The Other Angelina
By Vicki Woods
Photographed by Mario Testino
Angelina Jolie is explaining why she took the role of Elise Clifton-Ward, the woman of mystery who captivates Johnny Depp in The Tourist, which opens this month. It’s because she plans things. “I was looking for a very short thing to do before Brad started filming [Moneyball],” she says. “And I said I needed something that shoots not too long, in a nice location for my family. Somebody said there’s a script that’s been around, and it shoots in Venice and Paris. And I said, ‘Is it a character I haven’t played before?’ And they said, ‘Yes, it’s a lady.’ ” She laughs: Uhhuhhuhhehhehheh.
Sitting opposite one of the world’s most notorious beauties is an experience that requires some processing. Impressions: (1) She has a seriously filthy laugh. (2) She is graceful, straight-backed, head held high. (3) Her photogenic beauty is mesmerizing in real life. Which is quite disturbing, because it makes you “gaze and gaze” (to borrow Nancy Mitford’s phrase from Love in a Cold Climate). Women who can hypnotize people just by sitting and breathing have a spooky power. Like Princess Diana (though she was not as beautiful as Angelina). I asked her producer, Graham King, at one point if he found the beauty distracting. He said, “In The Tourist?” Me: “On her face!” King: “Oh! One hundred percent.”
She is wearing a little cropped jacket by Neil Barrett, who dresses haute Hollywood, classic pants by Helmut Lang, and Ferragamo flats. Black, black, and black. “As Brad’ll tell you—and my kids—apparently Mommy only wears black,” she says. Because she was a Goth, right? No, she says, it’s utilitarian, it’s practical: “I like to get up so every pair of pants goes with every top, every dress goes with every shoe. I’ve a very tiny closet. Brad’s always laughing at me. Some days, yes, I have the nightgown that looks like a dress that I can sleep in and pick the kids up at school. And maybe take a meeting if I switch into heels.”
She didn’t need heels today. Her choice of location for Vogue’s interview is a coolly hip hotel on Hollywood Boulevard called the Roosevelt, whose restaurant (where we have dinner later) is on “the Marilyn Monroe bridge” overlooking the Hockney pool. Oh! Glamour. On the way here, my cell phone rang and a panicky voice asked, “Where are you? Because Angelina is approaching the hotel, so she’ll be ten minutes early.” (In my entire career, no female actor has ever been early. One man has: John Cleese.) As my driver hurtled us into the hotel car park, access was blocked by two vans flanking an SUV—clearly containing a VVIP—and all I could do was watch the little figure being swooshed up, wafted aloft, and delivered inside by burly escorts. Everyone stood in line to gaze, like parlormaids in Gosford Park.
The level of (a) security and (b) logistical organization that moves the Jolie-Pitt machine probably feels normal to them now. From the inside, Brad and Angelina are two hardworking parents with in-demand skill sets who manage their work/life/family balance as best they can, while fitting in philanthropy on top. From the outside, they’re people who can shut down Toronto. I pick Toronto only because I witnessed Brad Pitt do just that in 1997, for the Seven Years in Tibet premiere. Screaming Bradmaniacs confined him to his hotel room for 48 hours, while costar David Thewlis strolled around unbothered. “For a man, being as beautiful as Brad is almost an affliction,” Thewlis told me at the after-party. When I tell Angelina this tale, her eyes dance and she gets very gurgly. “Well, he’s a handsome man.” Yes! And? “No, I think he’s an extremely sexy—extremely handsome and the most sexy. . . . When I think about him, I just think of the man who’s such a great friend and such an extraordinary father. And that’s when I fall, you know, when I have my moments of getting—whoarr!—caught up in how much I love him . . . it’s usually when I see him with the children.”
Which is often, because he’s pretty hands-on. “We take turns working. One of us is always at home with the kids—always,” says Jolie. “Taking them out to things and being there with them and bringing them to school or to the set to visit Mommy or Daddy.” But “at home” from February to May this year was a villa on the Grand Canal: Daddy was child-wrangling in Venice while Mommy filmed The Tourist. Jolie can barely get her words out about how blissful it was, how the kids loved it, and how fabulously lucky she felt to work while “living in the history of this gorgeous country.”
The Venetian setting makes The Tourist a nice, gift-wrapped holiday movie. The financial skulduggery and beastly villainy has a British accent, and the knowingly high-Hitchcock look has Jolie wearing fabulous clothes (costume designer Colleen Atwood used an original Charles James day dress some people I know would kill for). Plus, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie go head-to-head for the first time ever. Depp in Venice! Who can resist? Their onscreen chemistry in The Tourist is quite swoony. “I suppose either you spark or you don’t,” Depp told me from the set of Pirates 4.
