Angelina Jolie Interview: Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic
The emotional odyssey of Angelina Jolie: heartbreaker, Tomb Raider and bride of Billy Bob.
Harry -- who is sometimes known as Fat Harry, and who is actually female (though this fact is routinely and systematically ignored by Angelina Jolie because she really wishes Harry was male), and who is partial to pumpkin pie, and who is a rat -- lives a few feet from Jolie and Thornton's bed. Harry, who was a gift from husband to wife, spends his days and nights in a cage on their bedroom floor. Sometimes he is invited out to play.
"Billy found me one day sitting in the bathtub in my pajamas, the rat on my lap, feeding it pumpkin pie," Jolie reminisces. "See, that's one of those things that only somebody that really loves me is going to think is cute." She notes that if Harry ever escaped, "he'd get his butt kicked -- he's a spoiled little Beverly Hills rat."
Next to Harry's cage are two tents, which were recently used by Thornton's two visiting sons. "We had a camp-out on the weekend," Jolie explains. She clambers through the first tent to rummage for junk food in the second. They've left the tents up after the camp-out because ... they like them. It's somewhere else to be. She fell asleep in one of them the other night.
Under the bed, out of sight, is the knife Jolie keeps close at hand, just to feel safer as she sleeps. At the end of the bed, by the TV, are piles of the King of the Hill videos she and Thornton like to watch. Above the bed, hung on the wall, are some words in a frame: TO THE END OF TIME. These five words were Jolie's Christmas present to her husband. "It's not just this life, or years from now," she explains. The depth of this sentiment is amplified by her choice of paint. The words are written in Angelina Jolie's blood.
Before her husband gets home to this strange happy world of their own creation, Jolie tells me their plan for this evening. First they'll order by phone from Why Cook, her favorite. Then they'll watch King of the Hill. "And then, possibly, if a preacher shows up, we'll come down in our pajamas and get married," she says, quite matter-of-factly.
Jolie has just finished a morning of merchandising and marketing meetings about Tomb Raider, the new movie in which she portrays cyberheroine Lara Croft. Becoming an action-movie star has not been easy for her. "I was trying really hard not to cry," she says of the first time she saw potential product tie-ins. Some of her objections were specific. "It was `Why has someone superimposed a gun right in between my legs?' or `My breasts are big enough -- why are they enhanced that much bigger?'" Others were a consequence of how close she feels to Lara Croft: "I don't like seeing her in that position. She's so much like me."
The marketing people joked to her that maybe she'd be fine if she avoided the stores. Jolie shakes her head. "I haven't adjusted my life that way," she says. She swears that she doesn't want the kind of fame that could stop her from hanging out with normal people in a normal way. "It could fuck with your head," she says. "It could be the thing that sends me.. ." -- she pauses -- ". . . back into the mental institution. That's what I'm really saying." She grins, and I take this as a flamboyant metaphor. I will learn.
Billy Bob Thornton arrives home.
"I missed you," he says.
"I missed you too, honey."
They kiss, and as they talk, discussing the day's details, she absent-mindedly traces her index finger up and down the zipper of his pants.
She has a question for him.
"Weren't we supposed to get married tonight?" she asks.
Thornton turns to me and says, by way of explanation, "We're going to get married every now and then," and then adds, by way of further clarification, "We're already married -- we're so married." (The first official ceremony that united Jolie, 26, to Thornton, 45, took place in Las Vegas on May 5th, 2000.)
However, Thornton tells his bride that this latest reaffirmation won't be happening tonight -- they didn't get around to booking the preacher.
"You want to do it Thursday?" he asks.
"Yeah," she says.
The living room, where we will do most of our talking, is mostly empty -- apart from the leather sofas and the table by the fireplace, the bubble chair which hangs from the ceiling, the shrine to Elvis Presley by the doorway, and the two framed drawings and poems about Jolie and Thornton's union written by her father, Jon Voight. On the table are some toys, including a pig on a skateboard, another gift from Thornton. "He thought I'd find it funny," she says. "Which I do." There is also, to one side of the room, a life-size horse. She wants to get five of them so that everyone can saddle up and watch TV together.
"We were upstairs the other day just laughing, because we realized: We're married and this is our home," Jolie says. "We're responsible. Like, we have a dishwasher. We do the simplest things, like he lights the fireplace in my office, and I'm floored, I'm so proud." She beams. "We're functioning."
