It's been easy until now to dismiss Angelina Jolie as some sort of gothic flake. Yes, she and ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton really did used to wear vials of one another's blood. She's down to 10 tattoos "at last count," since having his name burned off of her left shoulder. And who among us will ever forget the Morticia Addams/Lurch look she and her bizarrely affectionate brother donned at the Oscars?
But after her Oscar win for 1999's modest character drama Girl, Interrupted, Jolie earned a reported $7 million as a name-above-the-title action heroine in the 2001 box-office blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
The obligatory, stunt-driven sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life has her traipsing through scenic Europe, Africa and Asia in search of nothing less than Pandora's Box. In a recent interview in New York, Jolie comes across with an uncommon sincerity, especially when the conversation turns to her travels through some of the not-so-scenic regions of the world as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. She's refreshingly forthcoming about her recent divorce from Billy Bob Thornton, and about her estrangement from father Jon Voight. And when she gushes about the life-altering joys of motherhood since adopting a Cambodian orphan (Maddox, now 2), she seems completely genuine.
Creative Loafing: Does it really take an Academy Award-winning actress to play a video game-inspired action figure?
Angelina Jolie: Believe it or not, it's one of the most demanding characters I've ever played. For most actors, if you had to sit in a corner and think about what haunts you or what makes you sad or angry, we could all probably get to that place. But if you had to stand before a thousand people, real proud and confident, and rally them all to follow you on a common mission, that's hard. She's so up and positive all the time, and that was actually very difficult for me.
On what level do you relate to this character? How are you and Lara Croft similar or different?
Well, I'm definitely the more fortunate of the two of us, because I have Maddox. I feel like Lara's all alone, while I'm getting to be a mom. What we have in common is a very strong sense of adventure, a love for other cultures and other countries. And we'd both fight to the death for what we believe in.
Does your son realize what his mother does for a living?
He just thinks Mommy dresses funny, that's all. I'm not sure what he thought about this whole wetsuit look I have as Lara Croft. But he was also with me when I was making this other movie, where I was wearing black leather and big boots and an eyepatch. At first, I wondered if he was going to freak out seeing me like that, but it didn't seem to faze him at all.
You've said that Billy Bob Thornton's priorities didn't change along with yours after you adopted your son.
Yeah. That was a hard, sad realization. We had this really deep connection, this really deep marriage, so it's not that simple to say it's this one thing or that one thing that caused all the problems. But it was pretty obvious that our priorities shifted overnight. He wanted to keep focusing on his music and acting career. I wanted to start focusing on my baby. Like I was saying before, it all comes down to what's important to you.
How much more freeing -- or tougher -- is it being a single parent?
It's sad when you're aware of moments you wish you were sharing with somebody. When Maddox took his first steps while we were in Africa (shooting Cradle of Life), nobody was really there to hold my hand or throw an arm around me or to share the joy and beauty of that moment. Having said that, it feels really good that every aspect of his life is honest and 100 percent and permanent the way it is.
You've seen a lot of darkness on some of your U.N. missions. How has that affected you?
It affects me more than anything. I've seen there is real darkness and sadness and pain in the world. Most of us don't realize how very fortunate we are, but I'm trying never to forget it.
Does any of that make you want to try resolving things with your father?
No. I have an adopted son so I don't necessarily believe that, just because you happen to be genetically connected to somebody, you have a natural destiny together. The fact is, we're not similar people. We've tried to have a relationship, but it didn't happen. We're not going to become friends in this life.