She has a penchant for knives and tattoos, and got married in rubber pants and a shirt scrawled with blood. Alison Boleyn meets one of Hollywood's most intriguing stars.
When critics describe Angelina Jolie, they call her a great actress. But they don't compare her to Meryl Streep or even Sharon Stone. They call her the female De Niro, the new Keitel or, since her latest film, Girl, Interrupted, "Jack Nicholson in drag".
"Very flattering," Jolie says. "I don't really identify with 'women's films'. I do like men's movies. War films make me cry," she says. "And I don't have a CD in my house that's by a female singer, with the exception of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday."
Jolie is not a girl. Not a girlie girl. The rumors surrounding the 24-year-old star of The Bone Collector and Girl, Interrupted are true, often confirmed by the remarkably candid actress herself. Yes, she has a collection of knives that she has used in sex games.
Yes, she's mapped with tattoos, including Latin type on her belly that reads: "What nourishes me also destroys me". And yes, she married her Hackers co-star Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting's Sick Boy) wearing rubber pants and a shirt with the groom's name scrawled across it in blood. She smokes a lot, is partial to leather, and orders steak rather than salad. But Jolie believes her tag as Hollywood's wildest star--a tattooed, knife-wielding bisexual with a body like Lara Croft and a mind like Caligula--is a massive beat-up.
"It's just because they don't have anybody else," she argues. "They can't pin it on Gwyneth Paltrow." And it's hard to picture Jolie--who won a Golden globe for George Wallace and an Emmy nomination for her bisexual, junkie supermodel in Gia-- in a pretty pink dress, crying and thanking her father. (She has already adopted her middle name as a stage name to avoid that particular association; her father is Academy Award winner Jon Voight, the star gigolo in 1969's Midnight Cowboy.) "I don't know where the image comes from, but if somebody suggests going to some crazy nightclub, I go. I do things that many people would think are scary or weird because they haven't done them--jumping out of a plane or just going to a dark place.
"It's funny, because I'm the one who's been married. I've slept with a handful of men. I do nothing but work. I'm constantly with my family. The characters I play aren't angry. I've never been nude, completely, in a film. I don't have a dark life. I'm not looking for some walking nut to hurt me."
Jolie has the kind of beauty that's usually only conjured up by Japanese animators: tiny face, huge gray eyes, enormous lips. She's supernaturally voluptuous but also angular, with long, thin arms, legs and hands. Before being cast in Gia, she smoldered in music videos by Lenny Kravitz, the Lemonheads and the Rolling Stones. Sydney reviewer Paul Byrnes has described her considerable acting talent as "in danger of being upstaged by her pout... the most spectacular in pictures". "She's an extraordinary-looking creature," said Pushing Tin director Mike Newell, "like some weird, undiscovered orchid."
Her sex appeal is undeniable--to men and women. She casually made her bisexuality known in 1998, when she was playing Gia Carangi, the supermodel who died of AIDS. "Everybody got kinda crazy with me mentioning I was in love with a woman," she remembers. "Everybody turned it into some stupid cliché. And, you know, it was a wonderful experience. I really see women in a different way. I really do love them. When I see a beautiful woman, or a wonderful wife, or even just a woman who's being a sexpot--you know, Sophia Loren-- I think, good for you. I love to watch."
Jolie divorced her husband early in 1999, after three years of marriage. "I would do it all over again," she says. "I had a wonderful marriage but it wasn't good enough. We didn't have the time for it.
"There's a period when you're young and you know it. You need to evolve independently. But this wasn't somebody who was my boyfriend. He's the man I married and that I said I'd love and honor and cherish till the day I die. And of course I will. I don't really have relationships. I don't need a lover or a husband. I've had, I have, that man in my life. we should get remarried, but we don't want to now.
"I didn't understand love; I didn't understand how wonderful it was to be a wife. I needed to constantly say 'I'm independent.' But to say I need a man and I love him and I'm soft and I can cry, you know, it's all those things you grow into."
Jolie studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, but has her own take on method acting. "I am always me. I choose roles that I identify with. Mary in Pushing Tin is that side of me, minus all the other sides. And Amelia [The Bone Collector] is definitely me, without my strength and certainty or sense of humor or wildness. The more variety of characters you can play, the more complete you are as a person.
"My character [Lisa, in Girl, Interrupted] doesn't have any emotions. Sociopaths don't. It's almost like a logic. When somebody hurts themselves, they say, 'What an idiot!' Somebody dies and they say, 'They're dead.' It's cold, but it's a good response. Somebody's got to say, 'OK, you can all keep crying, and I could sit there and cry with you, but I say lets get out of here before the cops come.'"
In the film, which has been dubbed an all-girl One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, she stars opposite Winona Ryder, but the two actresses didn't really hit it off. "I don't really have girlfriends," says Jolie. "But it was nice. We'd all hang out in the trailer and talk and take road trips. Not really with Winona. These girls were not girlie girls. They weren't at all gossipy and a few of them had girlfriends."
It's said that her trailer was the vortex of the party, that in an emotionally taxing shoot that left Ryder suffering from a mild anxiety attack, there was always a crowd at the Jolie camper. There, the cast and crew could find loud music, darts, balloon animals and porno mags to read, cut up and wallpaper the trailer with.
"I would love to be just sweet, nurturing, you know, that mum, that wife," says Jolie. "But there is something about me that's been hit around by a few things, that's more in touch with something that's dark. Whatever people think, I haven't won that many battles in my life."
But to say her parents' split, when she was six months old, spun Jolie into counseling is to underestimate her.
"I was in school and you could get extra credit for going to a therapist. It was just a part of life studies, psychology. So I went. And I realized how dangerous these people could be. This person kept talking about my feelings for my father. I'd say, 'No, I'm not angry. I understand. I think my parents are both wonderful individuals.' And she just couldn't believe it wasn't a problem for me I can remember coming in one day and saying I had a dream and I totally lied. I said I dreamt that I stabbed my father with a fork, and she said, 'Aha, I see.' And I thought, 'You fucking asshole.' My therapy is my films; my therapist is everybody who goes to see a movie and tells me whether I'm completely off.
"There was a time when I was wondering whether to live or die. But go through something like that and you become fearless. Because you're at the edge of the road, and you're going to commit to life. That's what makes you finally feel good.
"I was thinking: what am I? I'm just an actress! What I do with my life is not important. And then you start to realize that just surviving and trying to do something good, making somebody laugh, being near another person, just trying to work together, communicating and maybe meeting somebody that you love and you understand-- that you can maybe do something to make things better. That is valuable enough-- to really appreciate just what you have and to ease up on each other. Because, you know, it's hard enough."