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Guess who's back: Angelina Jolie's new lease of life

After a rocky few years personally and professionally, Angelina Jolie is back - and better than ever. Meadhbh McGrath charts how she has mastered the post-divorce comeback with A-list ease

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US actress Angelina Jolie poses during a photocall for the European premiere of Disney's dark fantasy adventure film "Maleficent : Mistress of Evil" on October 7, 2019 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

US actress Angelina Jolie poses during a photocall for the European premiere of Disney's dark fantasy adventure film "Maleficent : Mistress of Evil" on October 7, 2019 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

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Angelina Jolie with her children Vivienne, Zahara Shiloh and Knox (Ian West/PA)

Angelina Jolie with her children Vivienne, Zahara Shiloh and Knox (Ian West/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Elle Fanning and Angelina Jolie spoke to girls from an east London school (Ian West/PA)

Elle Fanning and Angelina Jolie spoke to girls from an east London school (Ian West/PA)

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Angelina Jolie attends the photocall of the movie "Maleficent  Mistress Of Evil" at Hotel De La Ville on October 07, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images)

Angelina Jolie attends the photocall of the movie "Maleficent Mistress Of Evil" at Hotel De La Ville on October 07, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images)

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Stylish: From left, Michelle Pfeiffer, Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty

Stylish: From left, Michelle Pfeiffer, Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty

Elle Fanning (left) and Angelina Jolie (Ian West/PA)

Elle Fanning (left) and Angelina Jolie (Ian West/PA)

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Taking the lead: Angelina Jolie at Comic-Con in San Diego on Saturday where it was announced they are to play lead superheroes in upcoming Marvel movies

Taking the lead: Angelina Jolie at Comic-Con in San Diego on Saturday where it was announced they are to play lead superheroes in upcoming Marvel movies

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Angelina Jolie of Marvel Studios' 'The Eternals' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Angelina Jolie of Marvel Studios' 'The Eternals' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Getty Images for Disney

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Justin Tallis/PA)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Justin Tallis/PA)

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Angelina Jolie poses before the Maleficent: Mistress of Evil press conference (Ian West/PA)

Angelina Jolie poses before the Maleficent: Mistress of Evil press conference (Ian West/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

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US actress Angelina Jolie poses during a photocall for the European premiere of Disney's dark fantasy adventure film "Maleficent : Mistress of Evil" on October 7, 2019 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

On September 20, 2016, the showbiz world was rocked by the news that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were to divorce, after 11 years together.

The announcement came as a bombshell, and since then, Brad has given a number of revealing interviews, starred in (and produced) major movies and been linked to a string of women. Angelina, meanwhile, has largely kept quiet, focusing on her family, her activism and a few film projects On September 20, 2016, the showbiz world was rocked by the news that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were to divorce, after 11 years together., though mostly from behind-the-scenes.

With a star of Angelina’s magnitude, who has been in the public eye for three decades, we feel we know her intimately, regardless of how little she actually opens up. She was the wild child, the celebrity humanitarian, the Earth Mother with six kids and a superstar husband.

Now, however, the 44-year-old is entering a different era, rediscovering herself and emerging as a whole new Angie.

In the years following the split, much of the reporting centred on the battle for custody of their six children, aged between 11 and 18. Angelina initially sought sole custody, after filing for divorce “for the health of family” — according to reports, an altercation between Brad and eldest son Maddox on a private flight home from a family holiday in Nice. The FBI and Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services began investigating Brad for child abuse, but he was soon cleared and requested joint custody of the kids.

The former couple finally reached a custody agreement late last year, and while divorce negotiations are still ongoing, Angelina has been frequently seen out and about with her brood: picking up groceries, shopping for toys, going for sushi, or dropping Maddox off at college in South Korea. Where gossip stories about Angelina once focused on Billy Bob Thornton’s blood in a vial around her neck, recent ones have covered her fondness for escape rooms and indoor climbing with her family.

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Angelina Jolie with her children Vivienne, Zahara Shiloh and Knox (Ian West/PA)

Angelina Jolie with her children Vivienne, Zahara Shiloh and Knox (Ian West/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Angelina Jolie with her children Vivienne, Zahara Shiloh and Knox (Ian West/PA)

The kids reportedly spent part of the summer with Brad, but it’s been years since they have been seen in public together. Meanwhile, Angelina, ever the smart celebrity strategist, has been making it clear how close she is with the children: they have been cheering Angelina on on the red carpet, hugging each other and holding hands as they joined her around the world at premieres this month for Maleficent 2: Mistress of Evil.

Which brings us to the second element of Angelina’s family-first image, as the new face of Disney, the most popular family brand in the business. Not only is she fronting the sequel to the fairy tale blockbuster, which is set to be one of the biggest family films of the year, she has landed a role in Marvel’s next juggernaut superhero franchise, The Eternals. The cast also includes Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington and Dublin actor Barry Keoghan, but Angelina is the brightest star, and she is poised to fill the gap left by Robert Downey Jr and the Avengers, which concluded this spring with Endgame, the highest-grossing film of all time.

