Everybody thinks they know Angelina Jolie: Those lips! Those knives! Deanna Kizis debunks the bad-girl myth and shows us the angel in disguise.
Angelina Jolie is letting a stranger handle the antique switch-blade she keeps in her purse. Not only that, she's recommending that women everywhere consider carrying one, as she does to threaten the kind of guys who sneak by her doorman and knock on her Manhattan apartment door asking where the party is (literally). "It's a bit sticky because I used it," the actress says matter-of-factly. Wait. What does she mean, "used it"? Jolie starts to laugh. "Well, it's old." So, would she really use the knife, if she had to? "If I had to?" Jolie says with a shrug. "Of course. I'd have no problem killing someone."
Small wonder that the media casts the only daughter of Jon Voight - who made his own waves with his portrayal of gigolo Joe Buck in 1969's Midnight Cowboy - as the full-lipped, tattooed and leather-clad dominatrix of our best erotic dreams. After all, Jolie, the star of this month's The Bone Collector, in which she plays a beleaguered cop who teams up with a quadriplegic forensics expert (Denzel Washington) to catch a serial killer, certainly has the look for it. Even while snacking on a granola bar in the smoking lounge of a staid Beverly Hills hotel where Jolie stays while in L.A. Even while wearing goldrim glasses, a tan T-shirt, black slacks and no makeup.
In fact, Jolie's sex appeal transcends just about any situation. Take the time that she had to be sewn into a grubby wet suit to shoot a scene for The Bone Collector. Her makeup artist, Janeen Schreyer, was dismayed to see that, even then, Jolie looked seductive. "She has a darling figure, so the thing on her, it looked like a sex suite," Schreyer says with a laugh.
Well, everything on Jolie looks like a sex suit. But she doesn't like it. That makes it sound like she's always trying to be "so cool". And Jolie despises those words. Because she is not preoccupied with being cool. "Every time I go on a photo shoot, I'm the girl with tattoos and leather," Jolie says with a snicker. "I couldn't possibly be somebody who wants to be a mother or a wife. That space is taken."
Taken by the Gwyneths, the Winonas, the Claires. Why? Because, compared to Jolie, those girls are a gaggle of sorority sisters. Whereas men are always asking Jolie where the party is. One Movieline writer even set a new low standard by asking Jolie to slap him - twice - and then wrote about it, with an "I'll never wash this cheek again" panting, as if being beaten by her was as good as being seduced by her.
Be that as it may, Jolie can't go around bitch slapping all of her admirers. And she isn't looking to have sex with everyone on the damn planet, either. In fact, she could count the number of partners she's had on one hand. Now, it's true that she's "been with" women, but Jolie doesn't get what all the fuss is about, saying, "I thought the point of being an artist was to express yourself." And even though in an interview she once extolled the virtues of using her knife collection as a way of heightening foreplay, she doesn't attack lovers on a regular basis. "I do have a knife by my bed, but I usually just open my mail with it," she says. Angelina Jolie is not that cool, okay?
Except (sorry, Angelina) she is. Let's call her "subversive cool." Because she drives the same Ford truck she bought in her teens. Because her favorite thing about her older brother and best friend, actor James Haven Voight, is that he uses phrases such as "gosh-darn friggin'" instead of "goddamn fucking" the way she would. Because when she was a kid she used to alternate punk-rock shows with ballroom-dancing lessons.
At just 24 years old, Jolie has risen from less well-regarded films like Foxfire and Hackers to a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for HBO's Gia, about the supermodel who died of AIDS in 1986, an Emmy nomination for her role as the governor's wife in the TNT biopic George Wallace and parts in feature films such as Playing God, Pushing Tin and Playing By Heart. To hear Jolie tell it, you needn't stop yourself from extrapolating certain things about her from what she shows onscreen. "I choose roles that I think reflect my next stage of growth as a person," she says.
So who is she today? Well, today, Jolie is just herself. And the most obvious things about her are that a) She's skinny. So skinny that her mom insisted she move into this hotel from the house she was renting so that she would eat. (Jolie can't cook.) And b) She is what one might call a sympathetic smoker. You light up, she lights up. Until she starts talking about her past, which wasn't as glamorous as one would think. Then she chain-smokes - all by herself.
Jolie was born in Los Angeles to Voight and his wife, Marcheline Bertrand, an actress who gave up drama to raise her children. But after her parents separated when Jolie was one year old and mom took custody after the divorce, the story of her life veered away from the typical movie-star childhood. Jolie's family had money problems, so she lived in several Slums of Beverly Hills - type apartments near Beverly Hills High School, which she attended for two years. "Everyone thought I had money. I had to go to my teacher and say, 'I can't keep redoing my papers because I don't have a computer. And I remember the teacher saying, 'Have your father buy you one,'" says Jolie, who eked a wardrobe out of L.A. thrift stores like Aardvark instead of shopping on Rodeo Drive
All of which means that Jolie had street credibility from the start. But not on purpose. Out of necessity. "My father was very uncomfortable about success," Jolie says. "Like, somehow it was great to live without, to give away everything you had. You know, to have money meant that maybe you were a bad person or something."
