Angelina Jolie has been a Hollywood icon for the last fifteen years, ever since her Oscar victory for Girl, Interrupted launched her to the top of the A-list. Since then, she’s made as many headlines off-screen as onscreen, but her skills as an actress have never been in question, and her star power has yet to diminish a single watt. Her latest venture casts her as a live-action version of one of Disney’s most enduring villains, Maleficent. She sat down to talk about the project with the press in Hollywood a few days ago.
Question: The first question obviously involves the process of getting ready, the prosthetics, the makeup…
Angelina Jolie: It wasn’t that much. The creation of it took a little time – how to do the horns, how to get them on my head, how to make them stay on the head. We used my hair as kind of braids to nail it down to different things. My hair was in these balls and then you put the headpiece over and you pull the braids through, and then you use that to anchor it. Then we had different horns. At first they were too heavy, then we got them softer, then we found ones that would snap off because I kept banging into things. We tried different things, and some of the things didn’t work. We even had feather hair at one point. We just said, “Well she’s a bird, so maybe she has feather hair.” But we finally got to the look that’s in the film. We just wanted to have a character that you feel that you can watch, and I feel I can perform without people staring at the makeup. We wanted to really find a balance: it was kind of an enhanced face but it still felt like a real face somehow. Not a real face, but one where a soul could still come out through.
I think that was part of the thing with this role: you realize that there’s no halfway. If you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna have to just to fully get into it and enjoy it. And the original was done so well, and her voice was so great and the way she was animated was so perfect that if anything, I just worried that I would fail the original. But I practiced a lot with my children, my voice... and when I got them laughing, I figured I was on to something.
Q: What part did timing play in this? I mean if this project had come up five years ago, would you have considered it?
AJ: I don’t know. I mean it’s such a great project that I imagine I would always have considered it. But after having directed and thinking that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to act or how good I’d be... I think I needed a challenge. And this challenge wasn’t returning to act, it wasn’t anything normal, it was just such a wonderful crazy idea. For me as an actress, it was not taking myself so seriously and just being able to play. Just remembering what it is to play and entertain and try something bold. My kids are now all watching all these movies and wanting to play with mommy. It was perfect timing to have them all on set, playing, being a part of the adventure with me.
Q: Your own daughter was in the movie, and I’ve read that you were maybe a little reluctant to do that.
AJ: Well, Brad [Pitt] and I never wanted our kids to be actors. We never talked about it as a thing. But we also want them to be around film, and be a part of mommy and daddy’s life, and for it not to be kept from them either. Just to have a good healthy relationship with it. This came about because there were kids that would come to set and they would see me and I would go up and say “hi” to them and they would cry. I actually had one child completely freeze and then cry in terror. I felt so bad, but we also realized that there was no way that we were going to find a 4 or 5-year-old that I could be as strong with that would not see me as a monster. It was a real dilemma. Then suddenly there was Vivie running around looking like little Aurora and everybody kind of thought, “Oh, the answer’s right there.” I had to go home and talk to Brad, and we both sat around thinking about it. It’s so sweet, the idea for her being in this. But then you consider the fact that she’s in a film and suddenly it’s the world looking in and all that. It took us a bit to make the decision.
Q: How’d she like it? How’d she work on the set?
AJ: She was good. The first day was the day she had to catch the butterfly and she just really didn’t feel like doing it. So I actually was holding the pole with the ball on the end and bouncing up and down and kind of dancing trying to make her laugh, and daddy was on the edge of the cliff she had to jump off making faces and doing all these things, and her brothers and sisters were kind of edging her on. She eventually did it but she was just taking her sweet time and not wanting to do it twice certainly. But then when we got to our scene, we had kind of practiced it a little bit at home. I’d say, “okay, I’m gonna say ‘go away’ and then you try to get back.” So by the time we got to the set to do it, it was a kind of game between us. We had a good time, we played together and I was actually shocked that she was doing so well. Inside I thought, “She just went back and hit her mark like a pro. It’s frightening!”
I just want my kids to like it like this. I want them to do it for fun only, and if they decide to be actors when they get older, I would just ask that that not be the center of their lives. It’s an aspect but that they also do many other things with their lives and are involved in many other things. Because I don’t think it’s a healthy focus as a center of your life.
Q: What would a non-parent underestimate about what actually appeals to kids in movies? Have your kids had a reaction to this film?
AJ: It was interesting. My boys saw an early cut of Unbroken [which she directed] the other day and I thought they would be talking about the sharks. Instead they asked me about one of the character’s deaths. And I was very surprised by that. I think the depth of what children can handle and what they’re really interested in is much deeper than people assume. And I think it’s why sometimes we make things too simple for them. With a film like this, people say, “Is it too dark for children?” It’s not. They want to understand things that frighten them, they want to see dark things that happen, and they want to see how to rise above them. They don’t want to be hidden from all things and everything sweetened. I think that’s something that always surprises me about children.
Q: We’re reminded of the timelessness of this story, and the Disney versions in particular. Where do you think film is at this stage? Do you think it still has that quality to endure?
AJ: Always. This is a wonderful art form and it’s not going anywhere. As far as this film in particular… you just never know. When you make something, you hope you make it the best it can be, but you don’t know what’s going to last or what it’s going to do. This is the first day that I’ve been talking to people who’ve actually seen the movie, so I still don’t know if the things we intended came across yet. So this will be the first time I see it with an audience. The first time I can feel everybody observing it and know if it worked. If it did, of course, I would love that. I think it is a really good story and I think it has good messages in it and all of that. But when we can make stories for children, stories that they can walk away from thinking about things they didn’t normally think about, or having learned a little something or felt their heart warmed by something, then we’ve done something better.