Thursday 20 June 2019

Angelina has her say - and she has it her way

When Angelina Jolie decided to talk at last about splitting from Brad Pitt, she scripted everything to perfection, writes Sarah Caden

ON A ‘JOURNEY’: Angelina Jolie in Cambodia last week. She’s gone from wild child to earth mother to UN activist. Photo: Samrang Pring/Reuters
ON A ‘JOURNEY’: Angelina Jolie in Cambodia last week. She’s gone from wild child to earth mother to UN activist. Photo: Samrang Pring/Reuters

Sarah Caden

'We are a family and we will always be a family," said Angelina Jolie in an interview with the BBC last week to promote her latest directorial release, First They Killed My Father. It's a film about the genocide in Cambodia, birthplace of her eldest child, Maddox, and the interview with her was filmed there. "We will get through this and hopefully be a stronger family for it," she continued.

This was the first time that Angelina Jolie has spoken about her separation from husband Brad Pitt since it occurred last September. Not that Brad was actually mentioned. In fact, when you look again at what Angelina said about the situation, it's debatable whether Brad features in her taken-apart-and-reformed family portrait at all.

Jolie's BBC interview was a masterclass. Not only in terms of her conduct as a subject, but in terms of the reporter Yalda Hakim's role in it. Because despite how lost for words and nearly winded Jolie seemed when Hakim broached the subject of the "separation" - not "Brad" or even the "separation from Brad", just the separation - she would have known that it was coming. She would have known, and, as anyone who's ever interviewed a Hollywood heavyweight will tell you, Angelina Jolie and/or her people would have been all over every syllable of every question she was asked.

I spent years sitting down to interview film actors for this paper, and if even the mildest personal questions were permitted, they were always managed and monitored and as carefully asked as they were formulaically answered.

Not that Jolie was faking it, but she was managing what she wanted to convey, and how she wished to be perceived. And, conversely, how she might have wished, even unconsciously, her ex Brad Pitt to be perceived.

The first portion of Yalda Hakim's questioning of Angelina Jolie focused on First They Killed My Father and what Cambodia means for the actress and director. She talked about going there 17 years ago and beginning what Hakim called her "journey". It was there that Jolie decided to adopt a Cambodian child and became a mother, a "journey" that has seen her adopt children Zahara and Pax since, from Ethiopia and Vietnam respectively.

It was the start, some might say, of the reinvention of Angelina Jolie. Immediately before her Cambodian eye-opening, her image was of the wild child married to Billy Bob Thornton, whose blood she wore in a vial around her neck.

Suddenly, she was earth mother, then perceived thief of Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston, then mother to a brood of six - three adopted, three conceived with Brad - then UN activist, and, latterly, the woman who allegedly blindsided Brad with a separation.

Not that this was the angle at which last week's interview came with regard to the split.

"Your film is about family and loss," Hakim started. "And I know this is a very sensitive issue. We know that an incident occurred that led to your separation. We also know that you haven't said anything about this; but would you like to say something?"

Angelina Jolie drew breath and looked away and seemed to struggle to compose herself before she answered, even though it is most likely that this question was agreed, maybe even word for word, in advance.

After all, it's a very, very carefully constructed question and it very, very much suits Jolie. It doesn't set up her separation from Brad as the end of a love affair or simply a very sad parting of ways, it very definitely reminds us of the alleged incident on the plane - over which the FBI filed no charges - and it casts Brad in a bad light.

All of this is a bit cynical, sure, but after the BBC interview with Jolie, the broadcaster came in for some flak for the fawning nature of the piece. It wasn't hard to come up with evidence, not only Hakim's awestruck attitude to Jolie, but the manner in which the two women sat facing each other, cross-legged on the floor of a Cambodian verandah. Jolie's back was in shot several times, resplendent with tattoos in Cambodian.

Footage posted online later showed Jolie and two of her children cooking insects for Hakim. To say that the whole business was a positive outing for Angelina Jolie would be an understatement.

It was also mentioned that the BBC have been equally fawning and unquestioning of Madonna, who, like Angelina, is now motivated to adopt children from around the world.

Her latest adoption of twins from Malawi - from where she already has two adopted children - caused some controversy, but got the blessing of the twins' family, who seemed to recognise that they'd have a good life with a famous multi-millionaire.

Of course, when a regular woman of 58 becomes pregnant, as has been known to happen, there's consternation about the irresponsibility of it all.

But the rules are different when you're a mega-famous personality who doesn't give many interviews.

To secure a post-split interview with Jolie is a coup not to be turned down. And if she has a key message to relate, then leave her off.

Certainly if you were Brad Pitt, behind whom Hollywood seems to have positioned itself, if the ovation for him at the Golden Globes last month were anything to go by, you'd be thinking that Angelina had scored a point.

Sunday Independent

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