Later, Jolie will tell me about the first time she bought an apartment, also here in Los Angeles. She was nineteen. "I didn't really want to live," she says, "so anything that was an investment in time made me angry... but also I just felt sad." When the hopelessness is hurting you, it's the fixtures and fittings that finish you off. "I sat on the floor and cried, because I was trying to pick out carpet color and I thought that I wasn't going to live to put it in," she remembers. "I couldn't sleep. I always felt like I wanted to burn harder or go faster than everything around me, always. I lived very very much inside. Now I actually share my life with somebody who burns harder than I do and sleeps less than I do and needs to live fiercely and matches me. He calms me, because I never feel crazy around him, and I always felt crazy."
Because he's crazier?
"Because we're both crazy. Yeah. But because he's also a really good person, and he makes me feel like I'm a good person .... Sometimes if you're at all wild or at all provocative or bold with certain things or not stable in other ways or you have tattoos or knives or whatever it is, [people think] that you can't also be a really caring friend or a really good wife, or that maybe you don't like to be a girl sometimes and be cared for. Or be with children ... The great thing I've discovered is that you don't suddenly stabilize and settle down. You do it your own way."
When Jolie was nineteen, and crying over the pointlessness of home decoration in an impermanent and unreliable world, she eventually did the smart thing and chose a carpet anyway.
"Dark gray," she recalls. "I didn't get that happy." She smiles. "It was a very very dark gray."
She was born Angelina Jolie Voight, though her parents always called her Angie. The first thing she remembers is looking up into the sky from her crib. She's always liked "fierce wind and air and sky. I've just been staring out a window all my life, thinking there was somewhere I could finally be grounded and happy. I belonged somewhere else. And I have stopped doing that since I met Billy."
Her father was an actor who won an Oscar for his role in 1978's Coming Home. Her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, though much less successful, was also an actor. Her parents split up when she was just one year old. She lived with her mother and brother Jamie in Los Angeles, moved to upstate New York for a while, then moved back to L.A. when she was nine or ten. Neither of her parents has ever remarried. "They are really good friends," she says. "They're probably each other's closest friends. It's going to be weird for them to read that probably, but it's true."
There are home videos that document the young Angelina's love of plastic high heels, tassels and sparkles -- "so I couldn't deny them," she says -- but her girlie phase didn't last too long. When Michael Jackson entered his Thriller phase, so did she. "I bought lots of leather," she says. "Black and red leather. Dog collars. Things like that."
Jolie insists that there is no specific childhood trauma that punctured her happiness, but her happiness nonetheless receded. She recalls the day, at the age of ten, when "it started not to be fun." She was playing a game with a friend, and she wanted to get into the fantasy world such games demand, and she no longer could.
Maybe she grew up too fast. Jolie says that she first started "thinking about not wanting to be around" when she was about thirteen. "It was when the reality of life set in, the reality of surviving." She had a serious boyfriend for two years from the age of fourteen -- they lived together in her mother's home for a while -- and it was not a very healthy relationship. "Looking back, I think I was probably not good for him. He was somebody that I wanted to help me break out and I would get frustrated when he couldn't help me. Which was when the knives came in -- he'd be asked to cut me or I'd cut him. When you need somebody to get aggressive with you and it's not in their nature . . ."
I ask her about school, and she says that she hated sitting still and that she'd fill her notebooks with drawings. She found some stuff the other day from when she was fourteen. She disappears into her office and returns with a notebook On the cover is some kind of sword. On the second page is a drawing of three daggers and the words DEATH: EXTINCTION OF LIFE. There are other drawings of weapons and a quote: ONLY THE STRONG SHALL SURVIVE. There are further definitions: PAIN: PHYSICAL OR MENTAL SUFFERING. AUTOPSY: EXAMINATION OF A CORPSE. She grabs the book back, seemingly embarrassed, but then relinquishes it. There is the word HELL and a picture of the devil, and there is a ripped-- out page with only a middle strip of paper visible. The only word remaining is SUICIDE. "I can laugh at it now," she says.
Jolie explains the reason for the definitions. "I wanted to be a funeral director," she says. She goes back into her office and returns with incontrovertible evidence: her copy of the 1987 Funeral Service Institute Handbook. "It was one of those by-mail courses to learn how to be a funeral director," she says.
I flick through the book, and find a multiplechoice test at the back, with Jolie's teenage answers filled in. Her tolerance has its limits. She swoops the book from my hands.
"OK," she says, "that's enough of that."
This house, on a quiet street in the Beverly Hills flatlands, used to belong to former Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash. Its great attraction to Jolie and Thornton was his basement studio, known in the Slash years as the Snakepit, where Thornton could record his music. There is a brontosaurus' long neck rising out of the courtyard fountain. Water spouts from its head. They don't know whether to get rid of it. There's also a swimming pool in the yard, but they're not big swimmers and it makes them nervous, so they're thinking of filling that with plastic balls. Maybe they'll keep the tennis court. (Another rock illusion shattered: Slash had a tennis court.)
