Thanks to her new film, “Beyond Borders,” Angelina Jolie’s off-screen activities are once again overshadowing her acting. Only now it’s a good thing.
“I didn't know this was something that would change my life,” Jolie says of the script she received five years ago. “I just knew I felt connected to it.”
Jolie plays Sarah, an American expatriate in London who abandons her staid, cushy life to become an international aid worker, traveling to Chechnya, Ethiopia, and other trouble spots on behalf of the United Nations.
Jolie’s real life has played out much the same — except for the “staid” part.
The 28-year-old once known for drugs, debauchery and a strange fascination with knives and blood — she and ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton were said to have swapped vials of their vital fluids — is now a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and proud mom of Maddox, whom she adopted from Cambodia. On Thursday night, Jolie was given a Citizen of the World Award by the United Nations Correspondents Association.
Mention Billy Bob, and her eyes momentarily darken. “We never talk. We haven’t spoken for” — she pauses — “almost two years. No, a year-and-a-half.” She repeats it: “A year-and-a-half.”
Mention Academy Awards — since following up her Oscar-winning performance in 1999’s “Girl, Interrupted” with the first “Tomb Raider” movie in 2001, Jolie’s films have not done well — and she could care less. “These days,” she says, “I don’t know what Oscars mean.”
The new, normal Jolie But turn the topic to children and Jolie positively gleams. Dare we say she’s gone normal?
The actress laughs at the suggestion, chatting openly in a hotel suite in London, the city she now calls home.
“I do feel more centered now,” admits Jolie, well aware that she’s been portrayed in the past as “some insane person.”
“Certainly, I was lost at times in my life. I’d like to think I was never a bad person, but I certainly went through times where I was not clear about who I was.”
What changed? Travel. Seeing the world. Opening her eyes.
There was a time, she says, “where I never had a sense of purpose, never felt useful as a person. I think a lot of people have that feeling — wanting to kill yourself or take drugs or numb yourself out because you can’t shut it off or you just feel bad and you don’t know what it’s from.”
That explains Jolie’s former wild-woman notoriety — the child of Oscar-winner Jon Voight (father and daughter are now estranged) who made headlines for sadomasochistic, pansexual impulses and rarely meeting a drug she didn’t like.
But that was before Jolie’s film career and personal interests led her to Sierra Leone in 2000, then Tanzania, Cambodia, and, two weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
After the planes hit, “the fact that I’d two weeks before been on the Pakistan border with 3 million Afghan people that had been there for over 20 years — it was a kind of reality check for me that when there are masses of people displaced for a lot of years, there’s something happening in that area.”
“It’s not a coincidence that things explode.”
Life imitates art
What exploded in Jolie was the same kind of humanitarian commitment that overtakes Sarah in “Beyond Borders.”
“At first, I went in wanting to just care about people or learn about things from an emotional place,” Jolie says. However, “the more I’ve traveled, it’s impossible not to start to get angry, to see where things could change or what causes certain things — who’s responsible and who isn’t.”
Her career has undergone changes as well, from prominent TV-movie credits in “George Wallace” and “Gia,” for which Jolie won back-to-back Golden Globes in 1998 and 1999, to a third Golden Globe and her Oscar for “Girl, Interrupted.”
Then came the first Lara Croft movie, which was a hit. And the second, which was a box-office disappointment. In between, she did such little-seen films as “Life Or Something Like It” (2002) and “Original Sin” (2001), an overripe tale of obsessional love costarring Antonio Banderas.
She next appears as Alexander the Great’s mother in Oliver Stone’s epic movie, starring Colin Farrell. After that comes “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” alongside Brad Pitt.
No more Lara Croft?
Will there be a third Lara Croft?
“They were fun, but I think two is enough. I think we did it right the second time. Whether it opened well or not really didn’t matter to me.”
Far more important is Maddox. Jolie adopted the orphan at age three months, prior to shooting “Beyond Borders,” and got custody of him at seven months, by which point the film was underway.
“I remember sitting down with the director and the producer and saying, ‘I know right now it seems like I’m not a parent, but halfway through your movie, you’re going to have an actress with a baby, and we’re going to be in the middle of Africa. Is that cool with everybody?”’
Her once-bruised life looks almost beautiful.
“You could die tomorrow and you’ve done a few movies, won some awards — that doesn’t mean anything,” Jolie says.
“But if you’ve built schools or raised a child or done something to make things better for other people, then it just feels better. Life is better.”