The Tourist’s director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (a smart and instantly likable man whom we shall call by his given name from now on because “Henckel von Donnersmarck” is just too Almanach de Gotha), was Jolie’s pick. She thought the film should have “a European elegance”; she’d loved The Lives of Others (2006), his extraordinary German-language debut feature. “I couldn’t believe it that he was open to doing it, and then we found out that Johnny was open to doing it. So what was always this tiny idea to do a little film in Europe suddenly became this . . . bigger movie.”
Florian really wanted to work with her, too. Are you kidding? “Literally,” he tells me in a phone call, “she gets every single script that has a female role aged between eighteen and 40—every script. And she just follows her feeling, holds her own counsel. She’s probably the only global megastar that doesn’t even have an agent—she doesn’t even have a publicist.” Mmm. And that thing of gazing and gazing? “You never lose it,” he says swiftly. “I can tell from the way that Brad looks at her that he never loses it.” Florian was intrigued when his birthday fell during filming and Angelina asked what his plans were. He thought she meant dinner. She meant his plans for the next year. “She wanted to hear what I was going to change about myself. Because that’s how she approaches life. She looks into the future.”
She does. Clear away the craziness and tabloid clatter that swirls around the Jolie-Pitt family (or “brand”), and you find a practical woman with terrific forward-planning skills. She plans in all areas: family, movies, humanitarian work, though they intertwine because she is a working mother. “I was feeding the babies”—Vivienne and Knox—“while I was reading the script [of Salt],” she remembers, “and I was feeling very round and lovely and Mom-y, and I’d been living in a nightgown for a very, very long time.” Part of the reason she did it was to get back in shape (“practicing the stunts is where you get your strength back”); another was sex-changing Tom Cruise (for whom it was written—or rumored to have been written). She says, “I felt it was a weird thing that every time you ask for a strong female role, it’s written in this strange way where it uses sexuality far too much. Or it’s all about being a woman and beating a man. So it wasn’t a surprise to me that the only way to do a strong female role properly was to not have originally written for a woman.”
Jolie has an uncanny nose for projects that will get some money into the coffers, between doing things she has a passion for. She smoldered through Tomb Raider 1 and 2 (and there is a generation of 30-year-old men who worship her for them) on the back of Girl, Interrupted, the little movie that made her an Oscar winner. She made Beyond Borders, basically about the work of Médecins Sans Frontières, because she wanted to; it tanked utterly. The movie of hers she likes best is A Mighty Heart. “Possibly because I loved Mariane [Pearl], and Brad produced it, and I think it was a well-done film about something that matters.” Voilà. She picked up a rumored $20 million paycheck from Salt, after which she wallowed happily in The Tourist and began shooting her directorial debut (still called Untitled Love Story as I write), which is about the Bosnian war of 1992–96, one of those foreign wars that many, many people can only vaguely place in geography or history (Bosnia? Herzegovina? Montenegro?), and yet the Siege of Sarajevo was one of the most vicious actions of modern times.
So “because Sarajevo, happily, has been rebuilt,” she and the family were in a rented house on location in Budapest, Hungary, in the runup to the holidays while Mommy was shooting there. Their permanent homes are on three continents (and two hemispheres) because she planned her family’s life that way. The house on stilts in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia that she bought for Maddox when he was a baby; the “little place in New Orleans,” where Brad’s Make It Right houses are being built; and the “little place here,” in Los Angeles. Their big place is in the South of France, which is, I think, where she plans to end up. “Hopefully, they’ll go to high school in Aix-en-Provence,” she says. Aix-en-Provence? “It looks like a great place to be a teenager.”
And that is why she does the child-rearing thing that she is most viciously excoriated for: first of all, hiring polyglot nannies in a kind of family language bank (one helper speaks Vietnamese to Pax; another, Cambodian to Maddox. “We have not yet attempted Amharic,” says Jolie—Zahara’s from Ethiopia—“but we will one day”). And second, enrolling all the school-age children at the Lycée Français, where much of the curriculum is in French. This fall, while she was in Hungary filming her Bosnian movie, Maddox, Pax, Zahara, and Shiloh trotted off to school at Budapest’s Lycée Français, picking up exactly where they left off at the Lycée in L.A. How smart is that? Angelina or Brad could make movies in Athens, Bangkok, Caracas, or Düsseldorf (and that’s only A to D) while the kids get on with lessons as normal because the instruction is the same the world over.
