How Jolie found herself at the heart of a child exploitation furore
VANITY Fair magazine adores Angelina Jolie and has repeatedly put her on the cover. The interviews, carried out in locations like Venice, Malta, Beverly Hills and Sydney Harbour, have always gone well. She’s a candid interviewee with a captivating story, and her Helen of Troy beauty makes for a great splash.
The latest interview, however, has not gone well, provoking a monumental fallout between the star and the magazine.
At the heart of it is the alleged treatment of children in the making of Jolie’s first film for Netflix – First They Killed My Father, which is based on a real-life memoir of life under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, when Pol Pot’s genocidal regime killed up to two million Cambodians. Jolie described to Vanity Fair how directors had carried out roleplay with children where the youngsters were to steal money on camera then be caught. The interview caused a furore, but the actress has fiercely denied playing tricks on children with money, saying they were fully aware it was a rehearsal for a scene in the film. After the magazine article appeared, widespread concern was expressed on social media and elsewhere. Vanity Fair went on to say that it had reviewed the audiotape of the interview – and that it “stands by [the] story as published”.
Jolie was born in Los Angeles in 1975, the daughter of actors Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, and she grew up to become one of Hollywood’s leading actors, as known for her private life as for her acclaimed work. “Her power is volcanic, it’s huge, it’s electric,” said James Mangold, who directed her in Girl, Interrupted.
Jolie was once known as a Hollywood wild child, a reputation fuelled by her “two failed marriages” (as she later termed them) to Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton, as well as her relationships with model and actress Jenny Shimizu. She and Thornton famously wore pendants containing each other’s dried blood.
As Vanity Fair observed early in her career, Jolie talked of being “a selfcutter, said she wanted to be a vampire, and once contemplated hiring someone to kill her”. Dull and reticent she is not.
Jolie had appeared in a string of films and other projects – including, it is said, a couple of Meat Loaf music videos – before finding a breakthrough in a couple of TV films, Gia, and George Wallace, for both of which she won Golden Globes. In 1999, she starred in The Bone Collector opposite Denzel Washington – and she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her mesmerising role in Girl, Interrupted.
In 2001, she became a global pin-up after appearing as Lara Croft, the indomitable and pneumatic video-games heroine, in the box-office hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (a sequel appeared two years later).
She subsequently showed off the breadth of her acting skills in A Mighty Heart, in which she played Mariane Pearl, wife of the murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl; in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination; in Wanted, alongside James McAvoy; in the dark Disney fantasy Maleficent, and in Salt, a high-octane action thriller in which she was a CIA operative on the run – a role initially written for Tom Cruise. She has also voiced roles in Kung Fu Panda films.
In 2004, Jolie and Brad Pitt costarred as sophisticated married assassins in Doug Liman’s film, Mr and Mrs Smith. Pitt was married at the time to Jennifer Aniston. The tabloids had a field day, speculating that Pitt and Jolie had had an affair on-set. Pitt later admitted he fell in love with Jolie at that time.
Pitt and Aniston were divorced in 2005, and Jolie and Pitt were together for years before marrying in 2014, but she filed for divorce in September of last year, citing irreconcilable differences.
There was even a custody battle over their six children – Maddox, 15, Pax, 13, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, 11, Knox, 9, and Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, 9. The three eldest ones were all adopted – from, respectively, Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
In recent years, Jolie has worked tirelessly on behalf of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. She became a Goodwill Ambassador in 2001, travelling to more than 50 countries and meeting refugee families in places that were frequently remote and dangerous.
She was appointed Special Envoy in 2012, and in this expanded role, says UNHCR, she “focuses on major crises that result in mass population displacements, undertaking advocacy and representing UNHCR and the High Commissioner at the diplomatic level, and ... also engages with decision-makers on global displacement issues”.
Three years ago, at the annual Governors Awards in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Jolie was presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work on behalf of the forcibly displaced and victims of sexual violence.
That same year she was praised for her courage after revealing she had undergone a double mastectomy after discovering she carried a mutation of a gene which increased her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Jolie has also proved herself as a film director prepared to tackle difficult subjects.
Cambodia features in her new film. She set her debut, In The Land Of Blood And Honey, in 1990s Yugoslavia. Unbroken was based on a real-life Second World War story of a US airman shot down over the Pacific and tortured in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
The one-time “wild child” has long been left behind. Still only 42, an actor, director and humanitarian, Jolie’s most interesting years may lie ahead of her – but it may be a while before she talks to Vanity Fair again.
Anjelina Jolie’s drama about life under the Khmer Rouge, First They Killed My Father, is released on Netflix in September