This is the kind of gig that will cement her return as a movie star, after a few years spent producing and directing her own projects. And it’s clear she’s excited about making her way back into the spotlight, gamely taking on the promotional tour with her Maleficent 2 co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning.

Much of the narrative around Angelina paints her as a bit of a loner, fiercely independent and proud of it. “I’m just not very social,” she told Marie Claire in 2011. “I don’t have a lot of friends I talk to.” Of course, she has friends — like godmother Jacqueline Bisset; Mariane Pearl, who Angelina played in the 2007 film A Mighty Heart; and Loung Ung, who wrote First They Killed My Father, which was adapted into a film by Angelina — but we don’t see her hanging out with an A-list posse like Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow or Reese Witherspoon.

Until now, that is: Angelina has been cavorting around Europe, Asia and the US with Elle and Michelle, hamming it up in group interviews, recalling days out paint-balling, giggling and embracing one another on the red carpet. We got a glimpse of it in that delightful on-set photobomb Elle shared on Instagram last year, but now we’re seeing Angelina joking around, bantering with her co-stars and showing a much looser, informal and even fun side that we haven’t ever really been privy to.

She offered an explanation of sorts in an interview with E! News: “There have been times in my life where I have felt — and maybe I’ve hidden them well from the public — where I have not felt free, I have not felt safe, I have not felt like free of harm. I have felt small. I have felt cornered. And it has taken a lot to find that again, probably more of that today than I was in the last four years.”

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Angelina Jolie of Marvel Studios' 'The Eternals' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Angelina Jolie of Marvel Studios' 'The Eternals' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Getty Images for Disney

Angelina Jolie of Marvel Studios' 'The Eternals' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Added to that, she told Hello! that her perspective has started to change as her kids have grown older: “When your children are little you feel more ‘mommy.’ When they are teenagers, you start to remember yourself as a teenager. You see them going to punk clubs and you wonder why you can’t go. I’m in this fun moment where I’m rediscovering myself.

Part of that rediscovery has taken place in Angelina’s styling, too. Sure, she can still serve up industrial-strength Gothic glamour when it counts — especially when promoting this particular film, where the role of Maleficent is so perfectly suited to Angelina’s signature look — but we’re starting to see a bit more playfulness in her wardrobe.

Angelina has always been known for her bombshell looks, from dramatic Old Hollywood draping to the vampy figure-hugging gowns such as that infamous thigh-slit Versace dress at the 2012 Oscars, which became an instant internet sensation. Her red carpet turns are reliably stunning, but rarely exciting.

However, some experimentation has started to creep in, most notably in Rome last week, when she wore an uncharacteristically fresh Givenchy couture top in vibrant lavender with an oversized, pleated, butterfly-shaped bow. It was unusual to see her in something with so much colour, shape and personality, and a thrill, too — plus, she looked just as comfortable and confident as she does in those classic, safe black gowns.

We couldn’t have predicted Angelina would upstage her co-stars Elle and Michelle, two of the best and most interestingly dressed women in Hollywood, on this promotional tour, but her unpredictable looks have impressed time and again, from the silver Ralph & Russo number with unexpected fringing in Tokyo to the breath-taking chiffon and tulle gown at the London premiere, complete with gold caged bodice, regal shoulders and floor-length cape. We haven’t seen her smiling this much in years.

For her first significant interview since her divorce was announced, Angelina went to Vanity Fair in 2017, and spoke about her health issues, including developing Bell’s palsy and entering early menopause after having her ovaries removed. She talked about having drier skin and extra grey hairs, and the journalist Evgenia Peretz noted, sadly, “The idea that she could still be anyone’s idea of a sex symbol is laughable to her.”

Instead, Angelina has gravitated toward a more sophisticated, old-school elegance, sweeping through the streets of Paris in draped neutrals and delivering lectures at the London School of Economics in tailored coat-dresses, with the occasional spot of duchess drag for a royal event.

This year, however, Angelina seems to be reclaiming her sexiness. Check out the sultry new ad campaign for Mon Guerlain perfume, in which she rolls around in satin sheets, dances in the rain and makes bedroom eyes at the camera. Now in her mid-40s and single, she’s taking a different approach to sexuality and sensuality, yet there are still shades of her “bad girl” days.

Last week, she told the French magazine Madame Figaro (in a loose translation from the French): “I feel like I’m coming full circle. For this new Guerlain campaign, I asked the question: what is expected of me? And the answer was that they wanted me as I have always been. So, instead of softening my ‘wild’ side, I’m emphasising it. You know, I see my life as a path, and I’m always looking for freedom.”

The cover image undoubtedly shows a woman who feels wild and free: Angelina, posing naked in a marble bath with her arms raised over her head, showing her tattoos and an assured gaze directed straight at the camera. It’s a sexy shot, and one that seems to say, “I’m back.”

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Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Justin Tallis/PA)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Justin Tallis/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Justin Tallis/PA)

It looks as if Angelina may be entering her most interesting stage yet, unconstrained and unstoppable. As she told Harper’s Bazaar when asked what was the craziest thing she’d ever done: “I hope that I am yet to do it.”

Herald