"We literally are the Beverly Hillbillies," says Thornton.
There is an unused space out back, beneath their bedroom, where it was suggested they should landscape another small garden. Jolie thinks not. They've decided they want to put a mobile home there instead. When they want a rest from living at home, they'll move into the mobile home for a while.
"Wouldn't that be great?" enthuses Jolie, and adds that they also want a tire swing. "We've got big plans," she says.
Jolie's very first film appearance, when she was five, was a brief one-day role in a movie called Lookin' to Get Out that her father was shooting in Las Vegas. She started studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute when she was thirteen. Too young, she says. "I didn't have the memories." She did a little modeling and appeared in some videos her first was "Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through" with Meatloaf. "He was a genie with pointy ears and I was a runaway."
In those days her hair was long and she had no tattoos and she felt like she was doing what you're supposed to do -- being an actor who can be molded. Even so, she'd always hear in auditions that she was "too dark." Then, when she was seventeen, she was cast as the lead in the straight-to-video sci-fi sequel Cyborg 2. She says she's not embarrassed by it now, but when she first saw it she went home to her mother's apartment and threw up while her brother tried to console her. She didn't audition again for another year.
Jolie and British actor Jonny Lee Miller met during her fourth movie, 1995's Hackers -- he was her first lover since the boyfriend she lived with at fourteen. They took trips together, got tattoos. But somehow it made her sad, suddenly caring about someone, and she told him that after the movie was finished he should just pretend that she was gone.
During Foxfire, the film she made the following year, Jolie grew close to one of her co-stars, Jenny Shimizu. "I realized that I was looking at her in a way that I had looked at men," she says. "And it was great, and it was a discovery. It had never crossed my mind that I was going to one day experiment with or kiss a woman, it was never something I was looking for. I just happened to fall for a girl." She says that she and Miller stayed in touch, but were not committed. But soon they got back together and married.
Then Gia came along: the 1998 HBO movie that detailed the rise and fall of model Gia Carangi, her eventually debilitating heroin habit and her death from AIDS in the mid-1980s; the film that made people notice Jolie's talent for the first time.
There are two patterns that emerge when Jolie talks about the roles she has played, particularly the more memorable ones. First, she truly believes they have always matched where she has been in her life: "These characters learned something that I needed to learn and they grew up in a way that I needed to grow." Second, she has often identified with these characters deeply particularly the ones who have been dysfunctional by conventional standards -- and the comedown and difficulty in disengaging after a film wraps have often messed badly with her head.
Following Gia, Jolie announced that she had given up acting for good: "I felt like I'd given everything I had and I couldn't imagine what else was in me." She split with Miller. She says she still loved him, but she was no good at being married. "I wasn't even a good friend because I was just absent and . . . I'd go for drives and disappear or go film something and be in hotels forever and not do anything, not have friends, not visit, not hang out. I couldn't calm down and just live life." She decided to go away from everything. Shaving her head for Gia's final scenes made it easier -- there aren't many parts for bald young actresses, and it made her feel clean.
Jolie moved to New York, enrolled in college and felt free for a while. Then she got lonely and depressed. Badly depressed. She was pulled out of the depression when she found herself at the Golden Globe awards, nominated for her role in the cable-TV biopic Wallace, and won. "I felt like somebody who had crashed some party," she says, "and suddenly it became easier for me to work. And then Gia came out and people responded to it, and suddenly it seemed like people understood me. I thought my life was completely meaningless and that I would never be able to communicate anything and that there was nobody who understood... and then I realized I wasn't alone. Somehow life changed."
Jolie's career resumed. Soon she was filming the role that would win her an Oscar, Lisa, a mental patient in Girl, Interrupted. In the film Lisa is placed as the pathological and irretrievably damaged character. "That's some people's opinion," she says. To her, Lisa also was someone she deeply identified with. "She lived too big, was too honest, was too hungry, was too full of life." After they wrapped, Jolie again found the adjustment difficult. "At the end of the film there's a certain sense of them saying to Lisa, `Nobody wants you to live, nobody likes the way you are -- you'd be better off if you were sedated and tied down and shut up.'" And Jolie took that personally. "If you feel that you're the kind of person she is, then it's really hard, because you're struggling with, `Fuck, am I just damaging to people everywhere? Am I just too loud and too wild and do I just need to let everybody live their lives and shut up and calm down?'" By Chris Heath (Cover Story, July 5, 2001)