Did you want a big family? I ask her. She shrugs and says, “I didn’t know.” Because it’s rare, I say, especially now and here in the West, where really big families seem culturally odd and newsworthy. She looks at me levelly as I burble on about how the popular perception of women who have large broods (polygamists, Octomom) is unfavorable. Her shocked giggles are loud on my voice recorder; she loses her equanimity enough to say, “That sounds horrible.” (Not to mention rude. I can’t believe I dragged in Octomom.) But when everything in the modern world is reducing women’s fertility, compromising their ability to even have children, big families seem, um. . . . She retorts, “I didn’t have all my children.” Three, though? “I only planned for two!” says the mother of twins. “To each his own. It’s one of those things. How you build your family—you have to know what you’re capable of handling and how your children will relate to each other. Maybe if you have one child and that child has a lot of needs, you realize you cannot give more attention to another. Sometimes you just know as a parent. We felt we could handle more children, and we have a very happy, very full home. So.” With the look on her face querying whether my intellect is dull enough that show-and-tell might be better than question and answer, she takes out her white BlackBerry, automatically glances around to check that nobody else can see, and scrolls fiercely. “Wait, where is it, give me a second, I’m a mom, sorry, there’s a lot of them. . . . Now. One of my favorite pictures: This is Brad. Dinnertime.”
Interior, evening, big round table set with plates, in foreground Brad Pitt, three-quarter profile, surrounded by one, two, three . . . four (Jolie snickers as I count aloud), five, six little faces. Me: “You did very well, to even everyone up like that.” She says, “It wasn’t a plan for it to be as even as it turned out.” She takes back her BlackBerry and scrolls again: “My girls [Zahara, Shiloh, Vivienne, all spattered with great gobs of color]—they did some body painting.” They’re adorable. It is hard, she says, to think of having any fewer. I wonder if she’s overrun with cats and dogs and hamsters on top? “Well, someone found a lizard yesterday,” she says. “And Shiloh appeared.” (She checks herself momentarily, saying, “I am sure there’s going to be some comment about this, which fortunately I will not read,” before restarting.) “Shiloh found a dead bird, so she came in and said, ‘Can I have a dead pet?’ And I’m . . . ‘Uh-uh, I don’t think it’s healthy, honey. I think they have to put him in a box,’ and I had to run out to find, like, a taxidermy bird. I just worked it out for her.” Did Shiloh know about taxidermy? “No. But I figured that I couldn’t keep the actual dead bird from the yard, so I swayed her toward one that had been cleaned, at least.” We are both giggling, and Jolie says that Shiloh is indeed “hysterical.” Also that they have a bulldog called Jacques, who lives in their house in France.
And does she cook their dinner? “Sometimes. I’m not the best cook. Pax is a better cook than me. Pax likes to cook. But I try to when I can. Any house that we’re in, we all chip in. But the kids are very sweet . . . so enthusiastic anytime I cook. Especially Maddox; he’s just this little man that’s very supportive of me—it’s like he’s raised me a bit. So I cooked them all breakfast before school this morning, and he has that kind of ‘Thanks, Mom! Good job!’ ”
Film, family, and philanthropy are the three pillars of her life. “My children are from the countries that I work in,” she says. “I don’t see my family as a global family. I don’t see it separate. So when I look at my kids, and I wake up and hear something’s happening in Pakistan, I think: It’s Asians, and my children are from that part of the world. Those kids are very much like my kids. So I’m happy to be able to go.”
It was a different-looking, different-sounding Angelina Jolie I saw in BBC reports from flooded northwest Pakistan in early September. (She was between scouting Budapest for her Untitled Love Story and doing publicity for The Tourist.) Asked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to highlight the plight of people displaced into camps by the floods, she met with women who lost children to the surging water and gave impromptu press conferences in sweaty rooms, loud with angry-seeming men. Back in Los Angeles, she tells me the country with the highest number of refugees in the world is Pakistan. Jolie was appointed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2001: She does an impressive job for them. She talks about the issues like this is her day job. I tell her Pakistan is a hard country to raise money for: Zardari’s government seems pretty unlovable. She becomes slightly heated: “The president is not the people!” And says, “If you are concerned about security in the world, the last thing you want to do is not give your support to Pakistan and Afghanistan, because that’s the most dangerous thing. That’s the least intelligent thing, as far as I’m concerned, to do.”
It was a tough trip, with security issues. “Because it was so high in the north. . . . I don’t like it when Brad has to worry.” She was happy to be back home safe. “But I got calls from the people that’d asked me to go—from the U.N. to the State Department. They felt it was effective, so I could go to sleep for two days and play with the kids and feel like. . . . ” Effective? What does it mean, effective? She says, “I don’t ask the details. They thought it was effective. I just do the best I can do.”