Apparently an article about the talented Angelina Jolie can’t be written in which the names of her famous parents, Jon Voight and French actress Marcheline Bertrand, are not invoked. The assumption being, I suppose, that her pedigree is somehow solely responsible for the exotic beauty’s gift for seemingly effortless performance. It certainly isn’t her years of training at the Lee Strasberg Institute or an innate artistic ability to deliver naturalistic portrayals from junk-addicted lesbian model to homeless high schooler.
The words “bee-stung lips”, “almond eyes” and “lesbian” are required by law. As are references to her three-year marriage and subsequent divorce to Sick Boy from Trainspotting, her obsession with knives, her odd sexual proclivities (that apparently include her obsession with knives), her seven tattoos and lesbianism.
What is often glossed over, and sometimes not even mentioned at all, is that the girl can act. She was nominated for an Emmy and won a Golden Globe for her performance as George Wallace’s second wife Cornelia in TNT’s George Wallace (1997). She was nominated again for an Emmy and won both a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for the HBO Pictures release Gia (1998). And she’s not even 25.
Her appearance in Cyborg 2 (1993) didn’t make her a household name, and, frankly, it’s Cyborg 2 -- how good could she be? But her next feature film role set her on the right path. Foxfire (1996), based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, played out like an afterschool special with cuss words, The Craft without witches. But Jolie’s characterization of Legs was mesmerizing to watch, and completely believable. While she played an outsider bad girl, she never seemed like she was playing an outsider bad girl. Legs quickly became the ringleader of a gang of disparate high school girls who exact revenge on a sexually abusive teacher, and, as preposterous as that sounds, it didn’t seem ridiculous whatsoever when watching it
Jolie’s first major studio release, MGM’s Hackers (1995), was blanketly dismissed by critics, moviegoers and especially geek culture. As a matter of fact, Angelina Jolie’s character Acid Burn is the best thing about this exercise in mid-Nineties Internet bandwagoneering. Jolie chose several smaller indie films after this debacle: the noirish Mojave Moon (1996), the Joseph Bologna/Renee Taylor romantic comedy Love Is All There Is (1996) and the all-female western True Women (1997). None of these films received critical accolades or box office success, and Jolie languished in Big Screen obscurity for a brief time. The studio projects she starred in woefully under-exploited her talents. In the David Duchovny feature Playing God (1997), Jolie played an underworld moll who lures Duchovny’s medico character into the seedy world of drugs. Unfortunately, her screen time was limited, many of her scenes -- and apparently some of the film’s most interesting moments -- ending up on the cutting room floor.
It was, in fact, made-for-cable dramas that gave Jolie her boost into the major league. The John Frankenheimer-directed biopic George Wallace amply showcased Jolie’s ability to make a role her own. Playing wife Cornelia Wallace opposite Gary Sinise’s George Wallace, Jolie was not only able to hold her own with the seasoned actor, but actually stole some scenes. The aplomb she garnered from George Wallace led Jolie to her next project, Gia, the true story of supermodel Gia Marie Curangi. Jolie portrayed Gia’s downward spiral into drug addiction, failed homosexual and heterosexual relationships and her ultimate AIDS-related death with a grace that allowed for audience sympathy even at Gia’s most petulant, bratty and self-indulgent moments. As an actress, Jolie never judges the character in becoming the character.
Jolie was able to spin her success from Gia into a significant role as Joan the club-crawler in the romantic ensemble comedy, Playing By Heart (1998). The character itself was completely inauthentic as a club kid, but Jolie played Joan with such verve that, in spite of the script’s deficiencies, the character became believable. And better still, not annoying. Any other beautiful, but certainly less astute actress would have made that choice. But not Jolie. As director Frankenheimer said, “The world is full of beautiful girls, but they're not Angelina Jolie. She's fun, honest, intelligent, gorgeous, and divinely talented. She brings a hell of a lot to the party.”
Jolie’s trademark is shattered characters, mostly bad girls, drugs addicts and runaways, but Jolie imbues them with a humanity, sensitivity and sexuality that elevates them above cliché. In Girl, Interrupted, Jolie plays yet another tortured woman, Lisa, a dangerous sociopath.
Jolie and I spoke about the film, her role and the pitfalls of becoming famous.
Your character Lisa was a criminally-minded sociopath, but the main character, Suzanne, suffered from a rather mild disorder and certainly didn’t belong in an asylum. Do you think most of the other girls belonged in McLean or were they institutionalized for not conforming to conventional mores?
You never really got to know everyone, did you? It’s hard to say because you really do follow somebody who really shouldn’t be in there. And she really probably wouldn’t be if she had come to terms with herself earlier. She’s a certain kind of person. I don’t know if she considered that other people should get out.
I don’t know if anybody should be institutionalized. But I also don’t know if it’s so much better to be kind of out. And does that mean that we don’t judge people then? Or that we don’t somehow lock them up in some way?
