Angelina Jolie Is the Next Screen Goddess
One Touch of Venus
Angelina Jolie is a postmodern Ava Gardner, a savvy screen goddess who knows all too well how fleeting life in the Hollywood pantheon.
The photo shoot was almost finished, and photographer Sante D'Orazio motioned Angelina Jolie, off the set and over to the large loft window, through which sun poured like honey. She stood inches from his camera and, although it had been a long day of getting made up, posing being interviewed, and getting into a tearful argument with a movie studio, and although she soon had to catch a flight to Los Angeles, she held nothing back.
"Wow," said D'Orazio, shutter whirring. "Wooooow!"
Jolie flirted with the camera, winking, pouting, licking her full lips. She was barefoot, wearing a white cashmere bra under an open white cashmere top and black pants, but it was her face that held one transfixed, the way she challenged the camera, a lioness with her prey. Wow! went the whole loft, the makeup people, the publicists. For after all their efforts to package Jolie, to make her as beautiful and marketable as possible, she had burst those boundaries and emerged with something all her own, something larger. Wow-wow-wow.
But it only lasted a moment. D'Orazio was out of film. "Okay, people, we're done," he said. There was a smattering of applause. But relief, also. For we say we love movie stars, but if we are honest we admit there is perhaps something unbearable about being too long in their presence.
That Angelina Jolie is a movie star may come as a surprise, especially since most people have never heard of her. But that would be to confuse being a movie star with being famous. And in any case, Jolie's approach to Hollywood is tempered by having grown up as the daughter of a star who had lost his wattage by the time she was four. "My dad was sort of 'out of Hollywood' when I was growing up," she says of her father, Jon Voight. "People thought we had a big house, but we rented an apartment, like Slums of Beverly Hills." That Jolie understands the Hollywood game is best illustrated by a tattoo she bears just below her bikini line, which reads Quod Me Nutrit Me Destruit-"That which feeds me destroys me."
But that hasn't stopped her. For a twenty-three-year-old actress whose earliest roles consisted mainly of partially clothed light fare such as Cyborg 2 and Hackers, the past year has seen her win serious acclaim and tow Emmy nominations-as the heroin-addicted lesbian supermodel of the 1980's Gia Carangi, in HBO's Gia, and as segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace's sultry second wife, Cornelia, in John Frankenheimer's TNT film George Wallace, for which she also won a Golden Globe award.
Jolie's current role, as a spunky, nightclub-hopping girl in Willard Carroll's dark and dizzying romantic comedy Playing by Heart, opening this month, throws her into an extraordinary ensemble cast, including Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Gillian Anderson, Dennis Quaid, and Madeline Stowe. It's a role that has earned her a devoted fan in Sean Connery, a man who has certainly seen his share of actresses destined to be the Next Big Thing. "I think she is a terrific talent," says Connery. "Until I saw a running of the film, I only had my brief and limited exposure to her. Now I'm even more impressed with her than ever."
Jolie also recently wrapped her part as a rookie cop who helps a quadriplegic detective, played by Denzel Washington, track a serial killer in The Bone Collector, and is currently in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, playing a psychiatric patient opposite Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted, based upon Susanna Kaysen's memoir.
Onscreen, Jolie is a high-wire presence who calls to mind a young Jessica Lange in her ability to embody those headstrong, gritty women who mock any attempt to talk them out of their all-consuming lusts. Like Lange's Frances Farmer and Patsy Cline, Jolie creates characters who are hard to watch-and impossible not to watch.
Off-screen, sitting over lunch in the Boathouse Café in New York's Central Park, Jolie was another woman: painfully polite where Gia was rude, honest where Cornelia was manipulative. What she shares with them is a stoic sense of pressing through life alone, and a simultaneous yearning for affection. "I walk around very convinced that I can be okay by myself," Jolie said. "That I don't need anybody. I'm probably the last person to reach out and cry on somebody's shoulder, but I could probably use it." She passed a sliver of salmon between lips as soft and plump as some exotic fruit. She was wearing a snug black hat with the ear flaps folded down, a black leather jacket, black sweater, black pants, black boots. A childhood athlete, her body, at five foot seven, is slender, shapely, long-limbed. Her face is pale, without makeup, and stunning. Up close, she looks much like her father thirty years ago, when, after his portrayal of male prostitute Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, he was regarded by many as the most beautiful man in the world. Now his daughter is being discussed as one of the world's most beautiful women. Such thoughts are broken by a glance from Jolie. She called attention to the gray sky, barren trees, and scummy green film covering the lake, and said simply, "It's really beautiful here."
Jolie's rise has curiously coincided with her father's scrappy comeback at age fifty-nine. (Angelina dropped her famous last name in favor of her middle name to avoid the appearance of nepotism.) Voight's career arc, from movie star to forgotten movie star to movie icon who gets swallowed by a two-thousand-pound snake in Anaconda, is not the happiest tale. But its very pathos may have given Jolie the perspective she needs to pace herself and keep that which feeds her from destroying her.
