She may be preparing to take a step back from her acting duties, but Angelina Jolie is about to enjoy the greatest success of her career with her new film, Maleficent. Playing the title role of the icy Queen who places a curse on the young Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), Jolie is realising a long-standing dream to be part of the Disney universe. The $200 million fairy tale blockbuster is expected to be one of the biggest films of the year, and will doubtless give the 38-year-old Jolie millions of new young fans.
“I’ve long dreamed about playing a great Disney character like Maleficent,” Jolie says. “She has fascinated me ever since I was a little girl. I was both drawn to her and terrified by her at the same time, and our challenge was to show what led her to becoming evil and cruel and understand her anger. It’s the first time that a Disney film has really been centred around a villain, and I’m so happy to become part of the Disney world. I’ve always loved their films, and mothers can trust Disney movies not to be offensive or inappropriate for children. They understand how to create this wonderful universe for children and families.”
In the meantime, Jolie recently finished directing her second feature film in Australia, Unbroken, a story of an American 1,500-metres runner who competed at the 1936 Olympics where he met Adolf Hitler only to become a POW during WWII while fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.
Scheduled for release late this year, the film could well mark Jolie’s transition to full-time directing, having expressed her desire to spend more time with her famous fiancé Brad Pitt and their six children. “I find it hard to uproot the children or spend several months away shooting a film,” she explains.
Angelina and Brad both feel that they have achieved most of their goals as actors, and Pitt, who recently won his first Oscar as producer of 12 Years a Slave, is particularly fond of developing projects like last year’s zombie epic, World War Z.
Jolie and Pitt divide their time between a home in L.A. and their sprawling mansion, Chateau Miraval, in the south of France.
Together: Angelina, do you think children will be scared of Maleficent?
She’s the kind of character who is very compelling because she has this icy and charismatic demeanour. There’s a mystery to her. Maleficent is someone who can be frightening but also seductive and alluring in different ways. She’s a powerful woman.
Together: How did you approach the role? Did you work on your dark side?
(Laughs) It took me a while to find the right voice. I spent a lot of time at home working on her voice, trying out different variations of a British accent and also lowering my voice to make her seem more sinister. I would practice and see how my kids reacted and when they started to smile or pay very close attention then I knew I was on the right track.
Together: Your daughter Vivienne has a small part in the film, doesn’t she?
Yes. She plays Princess Aurora as a young girl, and she had so much fun being on the set. Vivienne (5) was the only child on the set who wasn’t frightened of me and the outfit and horns I wear. I guess she knows that it’s mommy and not some scary character! (Laughs)
Together: Is it fun to be able to watch your children grow up and work with you on your films?
It’s so beautiful to see how they look at the world and experience so many things for the first time. Children have this incredible way of seeing things, and they make you also see things differently. They just have to smile and laugh and you feel overwhelmed by their ability to enjoy things in such a pure and uncomplicated way.
But Brad and I don’t want to make a habit of having our children work on our films. We want them to study hard and have as normal a life as we can give them. We would rather they learn everything they can about the world before getting involved in our profession. When they’re older they can make that decision.
Together: As your children grow older, how does this impact your decisions when it comes to your work?
It gets harder for me to spend any length of time away from them and that’s why I enjoyed having Vivienne and Knox (her five-year-old twins) on the set. It’s not an ideal situation though when your other kids are in school and then you usually don’t get back home for dinner. Brad is so good about taking over when I’m working so I don’t worry that much, but I would rather be home for dinner and read my children stories at bedtime. That’s one of the most beautiful times any mother can have.
Brad and I are trying to balance our lives so that we can raise them without too many distractions and without their parents’ strange profession getting in the way of their leading normal lives. They don’t pay much attention to photographers, but it’s still an odd thing to be photographed all the time when you’re just trying to take a walk or stop for lunch somewhere.
Together: Do the paparazzi ever become particularly bothersome?
We don’t allow it to interfere with the way we live. I’m happy to have the recognition that enables me to promote humanitarian causes and my work (for the United Nations) for children. So I’ve never seen all the media focus as a real obstacle to what I do.
I have a big, wonderful family and I get to travel and be creative with my films and that’s tremendously rewarding and satisfying. I’ve always loved being an actor and the ability to tell stories and express emotions and making a connection with audiences… I’m so used to them being around that I don’t pay any attention to what they’re doing.
Together: Do you feel that you and Brad have met all your expectations when it comes to creating the kind of family life you were looking for?
I don’t know what our expectations were. We didn’t have a clear idea about how we were going to manage as our family grew larger until we figured out a way to organize everyone and make sure that we would spend time with all the children.
Some of the kids feel closer to Brad and bond with him in a special way and some have a closer relationship with me. But it’s always changing and what’s beautiful about kids is how you just watch them grow and evolve as they learn more about themselves and the world.
Brad has always been such a wonderful and loving father that it’s made me feel so much happier as a mother where you know your partner will always be as devoted and loving as you are.
Together: Does that give you an added sense of security when it comes to your relationship with Brad?
Yes. It’s such a beautiful and sexy quality in a man when he takes his responsibilities as a father very seriously and has so much love to give the children. I still get very emotional when I watch Brad play with the children and how they all admire him and love him so much. It makes you appreciate how children look up to their parents and are so inspired and happy when a father like Brad is so naturally devoted and joyful around them. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Together: How have you evolved into your role as a mother?
It’s been one of the great surprises in my life. When I was younger I never imagined being a mother and then those maternal feelings really evolved and deepened once I began adopting and started living with Brad, which made me want to have children of our own.
My children give me a sense of peace and fulfilment when I see how happy and healthy they are. I feel truly at ease when I know I’ve helped give them a safe and hopeful life. A big family can generate a lot of chaos, but it’s also a source of inner peace. At the end of the day it’s the best feeling in the world.
Together: Do you feel you have greater serenity as a mother?
There’s a sense of purpose to your life when you’re raising your children and feeling so much love and joy in being around them.
It’s changed me in so many ways. I try to treat them the way my own mother treated me. She was so caring and giving that I don’t know if I can ever live up to her standard. My mother set a very good example for me to follow.
When you wake up and see they’re healthy and happy, you know that that’s the most important thing, so you have that peace of mind. They also come with a lot of chaos, but we’re all searching for it. It’s part of the human journey. We all have moments of inner peace and we lose it and we look for it again. But really it’s in knowing the people you love are safe and healthy. That’s the best.
Together: Has it been important for you and Brad to have spent a lot of time living in France where you can feel more secluded?
Europe offers a different kind of lifestyle for us. We don’t feel as stressed over there, and we’ve grown used to taking long lunches and late dinners, which we can’t really have in the U.S. Over there we can live more freely and openly and do things like walking and exploring cities or small towns. We feel more relaxed. But in terms of schooling it’s been more practical for us to stay in Los Angeles. The kids are happy wherever they are, and we just try to make sure that nothing interferes with that.
Together: You’ve now directed your second film. What was it about the story of Louis Zamperini that drew you to it?
I’d been looking for a good and compelling story, and when I came across his story I knew I had what I was looking for. I love and admire his incredible will-power and determination to survive. I’m very drawn to people who can stand up to difficult situations and not give up. The human spirit is an incredible thing.