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Iconic. Otherworldly. Luminous, yet with pervasive current of darkness.
Those words could just as accurately describe Angelina Jolie as they do Maleficent, the black-clad, black-hearted enchantress whose curse haunts the heroine of Walt Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty. Thus it’s no great surprise that in her youth Jolie was particularly caught up in Maleficent’s spell, far more so than any of the seemingly perfect princesses — and that now, as an Oscar-winning actress, she’s chosen to breathe life into Maleficent, the live-action origin of the delicious villainess who’s captivated generations of fans that can’t quite relate to the princess fantasy.
But, as Jolie revealed during a recent press roundtable, there’s much more to Maleficent than cartoonish wickedness.
Are there any similarities between you and the Maleficent we meet here?
Angelina Jolie: Yes, many. I think and I hope many people can identify with [the idea] that in my life I was born quite openhearted, trusting, more loving, and then like everybody there are different things in my life that made me trust less, and become more alone and more angry and more careful. And then for me it was not dissimilar to her in that what brings her back and makes her realize who she was meant to be. And she’s kind of brought back, and so I felt like my family did that for me. They kind of helped me to be light again, to be open again. But still always fun and wicked – I mean, Maleficent doesn’t become a princess, but she learns something about being capable of love.
Did you watch many Disney films as a kid, and aside from your identification with Maleficent did you have a favorite princess?
Not a princess. My kids, though – for some reason my kids have picked up that I would be Snow White. But I couldn’t understand why, and then we figured, “Is it the dwarves?” Or is it they see me as her? But they always paint me as her. But I like Dumbo – I do! I like that something about him was considered wrong and bad, and that something about him was actually something pretty great. And I thought that was kind of cool.
What are your thoughts about betrayal and revenge, given your character’s path in this film?
Well, my kids know that I work a lot on justice issues. And they’ve traveled with me when I’ve visited different courts and tribunals, and they’re helping me now with the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative that’s coming up, and they’re doing posters and things. They understand what impunity is and the need to end it, and they understand that people who do bad things sometimes get away with doing those bad things, and it’s upsetting. But in order for us to stop those bad things, we have to stop letting people get away with it, so I’m hoping to instill a strong sense of right and wrong. But also that there’s actual active things they can do to combat that, that it’s not just something they have to live with in their lives.
How many times did it take to get that scene with your daughter Vivienne as the toddler Aurora just right?
For her scene with me, we kind of prepared it so we only did a few. It didn’t take very long; she was very professional when she got to that scene. But she wasn’t very professional catching a butterfly. That took us half a day.
What did your other kids think of her performance?
Oh, they think it’s hysterical, because she’s that kid at home. She’s here now, because she wanted to come see me, so I had to take her from school. But she’s my shadow – she’s one of those girls who wants to know where Mommy is at all times. So when my kids see her kind of stalking me in the movie, they all fell over laughing because that’s exactly how they know her at home.
How tough is it to essentially bully your own kid?
It was tough to try to stay in character. But we kind of practiced it, and we made it a game where I was going to try to be as mean as possible and she was going to keep using the power of her smile. She was going to try to get closer – so she did know it was a game, but it was a little hard to hold your own child up and say into their face “I don’t like children,” and hope that didn’t leave a lasting impression.
Are you still planning to retire from acting and concentrate on directing? And how did Brad [Pitt, her partner] react to that news?
Well, Brad’s known for a while that I love my humanitarian work, and that I love directing and writing. So he’s I think seen this coming. But I’m not retiring: I’ll do one or two if they come – the right ones. But I think it’s nice – I’ve been in front of the camera for so long in my life that it’s nice to step back.
Talk about Unbroken, your next directorial effort, about former Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini.
It may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. He’s 97, he’s my neighbor; we spend a lot of time together. He’s helped me through so much in my life and he’s been a guiding light for many, many people through his journey and through his wisdom and Laura Hillenbrand’s book. So it’s a big responsibility to take that life and to put it onto film. Because it’s such a big life that it doesn’t really fit into a film, and so to make sure that you do it right. And we also made it PG-13 because we want it to be for young people, to have something inspiring and make them feel strong and understand things and really deep things about life. So that’s been a complicated thing, because it’s been a war film as well, and it deals with really heavy issues. So I think it’s a very important film, and I think if we get it right, and I hope we will, that it’s going to be one that is good for people. It comes out Christmastime and I think the message of inspiration and strength of will and faith are very strong, and I think very necessary today. I think we just we don’t have many, many things that make us feel hopeful and strong inside ourselves and what’s nice is that Louie wasn’t born a perfect person. He was so flawed, smoking and drinking and stealing by the time he was 9 – you know, he’s not perfect. He’s very, very regular. And yet he became a great man. And so I think for all people, especially young people, they can believe that they can be great people.
Do you enjoy watching yourself in your films?
No. There’s a few I haven’t seen still. I haven’t seen: Wanted, I haven’t seen; I haven’t seen The Tourist. There’s a few, or there’s a few that I’ve seen once when they came out but I never saw them again. I love the experience of doing them, and I do love that people respond – it makes me happy that an audience [responds]. But Maleficent, I think I’ll like. I think I could watch her. Because she’s so far from me somehow, it’s not really like watching me.
Disney’s Maleficent opens Friday nationwide.