She played a gorgeous junkie supermodel in Gia, made her presence felt in Pushing Tin and raised the stakes with The Bone Collector. But Angelina Jolie's performance in Girl, Interrupted eclipses everything.
Angelina Jolie is 24 and says she is "not very good at being me" because she "has no idea" who she is. In that respect, she's no different from most 24-year-olds trying to navigate their way through life with a minimum of painful collisions. But Jolie channels that confusion so extraordinarily that she is certainly one of Hollywood's hottest actresses under 25, biting hard at the heels of older peers with last names like Paltrow.
Jolie has also garnered more accolades and awards in the last two years than most actresses ever receive in a lifetime. She already owns two Golden Globes for her title role in Gia, a film about the real-life supermodel junkie, and for Wallace, in which she played rather more than a trophy wife to famously racist American governor George Wallace (Gary Sinise). Typically wild, Jolie jumped into the pool at the awards party last year, fully-gowned. Nominated at the Golden Globes this year for her compelling role in Girl, Interrupted, who knows what she'll do this time round?
Clearly a star on the rise, it's Jolie's role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted that just might net her the first Oscar of her career. The award won't, of course, be the first in the family. Jolie's father, Jon Voight, has one already. Pre-empting the possibility of nepotism, Voight and then-wife Marcheline gave their daughter a middle name she could use as a professional surname. Jolie, who graduated high school nearly two years ahead of her class, appreciated the thought and discarded Voight as soon as she could.
Like most genuine (and genuinely beautiful) people, Jolie doesn't take other Hollywood accolades, such as being labeled one of 'America's Most Beautiful People' by People magazine, very seriously.
"It's awfully silly," she says, "I got so much shit from my friends for that People magazine thing. They'd see me first thing in the morning and go, 'Ooh, look at that! Is that what the world's most beautiful person looks like!?'"
Winona Ryder, Jolie's co-star in Girl, Interrupted, is frequently on such 'Most Beautiful' lists and was often touted as an actress who would most likely win an Oscar at a precocious age. She didn't, of course, which makes rumours of friction between the pair on the set of Girl, Interrupted believable, since Jolie, rather than Ryder, was nominated for the Golden Globe by American film critics. If the rumours are true, Jolie certainly isn't losing sleep over whether or not Winona likes her. That's just not the sort of thing that irks her.
Girl, Interrupted is the screen adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's cult book about the time she was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital as a teenager. Ryder plays Susanna, the new girl, while Jolie's Lisa is the matriarch of the wing, even though she's neither the eldest patient nor the one who has been incarcerated the longest.
Since Jolie plunges herself into each character she plays, she is rarely sociable while filming. While shooting Gia, she told her then-husband Jonny Lee Miller, she wouldn't be able to phone him. "I'd tell him: 'I'm alone; I'm dying; I'm gay; I'm not going to see you for weeks.'" When filming The Bone Collector, which also stars Denzel Washington, she "didn't talk to anybody", she says. Instead, she just "read books the whole time." On Girl, Interrupted, Jolie was "very social" because that's the way Lisa was.
"I had people in my trailer all the time," she says. "I was like the bandleader. I just wanted to organize the party." At weekends, she would pile the girls into her car and take off for New York City. "I got very close to some of the other girls. Quite a few of the women on the film were with girlfriends or had female lovers or were bisexual. Probably the only straight woman on the set was Winona."
Jolie is herself bisexual. She has openly talked about her sexuality, along with her penchant for tattoos and collecting knives, in several magazine interviews. Her tattoos are multiple and varied. There are words of famous authors ('A prayer for the wild at heart that are kept in cages' by Tennessee Williams) and the cryptic ('What nourishes me also destroys me' written in Latin). Such personality traits have frequently led the media to describe her as 'dark', though she certainly doesn't seem so in person.
"I think I'm just a big softie," she laughs. "But people interpret things strangely. I see tattoos as dark and romantic and tribal. And, anyway, I do feel as if all that stuff has been like some sly move on my part so that people will focus on the tattoos and knives and that way you won't really know anything about me. Yet everyone thinks they know personal stuff about me."
What is known about Jolie is that she met Jonny Lee Miller, who played Sickboy in the film version of Trainspotting, on the set of the 1996 film Hackers and married him shortly after. She filed for divorce last year but says they are just as close as they've always been. "It's just that I wasn't being a wife," explains Jolie. "I think we really needed to grow and we always talked about getting remarried. But he really had to put up with quite a lot. Certainly, my career is first. And, for some reason, I seem to meet a lot of men who say they are like that but, for some reason, it just doesn't turn out that way."
