the trailer – how’s that for a level of reality.”

“What was wrong with the sex scenes?”

“I had one with Tim [Hutton] and one with David. My gut feeling was they cut the Tim sex scene because they decided they wanted to make a clean, action-type film. I thought it should’ve been about two people who change each other, like Pretty Woman. People love the idea of changing each other, don’t they?”

“What about the scene with Duchovny?”

“My character had just gotten shot and I couldn’t move. And there were like, a thousand candles. They always do that – put all these candles in the big sex scenes. I have never had sex like that in real life, yar know? Listen to me. ‘Yar.’ My accent is so f**ed up right now, it’s all over the place. My accent is supposed to be ‘New Yawk’ for Bone Collector, but if I have one drink it drifts into Southern. And if I’m with Jonny too much, I go British.”

That would be husband Jonny Lee Miller. Angelina met him on the set of Hackers and they were married in 1996. It’s no use busting Angelina for hooking up with an actor.

“Look. It’s a specific type of personality that goes into this job. As actors, you have a lot in common and you expose yourselves to each other emotionally. You see into each other pretty quickly. And you have down time where you get to know each other, so it’s kind of an ideal situation. You get to know each other at a really deep level.”

All right then. Marrying a fellow actor is almost a sure fate. And being the daughter of an actor makes for something even stranger – a lifelong shape-shifting between the actual and the staged. Just before the airing of George Wallace, Angelina did a Q&A for Interview magazine, and it was her father who was asking the questions.

“The magazine mentioned all these actors [I could be interviewed by] and I thought, ‘Well, who’s the one person I actually want to know what they know about me?’ It was him. I mean, normally, we haven’t sat down and asked each other, ‘OK, what is it you’d like to know about me?’ without it becoming, ‘Why are you asking me that and what does that relate to?’ There was always this big thing with him. That if we just met on the street and we were strangers, how would we perceive each other, how would we get to know each other as people instead of father and daughter? I believed we needed to talk to each other and be straight to each other like friends, too. To get to know each other by debating things, teaching each other what we each learn – to take note of each other’s existence, separate from each other – that’s what the Interview thing was all about.”

As we’re walking out of the hotel, Angelina talks about the possibility of someday interviewing her own offspring in print.

“I’m pretty sure I won’t be having children, ” she confesses, “because I don’t know if there’s ever not gonna be a time when I’m not gonna be selfish. See, the reality of being a single parent is with me. Until I’m ready to give a solid 20 years and not do anything that could risk my life or not be about me, well, you know when you have kids your life is about somebody else. I could adopt – I’m not this big blood person. I almost feel closer to someone who’s not blood, because the relationship came out of nothing preconceived.”

“The only thing I’m good at, seriously? Is living every single day as fully as possible. Doing every possible thing I can damn well do for the people I love at every moment – make some big decisions quick, spit them out and move on.”

We embrace as we say good-bye – she hugs better than she hits, which is tremendously encouraging.

“Listen,” I ask, “Were you OK with the slap?”

“Me? Sure… I mean… you asked for it.”

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Movieline Feb.1999.

February 17, 1999 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links