THE BACK PAGES

You think raising twins scares me?

Gossip about Jolie fearing motherhood is hilarious in light of her latest killer role

BRIAN D. JOHNSON July 7 2008
THE BACK PAGES

You think raising twins scares me?

Gossip about Jolie fearing motherhood is hilarious in light of her latest killer role

BRIAN D. JOHNSON July 7 2008

You think raising twins scares me?

film

Gossip about Jolie fearing motherhood is hilarious in light of her latest killer role

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

In the age of celebrity overkill, Angelina Jolie is the Killer Celebrity. There’s never been anyone like her. Sure, comparisons could be made. With that catlike gaze and lips that possess their own cleavage, she has a freakish, otherworldly beauty, not unlike Sophia Loren. As the scarlet woman who broke up a marriage, stealing a mate in broad daylight, she recalls the young Elizabeth Taylor. She embraced drugs, knives and kinky sex with a punk bravado that would make Courtney Love blush, yet ended up channelling Audrey Hepburn’s humanitarian grace as the UN’s goodwill ambassador. Now, as a mother of four expecting twins in August, this tattooed, drug-sawy femme fatale has acquired a madonna-like radiance, leaving the fake Madonna in the dust.

No screen siren has ever forged her mystique from such wild extremes. In trying to reduce Jolie to a mortal scale, the tabloids barely know which way to turn. Is she too thin? Is she too pregnant? Has she shaken her old drug habits? Can she cope with twins? Can her romance with Brad withstand the strain?... But what’s hilarious is that while a gossip rag slaps the headline “I’m Scared” on a cover story about her alleged fears of motherhood, Jolie is starring in a new movie as the scariest, meanest mother of a bitch-goddess ever to adopt cold-blooded killing as a pleasurable pastime. And she warms to the role like a vampire unleashed in a blood clinic. Jolie is the ultimate icon of post-feminist empowerment, a superstar who luxuriates in the double identity of a superhero: this is a woman who appears to be having it all, equally at ease as a beatific supermom and ruthless killer.

In Wanted, a blockbuster adaptation of a graphic novel, Jolie portrays an assassin named Fox, who blithely manhandles guns, knives and cars like supersized sex toys, and is covered in more tattoos than the Russian mobster played by Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. Speaking of which, Wanted marks the Hollywood debut of a Kazakh filmmaker named Timur Bekmambetov, who’s like the directorial equivalent of the Russian mob. Wielding the camera like a switchblade in a steam bath, he could teach Quentin Tarantino lessons in savagery and give James Cameron a crash course on how to shoot a fight scene on a derailing train. Wanted is one hardcore, blood-drenched action movie. And like an upgrade of The Matrix, it advances the Zen of ballistics with a new calibre of gunplay: Jolie’s character has a whiplash move that allows her to bend the trajectory of a bullet. From now on, bullets that travel in straight lines will seem boring.

Although James McAvoy (Atonement) has the main role, playing a meek white-collar drone who gets drafted into a secret fraternity of super-powered assassins, Jolie is the movie’s drawing card—as the freestyle dominatrix who keeps beating him to a pulp in assassin boot camp until he finally locates his lost manhood, and his killer instinct. While McAvoy plays an ordinary man who acquires superhuman skills, it’s hard to imagine Jolie ever having been ordinary. “Do you ever think about being somebody normal?” McAvoy’s character asks her in desperation. She gives him a blank look: “No.”

In Wanted, Jolie seems to be playing riffs on her own past, as the bad girl who once shared knives and blood with Billy Bob Thornton. Here she’s the fantasy chick in a guy flick, the only female in a homicidal clubhouse ruled by an icy Morgan Freeman. Any other women in the movie are pathetic targets of contempt and ridicule—notably McAvoy’s obese harridan of a boss and his whiny, unfaithful girlfriend. Jolie turns up as every girl’s worst nightmare of the Other Woman.

Jolie has played an assassin before, in Mr. &Mrs. Smith. Sparking a courtship that would lead to raising six kids in a French chateau, she and Brad Pitt played house as covert killers with contracts on each other’s lives. Before

that, Jolie tested her mettle as a comic book warrior in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Despite those skinny arms, she always looks weirdly at home slinging massive firearms. With the possible exception of Uma Thurman, no other A-list actress can play an action queen with such physical authority. Acting supernatural doesn’t seem like a stretch for her.

Jolie, 33, has become such an iconic figure, both on and off screen, it’s easy to overlook that she’s a skilled actress, as adept at vulnerability as invincibility. Before her liaison with Pitt turned her into tabloid fodder, she’d already won an Oscar at 24, for her hellcat role as a mental patient in Girl, Interrupted. And last year she was robbed of a nomination for her electrifying performance in A Mighty Heart, the true story of Mariane Pearl’s ordeal during the abduction and murder of her journalist husband, Daniel Pearl. It was a small film, and Jolie’s overexposed celebrity may have undermined her chances.

But this year in Cannes, director Clint Eastwood premiered Changeling, starring Jolie in another true story about a distraught woman who loses a loved one to violent abduction. This big studio picture, due for release in October, looks like surefire Oscar bait. It’s a stranger-than-fiction conspiracy thriller, in which Jolie plays a Los Angeles switchboard operator named Christine Collins, whose nine-year-old boy was kidnapped in 1928. Months later, the police claim they’ve recovered him, but amid a photo-op reunion, she realizes the boy is not hers. To save face, the corrupt LAPD gets a doctor to declare her insane and has her committed. Once again the rebel from Girl, Interrupted is back in the loony bin, but this time she’s just an innocent working-class mother forced into a crusade against organized injustice.

The girl next door and the femme fatale have long been segregated by a strict Hollywood apartheid. You could be Doris Day or Greta Garbo, but you couldn’t be both, and that division has persisted long after the sexual revolution was supposed to abolish such stereotypes. Yet Jolie has swung between extremes of naughty and nice with bipolar virtuosity, both on and off camera. (Madonna, of course, has danced a similar waltz between vice and virtue, but her image is deliberately constructed. Jolie’s seems eerily authentic.)

So what is Angelina Jolie really like? It’s a fallacy of celebrity journalism that we could even begin to know. Where’s the truth? Is it in a Vanity Fair cover story in which she tells a besotted journalist that pregnancy makes her “feel very sexy,” gesturing, as if squeezing ripe fruit, as she says “it makes you feel round and supple.” Or is it in tabloids like In Touch and Star that quote “insiders” about her hysterical fear of raising twins in a family they say is already careening out of her control?

I’ve had audiences with Jolie on several occasions in the past two years, all at the Cannes film festival. Last year she showed up for the premiere of A Mighty Heart. Down the coast from Cannes at the lavish Hôtel du Cap, she sat in the shade of a seaside cabana facing the Mediterranean, and a small group of journalists. Articulate and poised, Jolie fielded questions about the film, the state of the world and the uses of celebrity. Perhaps because she’s the object of so much tabloid drivel, her intelligence came as a shock.

Sitting a few feet away from Hollywood royalty, it’s always interesting to see if the illusion holds up at close range. The skin doesn’t lie. Dressed in an ivory skirt, silk blouse and caramel stilettos, Jolie looked sublime. Like a lot of movie stars, she has eyes that seem to have their own light source. Yet you couldn’t help but be alarmed by the thin arms with the blue veins that matched her tattoos. This past May, Jolie re-emerged in Cannes, very pregnant, and made a convincing show of being healthy and happy. Maybe she was acting. But her smile could have melted disbelief at 40 paces. A born assassin.