Jolie doesn't gloss over her relationship with Voight, even though the New York Post ran the headline, Why Does Angelina Jolie Dis Her Father, Jon Voight? No Gratitude In Her Attitude Toward Actor Pop, after she refused to gush about him. But how much can she, or, more to the point, should she rally say? For what it's worth, Jolie allows that Voight is better at connecting with his audience than with the person sitting across the dinner table. "I don't know much about my father's life," she says. "He goes to dinner with the family, but then he goes home and I'm guessing he's by himself and it makes me think, Well, that's going to be me. I'm going to end up being connected to everybody via my films, but at the end of the day, I'll go home by myself. I think he is very alone and possibly lonely sometimes, you know?"
Similarly, Jolie (who uses her middle name as her last name) is used to going home alone. At 16, she moved out of her mother's apartment into a nearby studio. And earlier this year, she amicably divorced her husband of almost three years, Jonny Lee Miller, whom she met while making Hackers. It would seem they had an unconventional relationship (she married him - as is oft reported - in a pair of black rubber pants and a white shirt with his name written on it in her own blood) but also a very loving one. "I didn't want to divorce him, but I had to, you know?" Jolie says. She talks about how what she learned from the marriage is that she wants to "be a better woman," an admirable goal. "I am so self-sufficient that I don't know how to let a man be a man. Or how to commit to buying a house together. I could never even be on the same insurance." Like her parents, who never re-married, and her brother, who Jolie speculates would date "if I let him," the actress found that she prefers to be on her own.
Jolie excuses herself to go to the hotel lobby and buy another pack of smokes. When she returns and lights up again, she mutters aloud, "Why am I smoking so much?" Maybe it's because independence comes with a price: Last Christmas, Jolie was in her Manhattan apartment during a brief break in her shooting schedule, and she realized that she had 30 holiday cards from the likes of The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder and HBO, but not a single card from a friend. And although rumors link Jolie with actor Timothy Hutton, with whom she costarred in Playing God, Jolie insists that, for the time being, they are just friends.
So she's not much into romance right now. Instead, Jolie's all about work, which she compares to therapy. In The Bone Collector, Joie got in touch with feeling in over her head, because that was her character's motivation, and because that's how she felt while working with Washington. "The first time Angelina and Denzel met, she had almost a shyness with him," says the film's director, Phillip Noyce, "and I knew that she was going to transfer that shyness to her character." Washington only realized how good Jolie was when he saw the movie with a test audience in Paramus, NJ. "The focus group couldn't stop raving about Angelina," says Noyce. "Finally, Washington couldn't resist shouting out, 'And what about Denzel? Don't you think he was great?'"
And then there's the much anticipated Girl, Interrupted - based on Susanna Kaysen's 1994 memoir about being institutionalized in the '60s - which was a tough movie to make for entirely different reasons. Jolie's performance as an uninhibited sociopath has Hollywood buzzing so vehemently that the film's release date has been pushed back to December for pre-Oscar hype. Jolie, however, found that it was hard to negotiate the tricky relationship between costars. (The cast includes Winona Ryder, Whoopi Goldberg, Brittany Murphy and Clea DuVall.) "I don't generally get along with women. I don't gossip, and I'm not really sensitive, so this can hurt people's feelings," she says bluntly. As a result, Jolie says, one day after the shoot, the producers pulled her aside and told her that she was "cliquing" too much with some of the actresses - and excluding another. Jolie insists that she and the star in question got along just fine, but this pisses her off. "I work with guys a lot of times and that never happens, you know?" she says, shaking her head and sitting straight up in her chair. "If I come on set and my character has a particularly heavy scene that day, no guy has ever come up to me, you know, like, 'You were really rude to me yesterday.' But that happens sometimes with girls."
Angelina Jolie is no girl. And regardless of the raw sexuality she reveals in her film roles, in person she comes across as very serious about her work. But Hollywood doesn't necessarily want to see her that way, and neither does the rest of the world. It's a catch-22: Because Jolie has talent, she can take on serious projects. But once she wins the role, she has to be more than just talented. She also has to be beautiful and cool. On Collector, for example, she thought her character should be the mousy type with brown hair pulled into a ponytail. But "there was this big discussion. Was it unattractive? Was it weird?" Jolie says. "You know, they 'Just want you to be you.' But not the you you. The other you. The person on the cover of the magazine."
Jolie says she doesn't know the person on the cover of the magazine. Which is a problem, because at last count, five publications pictured her in yet another sex suit and dubbed her as the Next Big Thing. Not that she gives a damn. When asked what it's like to be the Next Big Thing, Jolie just raises and eyebrow and gives the most subversively cool response anyone could possibly give: "I'm a thing? I think we all know that everybody is the Next Big Thing and then they're not."