The Hollywood superstar and mother of six talks about her latest film and her young Australian co-star; as well as the lessons she learnt from her own mum, and why her children always come first.
https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au-By Michael Idato
“I hope that I’m that warm, safe place. What people think they know of you … in truth none of those things are what you really are. Who you are to the children is everything.”Credit:Courtesy of Warner Bros
Few things matter more to actor Angelina Jolie than role models. They play a vital role in shaping the next generation. They are what she hopes to be for her own children. And they are also the kinds of roles she wants to bring to the screen, as a director, producer and actor.
As we sit down to talk about life, motherhood and her latest movie, Those Who Wish Me Dead, we begin with the subject of role models. That includes the very obvious cinematic trailblazers, such as Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in Alien (1979)and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984), both of whom paved the way for one of Jolie’s most-loved roles, that of Lara Croft in the 2001 hit Tomb Raider.
But it also includes the many women the 45-year-old actor, filmmaker and humanitarian has encountered in her work as a special envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It’s a role that has taken her to some of the world’s darkest corners, where she has witnessed first-hand the frontline workers whose courage serves to ignite a flicker of light.
“There are times when it’s the first time somebody takes a step and shows that – whether it be a woman, a man, somebody – they can do something different,” Angelina tells Sunday Life. “Somebody pushes the boundary, then says this can also be done this way, or this gender can also do this.
“Then you push those boundaries and tell those stories, and you look for other stories to tell – you don’t want to just repeat the same message,” she adds.
“There’s a lot of trauma behind the strong women in a lot of these roles, and it will be nice to get to a place where we’re also in our maternity, in our femininity, strong and intelligent and not fighting to survive.”
“It’s an interesting question. It’s a deep question. Particularly for women: what is the representation that’s not yet been shown on screen? Who is a woman and what is a woman capable of?
“There’s a lot to discover, there’s a lot that’s yet to be represented, and there’s a space being created right now that is not yet there,” Angelina says. “There’s a lot of trauma behind the strong women in a lot of these roles, and it will be nice to get to a place where we’re also in our maternity, in our femininity, strong and intelligent and not fighting to survive.”
In Angelina’s own life, there has always been one very powerful role model: her mother, the actor and humanitarian Marcheline Bertrand, who died in 2007 at the age of 56.
The subject is respectfully broached, as Angelina rarely talks about her personal life in interviews.
“My mother was very gentle,” says Angelina. “I can be many things in my work and in life, but I am very warm and gentle with my children. That kindness and warmth is a foundation that’s unbelievably important. She gave me many other things and taught me many lessons. But if you don’t have that base, to feel valued and safe, then it’s hard for any of the other messages or lessons to land.
“I hope that I’ve been able to be that [for my own children], that I’m that warm, safe place. Because – and it’s maybe a funny thing to say – but considering what my different jobs are, or what people think they know of you, or what you feel you have to be in the world, in truth none of those things are what you really are. Who you are to the children is everything.”
Perhaps without even consciously realising it, that may have brought Angelina to her latest role, frontline firefighter Hannah Faber, a veteran “smoke jumper” who comes to the aid of a young boy, Connor (Finn Little), who witnesses the murder of his father at the hands of two paid assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult).
When we meet her, Hannah is grappling with a version of survivor’s remorse, racked with guilt over her failure to rescue a party from a recent fire. “She’s intentionally reckless and clearly is not functioning well,” Angelina says. “If the path this film takes her on didn’t happen, I’m not sure she would have recovered from what she’s carrying. And that is a lot.
“Not to get heavy, but I’ve been to places where there are different groups of people being treated … those who had physical injuries or were harmed, and this other group, those who had to participate in harming others as part of their torture,” Angelina says. “The damage was so clear, but the mental-health trauma, you can’t see it.
“Those who do those types of jobs, anybody on the front line, you just never know what they’re going through when you look at them,” she adds.
“So in this story, which is not as heavy and depressing as I’m making it sound, these people, you throw them together and you light a fire and you see who makes it through.”
Enter 14-year-old Brisbane-based actor Finn Little, who plays Connor in the film. “It’s quite obvious within a few minutes of Finn reading anything that he’s an extremely talented person,” says Angelina. “In part that’s because he’s still young and open and emotional and grounded, while another side of him clearly has a handle on his profession and his professionalism and his craft.
“We’d both be very serious actors on set, but also have play dates on the weekends with my kids and go hang out all the time,” Angelina says. “So part of our work, if you will, was just playing paintball or swimming. So our professional bonding was just a lot of fun, being friends.”
Finn describes those encounters with Angelina and her family as important ice-breakers. “We just hung out and it made me feel very comfortable around her and her family,” he says. “And it did make me feel accepted just to be around them. I felt very accepted and well looked after.”
As you might expect, Finn was a fan before he was a co-star, particularly enjoying Angelina’s performance in Maleficent. “I was very nervous meeting her for the audition,” he adds. “But when I got the part and started working with her, I realised that she’s just a normal person with normal feelings, and she’s great.”
There is little doubt Angelina took the role because she has a unique understanding of frontline workers. The film also comes at a time when communities are focused on honouring the work of frontline COVID-19 workers, particularly nurses and doctors, but also firefighters.
“When there are fires, we seem to honour the firemen, and during the pandemic we’ve been very supportive and focused on those in the hospitals and on that front line,” Angelina says. “You’d hope these things continue regardless of what is happening in the world. It shouldn’t have to take a large fire to respect a fireman, or a pandemic to respect a nurse.”
But it is also true that she took the role because it contrasts with films she produces and directs, which command a large slice of her time. Taking a gig in which she only acts means she can remain focused on the six children she shares with her ex-husband, actor Brad Pitt: Maddox, 19, Pax, 17, Zahara, 16, Shiloh, 14, and twins Knox and Vivienne, both 12. “I’ve stopped directing for a few years, to be home with my kids,” Angelina says.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is equal parts crime thriller and action movie, and the footage seen so far speaks to extraordinary production values, particularly when the fires are lit.
In one of those feats of cinematic legerdemain, while the fire is real, the trees, apparently, are not. To translate that into a public service announcement, it appears no trees were harmed in the making of this movie.
“I’m a bad person to ask,” Angelina says, laughing, when asked about the shoot’s hazards. “Maybe it’s something that’s off about me, but I tend to walk into slightly dangerous situations and be the last to panic.
“Maybe it’s something that’s off about me, but I tend to walk into slightly dangerous situations and be the last to panic.”
“So I didn’t feel like I was in danger during filming. I didn’t feel like it was too much. There were certainly times when it got really hot, very fast, and we had to all move to the other side.
“Again, being with Finn, it did something different, because when you’re next to a child, you’re so hyper-focused,” she says. “So when the bullets and shrapnel were flying, all I could think about was his eyes and keeping them covered. When we’re in situations near the fire, or in the river surrounded by fire, I had my eye on him.
“But I will say that he’s an Aussie, and tough, so there was no real need for me to be concerned for him. He wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Those Who Wish Me Dead opens in cinemas on May 13.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale May 9. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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