Such as unwanted publicity. As the plates were cleared at lunch, Jolie froze: There was a man standing nearby in the café; he'd been there for a while, actually, and was holding a camera. But he was focusing at a point beyond her. She breathed out-just another tourist taking a snapshot of the lake. "I hate having my picture taken," she explained.
Not that it's been a problem, for Jolie said she almost never gets recognized. For the past two years, she has lived quietly on Manhattan's Upper West Side while her husband of two years, English actor Jonny Lee Miller of Trainspotting, lives on the West Coast. "We don't talk about our marriage," Jolie says, when pressed, and she shrugs off any similarities between her characters' volcanic sex lives and her own with the comment, "I've gone years without having sex."
For now, it appears solitude suits her. "I happen to spend a lot of time alone, in hotel rooms and in characters," she said. "I go for months really not talking with or seeing my family, or anybody that's close to me."
Angelina was only three years old when Jon Voight won his Oscar for the paraplegic Vietnam vet in 1978's Coming Home. But then, a year later, came The Champ, a dismal flop, and a period of exile.
Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina's mother, a one-time actress who had studied with Lee Strasberg, had split when their only daughter was a toddler. At first, Angelina lived on the East Coast with her mother, whom she calls "a very nurturing person, a real 'mom.'" But a move to California made it possible to see her father regularly. (Both parents, and her older brother, James, still live in L.A.) On play dates, Voight set up scenes for Angelina and her ten-year-old pals. "I wanted to show the kids things about acting," Voight says. "So I'd say, 'I'm going to give you the lines, how are you going to say it?'"
Young Angie went to Beverly Hills High School and studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute and the MET Theater Ensemble, where she learned from Holly Hunter, Ed Harris, and Amy Madigan. At twenty, she started to get film work-her first notable role was in a cyber-thriller, 1995's Hackers. She also did a memorable stroll through New York in the Rolling Stones' music video, "Has Anybody Seen My Baby?" In March of 1996, Jolie married Miller, who had costarred with her in Hackers; at the wedding she wore the traditional black rubber pants and a white shirt with her husband's name written across it in her blood.
Jolie's first serious film work came when she read for John Frankenheimer, famed director of The Manchurian Candidate and, most recently, Ronin, who was looking for an actress to play Cornelia Wallace opposite Gary Sinise in George Wallace. "She brought out the bimboish side of Cornelia, the opportunist, the vulnerability, the sorrow. You saw the loss," says Frankenheimer, who considers Jolie "a director's dream." Around the same time, she also accepted the lead role in Gia, portraying the real-life supermodel's rise, addiction, and death from AIDS. "I was so scared to do Gia," she says, "because I felt like I could go down like Gia if I weren't careful." The themes were familiar. "Heroin has been very close to me in my life," she says.
The work was grueling. "It took me awhile to bounce back," she says. Indeed. She quit acting, cold turkey, for six months, came to New York, bought the first apartment she saw, and took classes in relative obscurity (her head was still shaved, from Gia) at New York University. "Maybe there were one or two people who knew me as 'the Rolling Stone's girl.'" But she didn't know herself. And she couldn't lose Gia. "Every time I came to a photo shoot, they'd hand me something dark and sexy to put on," she says. "They always wanted me in T-shirt and panties and black eye makeup, bending over a sink."
Without acting, she was feeling even worse. By Christmas 1997, Jolie says, "I'd never been so unhappy." Her mother came to town. They went out to dinner on Christmas and she decided to get back into the business. She hasn't stopped for a breath since.
Walking through Central Park, Jolie lit a cigarette as the talk turned to Native American sweat-lodge ceremonies, of which she is a fan. "I believe in instinct, something primal," she said. "If it feels good, it is. I like to live life in the moment."
For example, she talked about an unusual dice game she likes to play with friends. "The idea is that you let God be the dice," she said. "You make a list of things you'd never do, like stalking a stranger for an entire day, and you roll the dice, and you have to do that thing. You can use it sexually-lots of ways."
Jolie gestured at the profusion of nature around her. "I can't believe it took me so long to move here," she said. In addition to long walks and bike rides, she mentioned that she was not totally unfamiliar with the dark side of Manhattan. "There's great night stuff-great things that could not be on record-that I've done," she said with a hint of mischief. "There are some things you find, if you look into it, underneath New York." But she won't go further. Like all great actresses, she knows how not to step on her own lines.
Jolie finally saw Midnight Cowboy, the movie that made her father a movie star, at its twenty-fifth anniversary screening in 1994. She looked up at the screen and saw a carefree man she had never really known. "It moves you," she said, "when you see your parents full of a certain ease and happiness when they were younger."
As for herself, she said, "I feel I'm past that-I don't feel at ease, that kind of hopeful way of looking at life. To just enjoy life for me is very hard."
But anyone passing just then would have seen something different. He would have seen a striking young woman, blue eyes sparkling, face open and trusting, walking with ease into an unknown future.