Angelina Jolie certainly knows how to make a splash. One moment she was onstage at the 1998 Golden Globes ceremony, coolly collecting the Best Actress award for the telefilm Gia; the next moment she'd jumped into the pool outside. Soggy and smiling, she emerged to mug for paparazzi, her hand-beaded Randolph Duke original gown clinging to her curves. Jolie was merely exacting revenge - as a teenager she's been ejected from the site of that night's event, the Beverly Hills Hotel, for pulling the very same stunt. She had promised to do it again if she won. "That's my girl!" says her Gia co-star Mercedes Ruehl, of the impulsive act.
It's not the first time Jolie has thumbed her nose at the powers that be. Her name means "pretty little angel," but her behavior points more to the guy downstairs. For example, at her 1996 wedding, to Jonny Lee Miller, Jolie's take on a bridal gown was black leather pants and her groom's name written across her shirt in her own blood. Then there was her "experimental period." At 14, she allowed her boyfriend to draw a knife along her jawline (now a faint scar).
Part of her appeal is that she's innocence and wickedness rolled into one. Take those incredible lips. They could have leapt from the face of a comic-book heroine. Jolie herself has always felt that she looks like a Muppet - although her fans see her more as a goddess. Her startled green eyes and china-white skin belie a battle-scarred youth chronicled in her tattoos. Quod me nutrit me destruit reads the script on her stomach: "What nourishes me also destroys me." The roles Jolie chooses reflect that same duality: She acquired a drawl and a bee-hive hairdo to play Alabama's first lady Cornelia Wallace in 1997's George Wallace, then returned the next year to play strung-out lesbian fashion model Gia Carangi in Gia, winning back-to-back Golden Globes. She currently stars as a hard-boiled detective in The Bone Collector, opposite Denzel Washington, and will soon appear as a schizophrenic teen in Girl, Interrupted, starring Winona Ryder. The former role denotes a major leap in her career: It marks the first time Jolie's name appears above the credits.
All that talent and beauty didn't come from thin air. The kid was blessed with some great DNA. She is the daughter of Oscar-winning-actor Jon Voight and his then wife, former actress and model Marcheline Betrand (now Jolie's manager). Born Angelina Jolie Voight on June 4, 1975, in Los Angeles, she and her older brother, James Haven Voight, were given versatile middle names should they choose not to be saddled with their dad's famous moniker. When she was only 1 year old, her parents separated. Though her world was shaken, from the beginning she was encouraged to feel her pain out loud. Instead of scolding - "Be quiet! Stop talking!" - her parents always asked, "What are you thinking? What are you feeling?" Before long, they were divorced, and her mother moved the family east, to Palisades, New York. There Angelina grew up a bright and happy child with a "sparkle" in her eye, collecting lizards and snakes, prancing around in glitter underwear, and making people laugh.
As a little girl, she loved being the center of attention, according to James. Early on, he would point a home video camera in her direction, saying, "Come on, Angie, give us a show!" She would happily oblige, in costumes handmade by her mother. James went on to become a filmmaker, and the siblings' natural chemistry was put to use years later, when Angelina starred in five of her brother's student films at USC.
It has always been a family affair in the Voight household. At 7, Jolie made her acting debut in Hal Ashby's Lookin' to Get Out, co-written and co-produced by her father. Memories of that time are dim, though she does remember bouncing on a hotel bed with her brother to a "Mousercize" video. Ironically, she credits her mother - who often took Angelina and James to the theater - with instilling her love for acting. And when Jolie recently cut her hand on the set of "Pushing Tin (1999), it was her brother who took her to the hospital and squeezed her other hand. Despite rumors that Jolie and her dad are at odds, she insists any friction is because they are so much alike. She even explored their relationship in therapy but quit when her therapist seized on a dream she'd had about stabbing her father to death with a fork. "She was, like, happy I killed my parent," Jolie recalled. Now when she needs to clear her head, she takes a drive around the block.
