Angelina Jolie’s new movie Changeling marks possibly the most personal performance in her colourful career as an actress, not only because it centres on a mother’s love for her child but because it also draws on Angelina’s grief as a daughter.
Jolie’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died a few months before filming on Changeling began and Angelina’s feeling of loss was instrumental in her changing her initial instinct to turn down the role and director Clint Eastwood.
To add further poignancy to her role, just a few months after filming, the 33-year-old actress gave birth to twins Vivienne and Knox – taking her brood with partner Brad Pitt to six.
The true story of Christine Collins, the mother of a kidnapped son and the victim of a cruel police cover-up, will pull the heartstrings of any parentand it certainly does for the mother of all Hollywood leading ladies.
Angelina concedes that she would be nothing without her family and her performance in the Changeling would be a hollow one if not for her main role in life as a mother.
Q: How did you prepare for your role in Changeling, some of the scenes are really intense? AJ: “It was such a great experience for me. Why I like working with Clint is because of the way he works. As an actress, there have been so many times I’ve worked on films that have required a lot of emotion and a director that didn’t understand it. You’d start the scene and do ten takes in a wide shot. You’re crying and crying and crying. Then they get close, and you’re still trying to emote the same honesty. Then they want to do another, and you feel, by three hours later, you don’t know what’s happening. With Clint you just lay it out for him and he’ll get it, take care of it, and move on. You feel safe enough to just lay yourself bare and expose everything and so it’s that that allowed for it. There is something so heroic about this woman – the way she takes on the system and changes the law. I felt it was a story that needed to be told.”
Q: You seem to be in your element with these roles in which you get to ditch the hair and make-up and just take on the character.
AJ: “I guess that’s because I love telling stories more than I love hair and make-up (laughs). I just felt there was something so captivating and emotional about this woman. In fact she reminded me of my own mom. It wasn’t just the way she looks but the openness and the kindness she shows and the frailty. She wasn’t this modern woman that I am with the confidence I’m able to have. She was more shy and more feminine in a way and there’s something beautiful about that. I think the modern woman stays away from that because we want to be so strong. But there was something very pleasing to play the lovely, soft, gentle mother.”
Q: Do you feel that with every role you have to prove that you are something more than a pretty face people see on magazine covers?
AJ: “I don’t think of it like that. I was always just raised to be myself and be an actress. If you do a job you try to be as close to a character as you can. Then in your own life you try to find out who you are and your sense of self and where you feel comfortable with yourself. If I ever thought about how the world looks at me it might alter me in some way or make me feel less comfortable taking roles.”
Q: Changeling serves as a brutal reminder of how difficult raring children can be. As a parent, you must always worry about something bad happening to your children, as all parents do.
AJ: “Of course. We do have a high profile family, and so we are maybe that much more careful. I don’t want my children to be scared of why we have to go quickly into the car, or why that person is running at us with a camera or something. I don’t want them to. It is a fine line of saying to beware of strangers, but not to make them afraid or to say, ‘We have security at this time for this moment, but it’s not because somebody wants to hurt you’. I suppose as with everything with children, it’s just about communication and being honest with them. Maybe you even say, you say everything, and they tell you that you’re crazy, ‘It’s okay, go to bed.'”
Q: Does the pain of portraying loss get any easier?
AJ: “It doesn’t get easier. It was a very different role. Certainly Mariane Pearl (whom Jolie played in A Mighty Heart) lost her husband in a very horrific way, but I think even she might agree that the loss of a child – and not even knowing where they are – is probably the absolute worst thing in the world. So it was harder. It was harder to think about a child and imagining as a mother everyday that someone might be abusing that child and that child is somewhere wondering, ‘Why isn’t Mommy coming to get me?’ As a mother, that’s just the worst possible thing, so this film was very, very painful.”
Q: What is it you look for in a script? You must get so many roles offered to you.
AJ: “Just a good story and something that’s worth telling for one reason or another. Occasionally, you stumble across something that is extraordinary, and especially when it’s about a real person in a real time, something like this, you want to do it. I was saying to Clint, ‘It is such an amazing story, what this woman went through, what was done to her, that if it wasn’t real, everyone would say it’s the worst script ever written because it makes no sense, and that would never happen.’ That this real woman lived through this and fought this system is incredible. There is a strength in what she learned and how she rose above it that I wanted to tell the world. I found myself telling people the story because I felt so passionately about it.”