That’s how Angelina Jolie describes herself in the March 2021 issue of British Vogue during an interview with editor-in-chief Edward Enninful. When asked what people would be surprised to know about her, she said:
“Somebody said the surprise about me is that I’m a closet foreign policy wonk. I’m a bit more boring than people would think… I’m a bit of a geek.”
It’s a fittingly boring answer, and I wonder if that’s the point. Because by now, as we know, Angelina knows how to play this game. That is, she understands how to craft and work a media message. And her messaging has changed over time. Twenty years ago, Angelina was still married to Billy Bob Thornton. But she was also about to release Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She shot the film in Cambodia and in February 2001, exactly 20 years ago this month, she made her first United Nations trip to Sierra Leone and Tanzania. She would make more trips in the subsequent months, including a visit back to Cambodia and gave $1 million, at the time the biggest donation made by private individual to the UNHCR. In August 2001 she officially became a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador…which is the same month Maddox, her first child, was born. She met Maddox in November 2001 – so this year, 2021, marks a big milestone for her and for her family.
To go back to media and image though, at the time, Angelina still had the wild reputation; the vials of blood, the sex in the car, etc etc etc …but this was the turning point. Twenty years ago was the turning point, starting with her involvement with the UNHCR and becoming a mother. And so the image would gradually change. Angelina Jolie the “bad girl wild child” evolved into Angelina Jolie, mother, humanitarian, philanthropist, activist.
When she calls herself “boring” then, it’s a comparison to what once was… briefly. Or briefer. Because, really, those public “bad girl wild child” days took up only about five or six years or so – and maybe even less if you consider how many of those were actually in the big spotlight. The mother-humanitarian days, then, greatly outnumber the more sensational ones, it’s just that the sensational ones took hold. Maybe that’s the actual scandal – that Angelina Jolie is scandalously unscandalous, and boring. That the punk who burst onto the scene as a rebel is now more of a reformer than a revolutionary:
“I went through a phase of being so shocked and angry about a system that tolerates millions of people being displaced by war, genocide and persecution. I’m still just as angry about injustice, but whereas my younger self wanted to tear down the system, I’ve learnt I have to fight to try to change it from within.”
And the most biting soundbite she gives in this interview, what comes closest to be being considered as “tea”, is what she said about the UN:
“I have a love-hate relationship with the UN. I love when I see practical solutions and protection for those in most need. I love to see people from around the world risking their lives for that. What I hate is how little focus governments have on actually solving the reasons people flee. I hate it when we don’t speak out and defend the rights of all people equally. And I hate when I feel the focus isn’t encouraging people and countries to be independent, but seems to benefit from them being broken.”
That’s not the kind of “tea”, however, by celebrity gossip standards, that makes headlines. Certainly not the same kind of headlines as “a phoenix and the ashes”. It’s there though, but subtle. It’s there when she tells Edward Enninful that she bought her home for her and the kids to live in because “I wanted it to be close to their dad”. It’s her use of this pronoun when she refers to their children: “But also, you’ve met our kids.”
Amicability is the suggestion there. Which, of course, is not exactly the first word that’s been used to describe the relationship between Angelina and Brad Pitt, at least not with their divorce situation last summer. Is this a sign that since then they’ve been able to come to a better agreement and a better place? Earlier this week it was announced that Angelina’s selling a painting that the two bought when they were together and it was thought that their art collection was part of the financial negotiations that have been ongoing as they inch towards a complete divorce resolution.
It’ll be five years in September, the breaking of Brange. In that time, while there’s been speculation about Brad’s post-Jolie romances, including a situationship with a married German model, Angelina has been attached to no one. I appreciate her answer when she’s asked if she’s happy, despite having spoken at length about how fulfilled she is by her children, she says that:
“I don’t know. The past few years have been pretty hard. I’ve been focusing on healing our family. It’s slowly coming back, like the ice melting and the blood returning to my body. But I’m not there. I’m not there yet. But I hope to be. I’m planning on it. I do like being older. I feel much more comfortable in my forties than I did when I was younger. Maybe because… I don’t know… maybe because my mom didn’t live very long, so there’s something about age that feels like a victory instead of a sadness for me.”
This comes up often when Angelina talks broadly about her future, about life – her mother’s illness and death, at just 56 years old, is one of Angelina’s great traumas, if not her greatest trauma. It has informed her decisions about her body, and of course it has to have had a major impact in how she relates to her kids and how much time she wants to spend with them. Marcheline Bertrand was born the same year as my own mother. Their birthdays are exactly two months apart. I am so grateful that my ma, who has been in and out of the hospital, and near death multiple times over the last 25 years, is still with me, still right up in my face. It is my biggest fear, though, as she ages, as the tests come back, as more tests are ordered, that we could be getting closer. Right now things seem to be OK…but they can turn so fast, especially at her age, with her chronic conditions. So I get it, deeply, the way Angelina seems to be motivated by the pain she experienced after the loss of her mother. And I don’t think in analysing her you can ignore the impact that continues to have on her and her relationship with her kids…
Who are featured in this British Vogue piece. There’s a shot of her with Zahara, Knox, and Vivienne sharing a meal – but the one that stood out to me most is the one of her cutting Maddox’s hair. Have you seen it? Click here if you haven’t. Angelina is giving quarantine haircuts.
Read the full Angelina Jolie interview at British Vogue.