By the time Jolie turned 10, she was back in L.A. The following year, she enrolled in the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, where she spent two years honing her craft. For those who imagine a charmed life, Jolie paints a different picture: She was relentlessly teased for her braces and glasses and awkwardly skinny physique. She dressed all in black, dyed her hair purple, and slam-danced in the Valley. Like many of her peers at exclusive Beverly Hills High, she tried a turn at modeling, but was told she was "too short, too scarred, too fat, too everything else." So, between the ages of 14 and 16, she jettisoned the brief stab at fitting in, took on a live-in punk boyfriend, gave up acting, and dabbled in S&M.
Just how much of a contrarian is Jolie? For years she kept a diary, then buried it because she felt she was living in the past. Adjectives tossed around by even her closest pals - "intense," "a weird, undiscovered orchid," "an old soul" - sound as though they are each describing someone different. "Above [all], she filled me with a feeling that I wanted to guide and protect this child," says Ruehl. "I just had a sense there was some grief that she was carrying in her heart." This would account for Jolie's incredible range, but the land of the serious artist is lonely terrain. "I desperately need to communicate with people through films," she told Premiere magazine this year. "It's why I'm alive." Jon Voight, in fact, has beseeched his daughter not to divulge so much to the press, but she counters that the ability to reveal her innermost feelings has helped her in life as much as it has helped her career. The bravado Jolie displays to reporters, however, doesn't mean she's not affected by their comments. As she told the Chicago Tribune. "If you have enough people sitting around telling you you're wonderful, then you start believing you're fabulous. Then someone tells you you stink, and you believe that too."
Eventually, at 16, Jolie's relationship with the punk boyfriend crashed and burned. Having felt like she'd "been through a marriage," Jolie swore off dating and moved into an apartment across the street from her mother's house - then threw herself into the theater. It's no accident that the moment Jolie started to take her craft seriously, her father realized she had a gift. He was moved to tears by her reading of Catherine from A View from the Bridge. With her dad's blessing, Jolie set out for New York to take film classes at NYU. She characterizes this period as a mixed bag of terrifying and uplifting moments. Given Jolie's recent rocket to fame, this stage of her life probably marks the last time she would ever enjoy anonymity. As though anticipating the circus her life would become once she broke into film, Jolie used this time to explore life as a regular teen, questioning whether she still wanted to act, making and dropping friends, and generally finding herself.
Jolie's first professional role was something she'd no doubt rather forget: a bionic babe in the dismal adventure Cyborg II (1993). Hackers (1995) and Foxfire (1996) followed, leading to minor fame and a major love. She met actor Jonny Lee Miller - best known as Sick Boy in Trainspotting - on the set of Hackers. By the time she did a scene-stealing turn in Playing By Heart (1998), opposite heavy hitters Gena Rowland and Sean Connery, she was Miller's baby-faced bride. But it was Jolie's role in Gia that really thrust her into the spotlight. As a vulnerable, heroin-addicted model, she delivered a dazzling performance that captured numerous awards, not to mention hearts. On set, she was the consummate professional. "Her courtesy...was unfailing," says Ruehl. "[She was] always on time, always prepared for some heavy emotional stuff. No actor can do take after take like that without some serious technique in her background." The two share a special connection that goes beyond the big screen. Ruehl's adopted son, Jake Javier, was baptized by Father Bernie MacMahon - they very same priest who baptized Jolie.
The rising young star's three-year marriage to Miller ended this year. This is the subject that is probably most sensitive for Jolie. Rarely discussing the marriage in interviews, she has said only that she and Miller are still good friends and might "find a way back to each other some day." Jolie has explained that though she had it all - love, money, and professional success - she had never been more depressed in her life. She blames herself for the breakup, citing her fanatical work-style. It is, however, easy to see why Jolie might not have been ready for marriage, given the details she offers about her life. As an artist, she is terrible to live with. She doesn't like to be touched all the time. She has even admitted that were she to place a personal ad, it would read, "Leave me alone." So it is small wonder that men confuse her a little. She has said, "I think I get men; I just can't figure out how to make one happy."
Maybe Jolie has trouble making one man happy, but pleasing thousands of fans seems effortless. And since this gorgeous chameleon lives by the creed that she "might die tomorrow," we can expect more wild behavior in her life - and dynamic, incredibly nuanced performances onscreen. There'll be no still waters when Angelina Jolie's around.