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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Angelina Jolie goes evil for twisted new fairytale

After a four-year hiatus Angelina Jolie is back on the big screen channeling Disney's greatest female villain. She beguiles Stephen Milton in a frank chat about family, career and hard choices

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie in Maleficent
Angelina Jolie

Stephen Milton

Angelina Jolie enters the room like a silent emissary of a secret order. No pomp. No announcement. "What's bizarre?" she asks, catching Insider in mid mouth-off mode to another body nearby, an apologetic flunky with a clipboard. We shrink a bit.

Her eyes stay fixed on the elbow height table in between us as she settles in for our chat. Then they flick upwards; a clear, taut gaze. The beautiful lips, plump and sculpted, make little effort to smile.

Blindsided, I scan my response for any felony or offense. It's clean.

What was bizarre, was a prior conversation with her 16-year-old Maleficent co-star Elle Fanning, in which she lamented a duty to complete her history homework once publicity is completed for the day.

The biggest film star in the world softly smiles, forming that heavenly lip to enamel ratio. "Elle's just so lovely. I can't tell you how lovely she is," she says.

Jolie seems a tad subdued in contrast to her performance at a press conference for Maleficent earlier in the day. Resplendent in a structured white Versace gown, adorned with delicate images of ravens, a nod to a character and recurrent theme in the fantasy film, she wowed and charmed those attending with subtle anecdotes and warm wit.

Just us, she now wears simple black. A light cardigan, casual top. She seems relaxed, sort of shy.

Insider wonders of her attitude towards the publicity circuit. Unlike most, there appears a genuine appreciation.

"I get nervous when I have to make a speech," says the actress. "Talking about films and these kind of things, I tend to be quite relaxed.

"And this, everybody's been quite nice. Sometimes you get very stressed and sometimes people can be aggressive. But it's been alright so far ... "

Angelina registers my chuckle, tossing a strand of her loose locks aside. The eyebrow twitches. 'So far' being the operative words.

"As long as you're nice. And don't ruin my experience."

In a modern Hollywood of girl next door relatability, hers is a face of the Golden Era. The unattainable beauty of Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, James Dean; the icon staring out from a vintage movie poster.

She sits, centre of an orbiting universe, with Brad, the brood and her humanitarian efforts all floating in a gravitational pull.

Fanning previously mentioned feeling star struck on first encounter. Jolie counters this.

"That was such a weird thing to say ... " offering a furrowed brow.

Surely it's nothing new? "It's sometimes made to seem like I live in a certain kind of world but that's not the life I've made for myself.

"It's not a regular life, it's an unusual life. But I know how regular I am."

A sincere riposte, it's telling of just how regular the most beautiful movie star in the world, really is. The longer I sit with her, the more mortal she becomes.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday’s Irish Independent

She beams frankly about fiancé Pitt and their six children; Maddox (12), Pax (10), Zahara (9), Shiloh (7) and five year-old twins, Vivienne and Knox.

The jokes flow and yarns please. She's graciously sheepish when I suggest maybe it's time for some Judd Apatow slapstick, putting to use her strong comic timing.

"Really! You think I have good comic timing," the actress cutely coos, with a flutter of the lashes.

"I honestly don't think I'd be the best in those movies, the people that do them are so funny."

The big blue eyes swell and dance with a goosebump inducing grin when Insider mentions her second directorial effort, Unbroken, the story of Olympian and war veteran Lou Zamperini, which stars man of the moment, Domhnall Gleeson.

"Does anybody ever say anything bad about Domhnall?" Jolie asks.

Not especially, which may have aided his recent casting in the new Star Wars chapter?

"Oh yeah," Angelina cheerfully blusters, "I'm so excited. Or I'm excited for Star Wars, they're lucky to have him.

"He's extraordinary and so emotional and compelling. His character in Unbroken is a pilot, WWII era, so confident, cool and handsome. And then they not only crash once in Hawaii, they crash again in the ocean and survive 47 days on a raft and he had to do a lot of emaciation.

"I've rarely seen an actor so committed. He's extraordinary."

Her first foray in front of the camera in four years – "Someone said that to me recently," she chuckles. "I had no idea" – since Florian von Donnersmarck's much maligned The Tourist, the star embodies a cinematic legend she was born to portray; Maleficent.

Often voted Disney's most petrifying villain, Jolie's otherworldly features – more natural in person with a smattering of crinkles – match the fantastical, ferocious curling horns and obscenely jutted cheekbones of the tainted fairy queen who places Fanning's saccharine Sleeping Beauty in a solid slumber.

In Robert Stromberg's visual feast, serving a platter of CGI'd fancies and enthralling set pieces, it's ultimately Angelina's show, the camera attentive of her every appearance.

"Maleficent is just so powerful and elegant and seems to enjoy really being evil, which I think is fun to watch.

"But I think it's funny that people think she's the worst Disney villain. We've had discussions about this on set about why? There are so many great villains and yet why do kids vote her the scariest?

"Maybe it's a mother issue, you know, the thing that it's supposed to be the woman who's supposed to make the kids feel safe. Or the fact that she does the worst thing, she curses a child?"

Much has been made of youngest daughter, Vivienne's appearance as a young Beauty, the only suitable child of age unafraid of mom's unsettling get-up.

Jolie admits however, production was a family affair, with Zahara and Pax also allowed the chance to appear in one scene; the cursed christening sequence.

"This is this big iconic moment I'm creating in Disney history so that when they look back with their kids, they can share it with them.

"I honestly needed them. My performance is better when they're in the room. I entertain them. Whatever I did, if I knew it was making them laugh, it got broader."

The 38-year-old has long hinted at a complete pullback from Hollywood, to fully focus on her humanitarian work with the UNHCR, which has seen her travel to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Libya.

She contests however, with a fear of full commitment. "I don't have enough confidence to know that I could leave altogether and make a real change. Whether I'll change professions and do something more substantial and assume a role, I don't know."

Recently, she remarked of a desire to work with Pitt again, after their first and only screen pairing in Mr and Mrs Smith.

"I wrote something a few years ago, and so we're thinking about it."

Does she harbour an ambition to direct the project?

"I don't know, I'd love to. We haven't worked together in 10 years but when we did, it was so much fun. We weren't together at the time, so it would be very different now. But when I worked with him, I realised he was my best friend, he really is a great man."

Just over a year after her letter to The New York Times, entitled 'My Medical Choice,' chronicling her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy after a series of tests for the carcinogenic BRCA gene, Jolie seems so pleasantly alive and contented. She's infectiously warm.

"I'm proud of the choices that I've made at this stage of my life so I know when I go to sleep at night I've done things for the right reasons and been the best mother and person I can be."

Are there regrets? Mistakes she ponders on at all? Vices?

"I guess, I don't know how to do 'nothing'. And I think as a mother, I've to learn to be able to be home and enjoy my family and leave everything behind. I always feel like there's something I should be doing."

It's a stark contrast to the unpredictable, wildly impulsive creature of her early twenties. How does she regard that girl?

"You have to be all sides of yourself to grow into the person you are.

"I may have seemed many things to many people but I don't think I was a bad person."

A smirk appears, and she stares wistfully past my shoulder. "I'm okay with [that girl]. I like her."

Time is called on our encounter and Angelina gathers herself to leave. Her head bows with a strange dignity, like someone used to being bothered and noticed. She holds herself with a regal poise, an innate born class. And with that, she's gone. The room seems darker.

Maleficent is in cinemas May 28

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent
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