A friend told Jolie recently that there are two types of women: wives and mothers and aunts and lovers. Jolie realized, to her chagrin, that she is probably the latter. "I think I'm just not the marrying kind. I'm just not good with relationships. I can't really live with someone. It's hard to be wild and crazy if you do. And, for me, it's not about holding onto somebody. It's about two individuals. I just somehow think that the person I would love the most is another individual off working, we can't be together, so we can't be having sex. That's why I have no sex life."
Most recently, Jolie dated Timothy Hutton, her co-star in 1997's Playing God. The tattoo on her inner left wrist is reputedly an H for Hutton. I didn't ask her but the squiggle I did make out suggests the story is plausible. If true, I'm sure Jolie doesn't regret getting the tattoo. Nor would she have it altered, like Johnny Depp did, turning his Winona into Wino. "I don't believe in regret," she has told me on both of the last two occasions I have met her. "For me, tattoos are all about the moment. I got one of mine done in a tattoo parlor in Scotland by myself in the middle of the night. I don't regret that. It will always be a reminder of the moment."
As much as Jolie says her career comes first, she also has moments of deep indecision. She doesn't like doing press, though she is very good at it. "There's a very private side to me," she admits. "I don't mind this kind of stuff so much as any kind of celebrity which separates me from other people or makes me different in any way. I think I would step away if that happens and that may be coming. I feel I have done some things that are useful but I have nobody to share that with. I can do big films and have a big trailer and a big hotel room but I'm alone."
Jolie recently bought a Manhattan apartment with her aspiring director brother, James Haven (he too dropped the Voight). Although her mother and father separated when she and her brother were young, Jolie remains close to both. When she was younger, Voight wasn't acting very much, so Jolie spent very little time hanging around film sets, watching her father at work. "The best thing I learned was that acting didn't fix his life," she reflects. "And he would say to me, 'Whatever anyone says about you, it is not who you are. You just focus on your search. It's a constant search and it never ends.'"
Jolie is certainly on a search, spiritual and otherwise. Her mother is part Iroquois Indian and she nurtures her Native American roots whenever possible. "I've already asked my father to contact the Iroquois and see if they will let me in. I just want to go away and be with them on a reservation for a while. But, for now, going to a sweat lodge was one of the greatest things I've ever done." She describes a multi-ethnic circle of people, hot rocks and a lot of sweating. "Everyone said a prayer for somebody else. I was only in there for 45 minutes but it could have been days. By the end of it, I was just making sounds and I didn't know where they were coming from and I didn't care. I came out and lay on the grass and, to me, that's just a very simple and uncomplicated way of being spiritual. That's my base. I just felt so connected to those people. But then, at the same time, I'm dark, you know!"
She laughs hard. For Jolie, life is about laughing. Her film work, by contrast, seems to be a lot about crying. "I think that's because I don't cry in my life much. I'm like, 'Okay, I have a scene. Great! Therapy.' That's obviously why I'm such a wreck in my movies. Look at something like Pushing Tin."
Though she originally read for Cate Blanchett's role as John Cusack's wife, Jolie opted instead for the role of Billy Bob Thornton's messed-up wife. "I don't think an actress should take on a role that they know nothing about, that they aren't suited for."
Her next role, in Dancing In the Dark, directed by Gia's writer-director Michael Cristofer, evidently satisfies those criteria. Her character is a wife who still works as a hooker in the late Eighteenth century drama to be filmed in Mexico.
"Michael told me he figured I needed two men in that, so I was like, 'Great! Let's have some fun!'" The chosen two are Antonio Banderas ("I said: 'Thank you, Michael!'") and Thomas Jane. I ask Jolie if Melanie Griffith should feel threatened or intimidated, in the same way that Ryder might have. "Oh, I don't think Winona was intimidated by me," she returns. "I don't think anyone should be intimidated by anyone. I'm never intimidated by people, unless they're writers. And, as for Melanie, we can have a few tequilas and go and get tattooed together. Maybe I should try and sleep with her. That'll get Antonio's attention. But, seriously, when I know someone is married, with kids, it's like they're wearing some funny mask. They're just not a sexual person to me because I think that's so beautiful.