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The former wild child now sees clearly what’s important in life
Beyond Borders — Angelina Jolie

by Bruce Kirkland
Sun Media

LONDON Looks can be deceiving, especially if the looker is someone as alluring and dangerous as Angelina Jolie, the sensuous bombshell of Lara Croft fame.

Yet this is the same woman who, on Wednesday, will shyly and even humbly face United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to receive the first UN Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award.

She is being honoured for her work as a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“It means that I’ve done good by an organization that I care a great deal about and that I didn’t let them down, that I represented them properly and that they’re happy with that,” says Jolie when the Sun asks her to explain the importance of the ceremony.

“And it means that, if I die tomorrow, I can leave my son something that says I did something good with my life.”

But a Hollywood mythos has built up around the 28-year-old, Hollywood-born daughter of U.S. movie star Jon Voight and French actress Marcheline Bertrand.

People are obsessed with Jolie’s two-dozen tattoos, her self-confessed bisexuality, the size of her breasts (which were temporarily enhanced for the first Tomb Raider flick), her youthful bouts with depression, her childhood fascination with the embalming business, her knife play with occasional slips into self-mutilation, her two spectacularly failed marriages (to Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton) and even the nature of her passionate love for brother James (Jamie) Haven.

Jolie’s frank, uncensored way of talking has reinforced the image of a flake. Just two years ago, she told the Sun that her friends know “I’m a little nuts” and that she has suffered through rites of passage in which “I have drowned in being deep and complicated and dark.”

Jolie said sadly: “It’s hard for me. It’s hard to be free.”

But then, of course, she was still married to Thornton in a tempestuous union which they both said would only end if they spontaneously burst into flames during sex.

They each tattooed the other’s name on their bodies. They each carried silver vials containing drops of the other’s blood.

Loony tunes? Looked like it then. But, once again, looks are deceiving.

Today, Jolie is transformed.

She is divorced and no longer communicates with Thornton (or with her unstable father after what she considers his cruel and aggressive interventions in her life). The Billy Bob tattoo has been lasered off her left shoulder, although the scar tissue is still healing.

She is no longer dating and says she has not had sex for more than a year. As a single mom, Jolie is raising her adopted son, Cambodian-born, two-year-old Maddox. She is looking into adopting another child.

Jolie also has a hefty new movie coming Oct. 24, Martin Campbell’s tragic romantic drama Beyond Borders, co-starring the rugged British star Clive Owen.

The film is a tumultuous love story set against the milieu of humanitarian aid workers who struggle to doctor, feed and shelter refugees displaced by brutal wars in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya.

It was researching this film five years ago — when it was still to be directed by Oliver Stone, who coincidentally is currently directing her in the historical epic Alexander in Morocco — that started the long process of transformation.

At the time, Jolie was in Mexico shooting Original Sin. Caspian Tredwell-Owen’s Beyond Borders script landed in her hands.

“And I cried and I really wanted to understand and I really wanted to take the journey. Then the film didn’t go and we didn’t know if it was ever going to go. It has always been such a complicated film to make.”

No kidding. Under Stone’s guidance, Kevin Costner and Catherine Zeta-Jones were supposed to co-star. Then Zeta-Jones dropped out, during her first pregnancy, and was replaced by Meg Ryan, who dropped out, to be replaced by Jolie.

On the men’s side, Costner gave way to Ralph Fiennes, whom the producers decided was not manly-man enough. So Clive Owen (of Croupier renown) stepped in for his first Hollywood starring role (“I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed working with her,” Owen now enthuses about his co-star, who says she got the giggles every time she came near him).

Still, five years ago, Jolie was “really upset” when the project stalled because she was fired up by the idea of investigating refugee camps, which her character does in the film.

“I cried when I got the phone call that it wasn’t going to happen and I had this moment of realizing, ‘Well, I’ll just go! I’ll take the journey. I’m a person. I’ll go myself.’ ”

Jolie says she collected books on the UN and on aid relief. She did her due diligence and then hooked up with the High Commissioner for Refugees, persuading officials at the organization to let her go to Sierra Leone, which was in the throes of civil war, to visit refugee camps for two weeks.

“I kind of didn’t know what was going to happen and what to expect. I just knew I should become more aware of what was going on in the world. I really wanted to know. Then I went out and it completely changed my life. By the time I came home, I was a much better person.

“I would never complain again about the stupid things I used to (complain about), or be self-destructive, or not realize on a daily basis how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and enough good to eat and that my son is healthy! I think I used to have so many other things going on in my head, things I’d be sad about or tortured myself with. I couldn’t sleep at night because I’d be self-destructive.”

Sometimes that happened, she says, “because I didn’t feel enough.”

Jolie feels plenty now, in an intense yet mature way that suggests she is no longer a flake.

Her mothering instinct has flourished, thanks to her adoption of Maddox, whom she also lovingly calls Mad or Madness. Jolie met him, as an infant of three months, at an orphanage in Cambodia.

She had returned for the UN after shooting parts of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider there. In tribute to Maddox and as part of her commitment to humanitarian aid, Jolie has established a $5-million, 60,000-hectare wildlife refuge in northern Cambodia. Local people have been hired to supervise the project, giving them a crucial stake in its survival and success.

Next door is a 21-hectare plot legally owned by Maddox. Jolie built three modest houses on stilts on the property and one serves as an alternate home for them when they are not at her New York apartment, at her English country home (their primary residence) or on the road shooting movies.

With Jolie looking to adopt again, she says it doesn’t matter whether it’s a girl or a boy. “But I’d like it to be (from) a different country than Maddox because I’d like to introduce a new culture and a new religion to our family.”

She also would have to get a new tattoo. Jolie recently added one for Maddox — a Buddhist symbol and script tattooed onto her left shoulder blade.

The Thai artist used the traditional long needles and hammer method. Jolie was obliged to kneel and fold her hands together in prayer.

“I kind of felt like it was something that I was going through for Maddox because it’s for protection. I kind of felt that I should suffer through something, that it was part of something that was a ritual, a prayer for him.”

The tattoos, while fascinating to others, are personal for her. And useful in her movie negotiations.

“Most of my tattoos are only a problem for nude scenes,” she says with a grin, “so it tends to help me.” She pleads with directors, “I can’t cover that one!” Or, “It’ll take an extra three hours!” So she can sometimes avoid the nudity.

In life, she avoids the men. “I’m not looking. I’m really happy being a mom right now and I don’t have a lot of extra time.” If she ever is attracted to another man, he will probably have to be committed “to helping others,” she says.

Meanwhile, a film such as Beyond Borders represents her true passion, aside from being a mother. Her character goes through some of the things that Jolie has gone through herself in learning about the world and dedicating herself to humanitarian relief work.

“I think she’s a great character,” Jolie says. “If I end up being like her in my life, I’d be proud.”

As for Beyond Borders, Jolie is excited and proud that it is both a romantic saga and a realistic social issue film.

“Yeah, I just love being part of a film that I really think is worth making. We do a lot of films and they’re entertaining and there are some aspects that are interesting or worth talking about. This, obviously, at the end of the day, is something I would like my son to see (when he grows up).”

2003-10-19

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