'Being single is not something I wanted' - Angelina Jolie
A year after filing for divorce from Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie talks heartbreak, cancer and Cambodia with John Hiscock
If she didn't have a film to promote it is highly unlikely Angelina Jolie would be sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel suite talking - albeit reluctantly - about her life since separating and filing for divorce from Brad Pitt last September.
But she is a showbusiness veteran and the film she co-wrote, produced and directed, the Cambodian-set drama First They Killed My Father, needs publicity. So she is submitting to a long weekend of interviews while admitting: "This is the first time I have done this for a long time. It's not easy. I am a little shy this time because I am not as strong inside as I have been in the past."
The last 12 months have clearly taken its toll on the 42-year-old actress, who is looking pale and gaunt.
"It's been difficult," she acknowledges. "I don't enjoy being single. It's not something I wanted. There's nothing nice about it. It's hard. Sometimes maybe it appears I am pulling it all together, but really I am just trying to get through my days. Emotionally, it's been a difficult year and I have had some other health issues. So my health is something I have to monitor."
Four years ago, Jolie caused a worldwide stir by announcing she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy after learning she had an 87pc risk of developing breast cancer. Her mother had breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56, while her grandmother also died of ovarian cancer aged 45. Two years later, she had her ovaries removed and last year, in addition to hypertension, she developed Bell's palsy, causing one side of her face to droop. Acupuncture helped her recover.
"So much in life you just focus on how much worse it could be," she says. "And I am so happy I don't have cancer and that if I do get it, it will be delayed for a few years. The exchange for that peace of mind is quite good. I feel sometimes that my body has taken a hit, but I try to laugh as much as possible.
"We tend to get so stressed that our children feel our stress when they need to feel our joy. Even if you are going through chemo, you need to find the ability to love and laugh." She pauses and smiles. "It may sound like a postcard, but it's true."
Her children - Maddox (16), Pax (13), Zahara (12), Shiloh (11), and the nine-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne - feature prominently in her conversation and she is negotiating custody arrangements while she settles her divorce. All six were with her in Cambodia for the four months she spent filming First They Killed My Father, which is based on Loung Ung's 2000 memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide, in which Ung's parents and two of her siblings perished along with an estimated two million Cambodians.
Jolie has been a Cambodian citizen for a decade and owns a house near the Thai border, so the time they spent there was of special significance to her and Maddox, whom she adopted there when he was three months old.
"I had met Loung and I asked her how she would feel, as a Cambodian orphan, if I adopted a Cambodian orphan. She was very supportive. Had she not been, my life would have been very different.
"So she has known Mad his whole life and Mad has known of Loung's story his whole life, and I told him: 'One day, son, you will be ready and you will tell me it's time to go deeply into your country. But I need your help and you have to work and you have to be there every day and you can't say no and that you are tired.' And one day he said: 'I am ready.'
"I really wanted Maddox to learn about Cambodian history, so I felt that this movie was a journey that we could take. And he went really deeply into the research and into the edit. And having somebody younger there to say 'you are losing my attention' or 'that is too complicated' was really helpful."
The film is a family affair: Maddox is credited as an executive producer, Pax did some photography stills and the other four were on set every day and became playmates of the child actors.
"Seventy per cent of Cambodians are under 30," says Jolie. "And if they watch this film and they don't want what happened to be repeated, then they will be the ones to take the country forward."
She talks swiftly and quietly with mainly good humour. The only time she becomes testy is when I ask her about the controversy that surrounded her casting methods for the film. In a Vanity Fair interview, she implied that her casting directors had played a game in which they offered money to the impoverished youngsters and then pretended to take it away from them, awarding roles to the children who looked the most upset. The audition attracted criticism and Jolie's lawyers asked for a correction but Vanity Fair stood by their story.
"I have explained it and you can look it up," she says sharply. "It was a mischaracterisation and it didn't happen in any way that wasn't absolutely with the thought of what was best for the child and the family."
First They Killed My Father is the fourth film directed by Jolie, following In The Land Of Blood And Honey, Unbroken and By The Sea. Right now, though, she has no immediate plans either for acting or directing. She and the children recently moved into a $24.5 million mansion once owned by Cecil B de Mille and settling in is her priority.
"I am going to cooking classes!" she says. "I am not sure how good I am at it. Cooking is one of those things you do when you are settled in your life and you can take the time. But somehow I am just very impatient and I am a little bit erratic, so it's hard to stand in the kitchen.
"But I am getting into it now. I am really trying because I feel like if I cook, the kids can all hang out, although they often take over and tell me they can do it better." She laughs.
"The children have been amazing," she adds. "It's been so moving to see how much they have helped each other and how much they have helped me. They have come into their own and they are finding themselves and their voices. I know they will have each other for life and it gives me great peace to know the day I pass away they will take care of each other."
Since finishing the film she has visited London as a guest lecturer at the London School of Economics, talking to students about her experiences as a UN special envoy.
"Part of the reason I wanted to teach was I wanted to learn, too," she says. "I really wanted to hear from the generation coming up what questions they have and what their goals are..."
If and when she returns to film-making, the chances are it will be as a director rather than an actor. "When you are an actor you're not able to sculpt the final story," she says. "But to be able to oversee everything, even the music that goes into the edit, feels very different."
Jolie's earlier years as a wild child have been well documented. She has talked freely in the past about dabbling with drugs and self mutilation, and during her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton (she was also briefly married to British actor Jonny Lee Miller), she and Thornton wore each other's dried blood in pendants around their necks and bragged about their wild sex.
She met Pitt in 2004 on the set of Mr And Mrs Smith and has devoted the past 15 years of her life to motherhood. But her life has changed dramatically during the past year and now she is thinking about changing with it.
"I think now I need to rediscover a little bit of the old me," she says. "I think we lose our way a bit. I have had a lot happen in my life, from certain people passing to health issues to raising the children.
"And it's been a very good time to absorb and develop and grow. But maybe now that my kids are growing up, I am starting to realise that my own sense of play has been put on hold for a while. And maybe them hitting their teens is going to bring out a little more fun in mom." She laughs. "So maybe I am going back. It may be time."
First They Killed My Father launches on Netflix on September 15.