Angelina Jolie talks tough and has tattoos. And there are a few things she wants you to know. OK?
Angelina Jolie is standing in front of Picasso's famous group of nudes, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, in the Museum of Modern Art, watching a group of school kids try to make sense of the painting.
"What are the women doing?" an aggressively instructive museum guides asks.
"Dancing?" one kid tries.
"Stripping?" hazards another.
Jolie hovers in the background, dressed all in black, her angular, voluptuous presence as dramatic in its own way as any of the Picasso figures. And, in its own way, as easily misunderstood.
"I'm a very straightforward person," Jolie says shortly afterward. It's a quality that has landed her in a certain amount of hot water. There was the time she told a TV Guide writer &endash; in an interview after her Emmy-nominated performance as the lesbian, heroin-addicted model Gia Carangi in the 1998 HBO feature GIA &endash; that she had fallen in love with her Foxfire costar Jenny Shimizu. In the same interview, Jolie hinted that &endash; yikes &endash; she ahas a fascination with knives and that she "values them for what she terms 'safe' sex play."
Not to mention that fact that she married Trainspotting's Jonny Lee Miller at 20, wearing a white blouse on which she'd written the groom's name in her own blood. (The couple are in the process of divorcing &endash; quite amicably. "There's just never been a lack of love between us," Jolie says. "I really enjoy talking on the phone and missing him.")
Though she's just 23 and has been in movies for only five years, Angelina Jolie has never quite been able to get out of the way of her own publicity. It's not all her own fault. There is, for starters, the fact that she is Jon Voight's daughter. (Voight and her mother, former actress Marcheline Bertrand, split up when Jolie was a baby; Jolie and her mother and brother moved frequently throughout her childhood.)
Then there's that arresting figure, those pillowy lips, those smoldering blue eyes, those tattoos (a dragon on her left shoulder, the letter H on her left wrist, and the Latin inscription Quod me nutrit me destruit &endash; "That which nourishes me destroys me" &endash; down below).
Still, none of the above quite jibes with her presence in the museum this afternoon: quiet, shy, and a trace wistful around the edges. Jolie resembles the NYU film-school student she was until recently. Or the serous young actress who got another Emmy nomination, and won a Golden Globe, for hr performance as Alabama Governor George Wallace's second wife, Cornelia, in the 1998 TNT movie George Wallace. And who'll costar next moth with Billy Bob Thornton, John Cusack, and Cate Blanchett in the comedy-drama Pushing tin. And who will costar this fall with Denzel Washington in a police thriller called The Bone Collector. And who recently started filming Girl, Interrupted, in which she costars with Winona Ryder as a fellow inmate of an upscale mental hospital.
Jolie, it would seem, is starting to build a body of work that can compete for attention with her own body. Until more of the work is out, though, she'll have her work cut out for her.
After she leaves the museum today, for instance, she's headed for her first appearance on Late Show with David Letterman, where, producers have already told her, "they want to talk about my tattoos, my father, and who I'm seeing," she says, shaking her head. "And I'm just going to try somehow to get something across but not seem like I'm being pompous and going on about myself &endash; just because I don't want to be a twit."
She's not a twit. "When you see a film like Gia," says Philip Noyce, who directed Jolie in The Bone Collector, "you recognize that Angelina has both technical ability and guts &endash; she was willing to put herself out there. There was a lot of nakedness in that picture, and she didn't shy away from it. Our script didn't call for nudity, but for her to bare herself emotionally &endash; that was crucial in our wanting to cast her."
But, Jolie admits, baring herself emotionally to the press "is difficult for me. People have even said, 'Be careful what you talk about. Don't talk about things that are weird.' And a lot of the things I talk about, I don't think are weird. You know, if I choose to talk about something I did when I was 14 years old, and have scars from it, I talk about it because I think I've learned some things from it. And if I choose to talk about a relationship with a woman, I'm talking about it because it's something I've learned about, and it's a beautiful thing. But they just want to sell magazines. And they'll take a quick sound bite and make it a full article, which really does infuriate me, because nobody has learned anything."
Jolie looks glum. She's sitting in the museum's cafeteria, staring at an untouched tuna sandwich. She is utterly unnoticed except for periodic hard stares from a guy sitting at a nearby table. But the looks are more likely in tribute to her exotic face and slinky shape than her celebrity, which &endash; for the moment &endash; is still relatively esoteric. In any case, she is nearly unrecognizable without makeup.
But not unremarkable. "She's an extraordinary-looking creature &endash; like some weird, undiscovered orchid," says Mike Newell, the director of Pushing Tin. In the movie, a story about air-traffic controllers, Jolie plays a woman who nearly breaks up John Cusack's marriage to Cate Blanchett, "the bad girl who drinks a lot and is really sexy and really cool and sleeps around," she says. "But in the end, the woman who's with the children at home and supports the husband is the strongest. And all of my traits that could be considered the cool girl are really I think she's really quite a pathetic character."
In The Bone Collector, Jolie plays a homicide cop who's guided through a harrowing case by Denzel Washington, who plays a quadriplegic ex-detective. The role was tough for her in two ways: First, the research into the world of homicide squads was itself harrowing. "I saw this picture of this woman who had been beaten to death," she says.' "And her shirt was lifted, and you could see stretch marks and know that she had had children. And her nail polish was chipped &endash; I thought, a few days ago she put this nail polish on to try to look prettier, to be more attractive to somebody."
But what's been almost as difficult is the growing success of her hardworking publicity machine. "I just feel a little defeated right now," Jolie says. "You love that somebody has seen your films. But when the people who are working on the film with you, being part of the crowd, are calling your name in between takes, you're jumping out of character a lot. And you realize that people aren't seeing a cop &endash; suddenly it's an actor being a cop. An actor we've seen in magazine shoots. And we know how many tattoos she had, and we've seen her on the beach in a pretty dress, and we've seen her at awards shows &endash; and then we're supposed to believe that she's this cop."
She shakes her head. Has she talked to her father about any of this?
"A little," she says. "He's been talking to me recently about press &endash; not saying certain things, or being prepared to say things. I felt like explaining to him that when he was my age, the press was la little different. And you know, he's also not a young woman. So he can advise me however he wants, but they'll allow him to talk about things going on in Ireland and the Native American people and his process for his work. They don't ask me those things."
Sometimes it all makes her just want to get away. Her solution &endash; ready? &endash; is to buy a motel. She has a specific one in mind, "somewhere in Middle America," she says: she won't tell where. "It's 22 rooms. And the twenty-second room is a B&K &endash; a bed and kitchen. And it's got 22 beds and 22 little coffeepots, and 22 toilets, and it's very funny."
She sounds almost rhapsodic. "I have this dream of waking up in the morning with different people &endash; just different artists or different everybody in different rooms. I could invite almost everybody who's even somewhat close to me &endash; give up seven rooms or something and let them design their own. Get to know each other. And even if I'm not there, you know, feel free to just drive by, and here are the keys in the office, and pick out as many keys as you want and bring you family"
Her voice trails off; her blue eyes seem to be gazing into some middle distance: Angelina Jolie is home at last.