Wednesday 11 December 2019

If Trump can do it, so can Angelina

With the House of Lords allegedly in her sights, Jolie wants to be taken seriously, writes Sarah Caden

A-list ambition: Jolie wants to put acting behind her, describes herself as a humanitarian and has political hopes. Photo: AP
A-list ambition: Jolie wants to put acting behind her, describes herself as a humanitarian and has political hopes. Photo: AP

Sarah Caden

Given the week that's in it, a week of political surprise, the idea of Angelina Jolie in the UK House of Lords doesn't seem so crazy after all. As we reel from Brexit, and people begin to predict, without a smirk, that Donald Trump in the White House might be the next turn-up for the books, an American movie star in the Westminster upper house is pretty plausible.

Not that Angelina would thank anyone for describing her as a movie star. By all accounts, even though she has a Maleficent sequel in the pipeline, Angelina wants to put Hollywood behind her. She describes herself as a humanitarian and her ambitions, reportedly, are to get away from acting and the triviality of Tinseltown and to make a bid for the House of Lords.

Now, for that to happen, Angelina has to become a tax-paying UK resident, but that is probably a minor issue, given the rest of her CV. While, primarily, the world regards her as A-list Hollywood, that's not where Angelina has concentrated her energy in the last decade. And people who matter take her seriously, something that a lot of actors with political aspirations find impossible, even if so many of them wish for and strive for it.

For example, George Clooney allegedly has the desire for political office and he certainly has the bearing, but what he's best known for is Nespresso.

Jolie has a 15-year track record in human rights. In 2001, while filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Cambodia, she became aware of that country's refugee crisis. When she returned to America, she began the process of adopting her eldest child, Cambodian-born Maddox, and also contacted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and began visiting places like Tanzania and Sierra Leone.

And because Angelina gets noticed, these places get noticed. That's how all of these celebrity charity trips work, and sometimes the glossiness of the celeb against the backdrop of the environment jars. And sometimes the ego looms large, but the enduring commitment of Angelina speaks of something more.

She was a goodwill ambassador for the UN for over a decade, specialising in bringing attention to "forgotten emergencies". In 2013, she was made a special envoy for the UN, which gives her some diplomatic powers and signifies that she's not just a pretty face to the organisation.

In that time, too, it will have escaped no one's attention that Angelina became a mother again, five times over. Two of those children, Zahara (10) and Pax (11), were adopted from Ethiopia and Vietnam, respectively, while she gave birth to three more, Shiloh (10) and twins Knox and Vivienne (6).

She was married to Billy Bob Thornton when she adopted Maddox, though they separated several months later. Her relationship with Brad Pitt was then one of the big celebrity sensations of the Noughties, with its refuted suggestions that she broke up his marriage to Jennifer Aniston, and its dazzling celebrity synergy. To which the large brood of kids added.

This was proof that Jolie does everything to the extreme, and that quality has always been at the root of any suspicion of her political sincerity. Is she for real, or is this just another role she's trying out? People have wondered if gracious humanitarian is just the latest Angelina incarnation. Like the bisexual Angelina. Or the Billy Bob Angelina, with the vials of blood and the allusions to wild sex. Or the Angelina who seemed to snog her brother at the Oscars. Or wayward Angelina of her extreme youth.

Now, a lot of those incarnations were a product of youth, and everyone's entitled to grow up and move on. And, perhaps, the passion that Angelina channelled into self-destructive patterns in her earlier life have now found a home in helping others.

Certainly, she has put her time and money where her mouth is. She travels pretty relentlessly to unpretty and inhospitable places that no one wants to know about.

She has earned record- breaking fees for the first photographs of her children and she has donated all of it to charity. She has helped to pass legislation to benefit child immigrants and last September gave a well-regarded speech to the UK House of Lords on sex crime in times of war.

In recent times, she has come under the wing of Arminka Helic, a member of the House of Lords, whom Angelina has referred to as her "mentor", and who is said to be guiding her towards a UK political career. Not a figurehead, not an envoy, an actual politician. She has the requisite title for the House of Lords, after all, having earned her demand in 2014 for work in the area of warzone sexual violence. And, sure, the upper house isn't exactly the heart and soul of government and legislation, but it's a start.

Angelina is, perhaps, the real political deal, though it's worth noting that accounts of her House of Lords ambitions, almost all include suggestions that Brad Pitt isn't thrilled. She might not want to be a movie star any more, but the movie-star rumour mill still has her in its sights.

The other question is whether, if Angelina makes the leap to full-on politician, her past will be forgiven. Politics is a business that is intolerant of pasts full of peccadilloes, but maybe Angelina will prove the exception.

After the week we've just had, anything's possible.

Sunday Independent

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