Hollywood star Angelina Jolie speaks to Alison Jones about movies and motherhood.
Angelina Jolie has been given many labels by the public and press; ‘most beautiful’, ‘action woman’, ‘goth girl’, ‘serial adopter’, even ‘home-wrecker’ if you happened to side with Jennifer Aniston when Brad Pitt transferred his affections from her to Angelina.
But what she is rarely pegged as is emotionally vulnerable. Yet in the middle of talking about her latest film, Changeling, Angelina is fighting for control as her eyes fill with tears and her voice breaks with grief.
This surprising display of a softer side happened suddenly, brought on by memories of her late mother Marcheline – who died last year of ovarian cancer – as she revealed it was she that Angelina looked to for the key to playing the role of Christine Collins.
“My mom, we used to call her marshmallow as a joke because she was just the softest, most gentle person in the world.
“She was really really sweet. She would never get angry. She couldn’t swear to save her life bur when it came to her kids she was really fierce.
“So this was very much her and her story, in that she was the woman I looked to for that elegance and that strength.”
More used to playing characters as tough as they are terrifying in films like Tomb Raider, Mr and Mrs Smith, Wanted and even Girl, Interrupted, Angelina found it difficult to relate to the passivity of Christine, whose behaviour was dictated by the fact she was living in the 1920s, a time when women were expected to defer to men, to know their place and keep to it.
Changeling is based on a true story about a single mother whose son, Walter Collins, disappeared while she was at work.
Five months later the police found a boy they said was her son.
When she denied that it was, the police, determined to have a successful resolution to a case at a time when they are being accused of corruption and excessive violence, insisted she was wrong.
Her protests continued until the police captain, eager to try and bury this embarrassing mistake, has her locked up in a mental institution.
It is only when officers stumbled upon another truly horrific, and seemingly unrelated case, that the truth about what might have happened to Walter Collins started to be come clear.
Though it made front page headlines at the time, Christine’s story faded into obscurity until it was uncovered by a journalist going through some old public records that were about to be burnt.
“It is kind of unbelievable that it hasn’t been done before. I don’t know why it hasn’t been told, maybe another conspiracy?” says Angelina. “It is strange because it wasn’t a quiet case in a small area, it was front page LA Times.
“What they did, which I thought was very clever, was they took copies of all the front pages of the LA Times and they slid them in the script. So when you read in the script she went to the train station and posed with the boy, you flipped the page and there it was.”
Angelina’s initial reaction after reading was to refuse the role because, as a mother of four at that point (she was actually pregnant with the twins Knox and Vivienne while filming), she found it too upsetting.
“But then I couldn’t stop talking about her. I’d find myself sitting with people and wanting them to know about this extraordinary woman and that you wouldn’t believe what happened to her and what these people did to her.”
Christine’s ordeal in the institution inspired her to start campaigning against the police and the law that allowed them to have inconvenient women locked away.
“In the end it became a story about democracy in action, about justice,” Angelina explains. “Suffering a great loss and fighting through it and making a change for the future for other people.
“But (for me) as a mom it was horrible. I had my kids with me as much as possible and after I would just run home, I would just want to be silly.”
One of the hardest scenes for her to deal with was not the vicious handling she
endures in the asylum but the phone call Christine makes to report her son missing.
“That is just such a serious fear for a parent. You just don’t want to physically do it, to pick up and report a missing child. The act of doing it is just horrible.”
Becoming a mother seems to have grounded the 33-year-old star.
For a while she was cinema’s wild child, the papers full of stories about her experimentations with drugs and sex. She has admitted to self-harming when she was younger and her first two marriages, to Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton, seemed recklessly spontaneous and destructively intense.
There was also her disturbing fascination with blood, daubing Miller’s name in it on the shirt she wore to their wedding and carrying a vial of Billy Bob’s on a chain around her neck.
Today she looks elegant, grown-up. She is dressed simply in grey trousers and sweater, her fingers and wrists touched with narrow bands of gold. Plain, if large, diamond stud earrings twinkle under her glossy dark hair.
The only hint that this isn’t your average soccer mum comes when she lifts her arms to make a point and her sleeves slips back to reveal her tattoos.
She paints a happy domestic picture of life with Brad and their children, including Maddox, Pax, Zahara and Shiloh, as well as the twins, saying she spends a lot of time in her pyjamas “colouring”.
She has cut down on her workload, anxious to be at home more.
“I haven’t worked for about a year. I am going to work for a few months and then I don’t know when I am going to work again.
“I am not going to make this a retirement announcement but I have a big family and a lot of responsibility and I have the good fortune to financially not to have to work all the time, so I just feel privileged that I get to be at home. So maybe I’ll work once a year then once every two years.”
One of the reasons she was drawn back onto a film set to make Changeling was because it gave her the opportunity of working with director Clint Eastwood.
“He just seemed like such an interesting man, and he is. In person he is really good man, very solid, very strong.
“He is very decisive and famous for shooting just one or two takes. That sounds terrifying to an actor but because of that you know he is going to not drain you emotionally.
“He will be very prepared from the moment you walk in the door. So if you give it everything you have got he will capture it on film and won’t ask you to do it 20 times. It does allow you to really push yourself.
“As actors we tend to overthink things. Because you just don’t have time for that it keeps it very fresh and very real.”
Clint also has a good track record with earning himself and his stars Oscars, with hits like Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby.
Awards buzz is already building around Changeling and critics are predicting Angelina’s name should be among the nominations for best actress.
“Anything the acknowledges a film that you are proud of and that you worked hard on means a great deal,” she says. “But at the same time if nothing is ever acknowledged you are just as proud and you worked just as hard.”