What would Lisa have done if she were a real girl out in the real world?
She would be an actor (laughs). She was a real girl, and she’s dead. She died two years ago. I don’t know how she would feel about this being written about her. It was someone’s point-of-view, and I don’t know how she felt about Suzanne.
How did you prepare to play Lisa?
I went to a bookstore and, after just doing Bone Collector, I walked in and said, “Do you have anything on sociopaths?” and they said, “Look under ‘serial killers.’” (laughs) “I’m losing my mind!” I thought, “Oh, God.” That was, you know, obvious.
I sat there and started reading about them, one-after-another, and it was these amazing accounts of these things where they knew that should feel bad or they knew that that was wrong, and they were having lapses, and they were doing things on impulse and couldn’t stop. And, so, it just struck me that they really see things and do things on impulse, so I just tried to do that. It was a great thing but it was also very, very empty. It was empty for her in the end. (But for me) it was very, very freeing.
What about her impulsive nature seemed so empty?
It’s almost like she’s walking forward and she wants to get that out of her way and she wants that person to walk with her and talk, but she doesn’t know what she needs. She knows what she wants, what makes her angry. She is completely that person that’s almost watching people from a certain place. She doesn’t feel them. She doesn’t think they see her. She doesn’t dream.
Those kind of people, they don’t meet someone and think--somehow in their mind--think that they’re gonna have a friendship that’s gonna go that way and be friends forever. Or have Christmases together. Or that they’re gonna be dating, and then they’re gonna go to bed, and then maybe--can you imagine her in bed? She couldn’t understand that that could maybe be a release and a connection because she’s just not there. She would go out with somebody and go, “Why do you want to get in here?” You know? She would never have that.
What was something unexpected that came out of working on Girl, Interrupted?
I don’t have many girlfriends--I mean, I have friends. I have more than most and I have them on a deeper level. We’ve had that time no matter how brief it was. You know, very complete and very full. But right now, we’re on separate journeys, but, suddenly, I discovered I had these girlfriends. There were certain girls in the ward that would come in my trailer and we would go on road trips and I knew these women, and it was amazing. Just to be silly. Just to have like a pack of people together. It’s not you and the other person or it’s not you by yourself, it’s actually a group of people and you go shopping and you want to bring toys back or you wanna like cook dinner together. I think it was something I learned that was just amazing to me. What that’s like to really get to know people and really be a team.
Now that you’re a bona fide star, has it becoming increasingly difficult dealing with intrusive fans?
No. Not at all. Mind you, I’m just going from that hotel to this hotel, but so far, no problem. Two, three weeks ago, I was going on the subway. And maybe a few people came up to me. It was like “Hi.” “Hi.” and then it was like, fine, “She’s there. She’s boring. Now we gotta ride the subway.”
I think if you don’t make a big deal out of it, nobody does. I think that the people that come up to you and recognize you, that’s the reason I’m working. That’s the reason I’m doing films because I do feel I’m connected to those people. They’re not insane to think that they’re connected to me and want to say, “hi.” I do want them to say, “hi.” I am connected with them. They do know me. They identify that we are similar. And it’s great.
With your two Golden Globes and the success of The Bone Collector, you are definitely on the Hollywood “It” List now. Are you aware of the hype and spin and buzz surrounding you?
I’ve just been trying to put together this film with Michael Christofer. That’s the one I’ve wanted to do and that’s the one that nobody was gonna greenlight no matter what. I’ve seen all the press I’ve been getting. There’s something going on.
I imagine your agent is probably inundated with calls for you.
I don’t have an agent. I have a very overworked manager.
So what’s this project with Cristofer?
Dancing in the Dark.
And what’s it about?
It’s so much about control and it’s so much about people and manipulating them. I plan to go down to Mexico and get to know the people. I want to know the people who live there. Somehow you have to find your loyalties, so I’m about to go in there to find those people who can protect me, you know. I’ve heard different things about these areas where we’re going to be.
Michael comes from such a good place, we’re gonna go into it thinking that, but we’re gonna come out of it--which is what they did--thinking those woman are our girlfriends. They are such beautiful women. And I think because the characters are like that, I know I’m going to end up dealing with it in that way. I think what I’m saying is I’m gonna end up gambling and hanging around with violent people and prostitutes.
These characters are that level of person. My character has different personalities…again! But they’re good personalities! They’re lovely.
Weren’t you considering buying a motel at a point?
I’m about to buy something just a little strange. But not a motel.
Is it John Merrick’s body?
No, it’s something practical.
John Merrick’s body isn’t practical?
Well, immediately… well, yeah, but not to me right now. (laughs) Actually, it’s really impractical. I’m trying to convince myself it’s practical. I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s some place to live in.
You can’t live in John Merrick’s body?
(giggles) I like you so much.