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12th Jan 2005, 02:43
Woman of the world
January 10, 2005
The Sun-Herald


Angelina Jolie isn't a typical Hollywood star - her career comes second to her life, writes Phillip McCarthy.

When Angelina Jolie won her Oscar in 2000 for Girl, Interrupted, it wasn't just her acting that moved voters. Jolie's portrayal of a mentally disturbed hospital inmate seemed like a slice of her own life: dark, gorgeous, maybe a little crazy. And that was before she married Billy Bob Thornton.

If they were giving out Oscars the same way now, partly for the way art can imitate life, the obvious award-grabber would have to be one of Jolie's action roles, say Lara Croft. Consider this - like a lot of Hollywood types, Jolie, 29, spent Christmas in a Mediterranean hot spot. But it wasn't St Tropez or Monte Carlo. It was a Beirut hospital, which Jolie visited in her UN-sanctioned role as a sort of sexed-up Mother Teresa with curves and lips.

These days Jolie seems to turn up at all sorts of humanitarian flashpoints from her Lara-like base in Britain. And if she had some sort of moment of enlightenment about life - where she morphed from Hollywood bad girl to can-do woman of the world - it occurred in 2001, when she was making the first Lara Croft movie in Cambodia. A year or so later she adopted her son, Maddox, 4, from a Cambodian orphanage.

"I get a ridiculous amount of money for making a couple of movies a year," Jolie said. "But I'm not really good at lying on a beach or spending days shopping. Going to Cambodia the first time was an eye-opener. That's why I was more than happy to leave Los Angeles when I got divorced. It's not the best place for a balanced view of the world. The luxury of my position now, especially while my son is still young, is that we can educate ourselves about what life is like on most of this planet."

So has she blurred the line between action heroine and do-gooder? Colin Farrell, her co-star in the coming Alexander biopic seems to think so. "She's made altruism seem sexy," Farrell said. And not even Princess Diana quite managed to do that.

Also like Lara, Jolie seems to have a thing about being in command of her personal mobility. She learnt to fly last year at an airfield near her home in Kent, outside London. She used the same airfield to test ride the $US20,000 ($26,150) Italian motorcycle she bought herself just before Christmas.

"I like having skills and I like to be self-reliant," she said. "I've been married twice and now I am single again. So I just don't count on being together with someone on a serious basis any time soon. In other words, I'm a single mum and I might stay that way."

Jolie's can-do approach might explain why her portrayal of Alexander the Great's mother - in the Oliver Stone film about the ancient Greek conqueror - hasn't generated a lot of enthusiasm.

Not that Jolie should be singled out: nothing about the film has worked in the US. And playing a female role in a swords and sandals epic has its limitations. Women mostly get killed, saved or enslaved. In the film Olympias is tough but she's no Lara Croft. She's got passion, but no power.

"I could relate to her because she was a mother and she was very focused on her child," Jolie said. "Her hunger for power was really survival. She lived in a different time. I always try to play strong women.

"As I get older, I want to be a stronger woman, a smarter woman, more capable of doing anything in life. I never played victims very well, I don't have it in me to not fight back."

What probably made playing the part harder was the fact that Farrell, 28, playing Jolie's son, was only a year younger than her. So while the two actors were in Morocco trying to get their parental bonds right, the rest of the world was speculating on whether they were having an affair.

"When Oliver first raised the idea of me playing Olympias, and I knew Colin was playing Alexander, I remember thinking, 'How's that going to work?'," she said. "But Colin acted a little younger and I acted a little older and I thought we pulled it off."

Moving swiftly on from the so far universally panned Alexander, Jolie has another film about to hit the local cinemas: the retro-chic adventure Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow.

Jolie plays Franky Cook, an eye-patched British commander of a remote futuristic base. Franky is temperamentally a bit closer to Lara and Jolie seemed more at home too, but, like Alexander, the film hasn't done particularly well in the US.

Any other actress might be firing their agent after a pair of high-profile duds. But rather than having a meltdown, Jolie simply went on to her next film, Mr And Mrs Smith, in which she stars opposite Brad Pitt, and braced for the next round of gossip about affairs with high-profile co-stars.

"I suppose what's good about my situation is that I don't have time to obsess about career things," she said. "Maybe I should. And it's not that I'm blase, the industry gives me the opportunity to do a lot of fulfilling things outside the industry. And it's fun to go off and make a movie. But it's hard to get too caught up in the business when you're with refugees in Sudan."

What is crucial for Jolie is her still-evolving family. When she visited an orphanage in Moscow last year there was immediate speculation that she was about to adopt another child. She will adopt again, she said, but not right away. And she doesn't rule out blending in a father figure. In theory, anyway.

"I'm not really looking for a father for my son," she said. "But if I ever became involved in a serious relationship again I could see that stretching to a father role. But the guy would need to be a really great dad and I haven't come across any likely candidates. There are men in my life, romantically, now but they are not really involved in our family structure. So I am not expecting that any time soon and I am not counting on it to raise my child."

If Lara Croft were contemplating motherhood, she'd probably say exactly the same thing.

Alexander fails to conquer US

The advertising tagline for Alexander, Oliver Stone's entry in Hollywood's burgeoning swords and sandals revival, was "fortune favours the bold". It didn't quite work out that way in Stone's home country, the US, although the film has done much better in Europe and Asia.

Even before its release in big markets such as the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Australia, the film had made more money in the rest of the world ($US43 million and counting) than it did in the US ($US33 million and spluttering). Stone blamed his compatriots' ignorance of and disinterest in ancient history.

"I have to start with American apathy to ancient history because it's real," he said.

"Where there is a knowledge of, and appreciation of, Alexander the Great the film has done very well. And so far, quite frankly, that's included countries as diverse as Morocco and Poland. Elsewhere in the world there's a fascination with that time, Ancient Greece, and with the details of what happened. And they know about Alexander. They know more than Americans. Americans don't really know, aren't really interested."