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November 2004
Alexander: An Interview with Angelina Jolie

Alexander: An Interview with Angelina Jolie

By Todd Gilchrist

Angelina Jolie is one of Hollywood's most formidable actresses- she's held her own against Sean Connery, John Cusack, Denzel Washington, Winona Ryder, Nicolas Cage, and Antonio Banderas amongst countless others- so it's only appropriate that she play the mother of one of antiquity's most powerful men. In "Alexander", Oliver Stone's upcoming biopic of the great leader, she plays Olympias, the fickle but fiercely dedicated mother of the title character. In this recent interview with blackfilm.com, Jolie reveals what it takes to possess a killer maternal instinct, and how she keeps sane amidst so many industry crazies.

Ever get tired of seeing your own image up on the billboards?

Angelina Jolie: Yeah, but you know this one especially, I became so close to everybody and became so proud of their work, so it's kind of like seeing friends and family. I see Colin as Alexander and I'm just proud - like a mom!

What was the key attraction to do this? Working with Stone? Getting into such a complicated female character?

AJ: Both actually. I've always wanted to work with Oliver and I just think he is amazing, but I didn't really think this was going to be a part I could play . . . and I got my hands on the script because I just wanted to read it. Like most people, I couldn't understand the aspects of the mother, who she was, how that would work . . . and I didn't really know what that meant, the history, I didn't really know her. But I read it and I really did connect to her - I don't know what that says about me, but I -

You're into snakes

AJ: I'm into snakes -

That's historically accurate -

AJ: Oh yeah. The snakes, absolutely. It's all the essence of what certain things represent. She was a follower of the god Dionysus, a.k.a Oliver Stone, god of chaos, but this was a time when women had no rights and they were this vessel to have children and she was this first wife who had been locked away, and so her son having power meant that they could live and he would succeed and be capable . . . so there was a lot about survival. So if I was at that time, I would be very similar, I think.


AJ: You know, it was strange. When I was first with them, this guy sort of came with his truck with all these snakes. And I thought - I don't have to do this, this is silly. So we grabbed the biggest python we could and just put it around me, and spent the day just walking around. At first, I was very careful in doing things and drinking tea very carefully, and did it for a while and played with all of them, and then by the end of it I was able to just okay with them. They didn't defang any of the snakes. They made sure they were fed. The only fear is that if they did get upset they would strike your face and and they would bite you . . . and we were cautious, and there were times when one would get a bit restless and start to - I didn't get bitten. No.

How long was that python?

AJ: I don't know. They're always all curled up. We always wanted one she could wear, so they were never to be massive. They were just to be - but there was one actually which was really funny. There was a white one that's on my leg when he comes in to yell at me - did I kill his father. It's a really heavy kind of scene, we end of screaming at each other, and this white snake did not leave my leg, it refused to climb off in the beginning of the scene. And it didn't leave my leg during the entire scene - smashing, fighting with Colin. This thing is wrapped around my leg and stayed there for the entire - how many ever takes we did. I don't think they bond, which is why it was interesting. They are a really great metaphor for what she says about not being afraid and to never hesitate with them, but also that you can take care of them forever, and they can still turn on you. And I think that's true of people, that's true of snakes.

Oliver is not known as a gentle quiet unassuming director. How hard was he on you?

AJ: If you like to work hard, then you enjoy working with Oliver. You just can't be relaxing or lazy in any way. You have to be so committed, and if you've got an idea for something, you've got to be able to back up why and fight for it and show him and - I think you see it in the film. I think that everybody is just blood and guts out there and there's no hesitating. But we argued about things and he pushed me -

Any ideas that you came up with?

AJ: Nothing too specific. I think other people may have had a harder time. I do think we had a similar feeling about her, and he just expected me to be here all the time. That was the interesting thing about it. He expected all of us to be in character all the time. Which was a bit difficult . . . but great. It was really just a wonderful experience. It was like my first scene with singing, which I hate to do, with singing with an accent in some time period and holding snakes and putting a snake on a kid and just thinking like god, only this director would ask me to do this on my first day. And I finish and he says, god, I don't know how you did that. He gives you that support and that kind of congratulations, but he made sure you did it.


AJ: Everybody - there was a method to the madness of it. There was thought behind the accent. I think it's the same thing as the essence of a people. I think some films you either do no accents or you do some you think are right on, but they sound strange, they don't blend or something about a send-up. The essence of her accent was - she was the outsider, and she had to sound different from Colin and Val and everybody else. So we had to find a sound that would be that different. To me I wanted to find a sound that would also match her, that would be strong when she was strong, that wouldn't sound kind of funny when she was really on fire, and that could be seductive to a little boy.

Come up with it herself?

AJ: Yeah, we just mixed a lot of different sounds. . .

You were trying for a regional mix among these people.

AJ: Yeah, we did.

What drives this character?

AJ: Her son . . . I had to be driven by that. Some people say she's simply driven by power or, as she says, her fears. Because there is no clear answer, I think her fear of being killed or being exiled - like I said a woman of that time - but I had come from a place that made the most sense to me, that I also felt made her human. She genuinely loved her son . . . she was like a tough father. It made it interesting to see a woman be like this. That this was (as) the traditional father in the Mafia would say: You are not going to be weak, you are not going to let them kill you, you are going to take over, you are going to survive this, and so she was extremely strong but I had to be driven by that. I had to focus on my son.

What drives you to work so hard?

AJ: I take a lot of time these days to travel and be at home with my son. The last three films I've done, I'm not leading in them, so I take a lot of time in between. But I just want to understand life. I want to travel. I want to be better person. I want to be a better mom. I want to just do something good with my life.

Be selective as you can?

AJ: Yeah. There aren't a lot of great things out there to do, and deciding not just to do things and try to make them. You do a film like this and you work with a great director and great words and great actors and you can feel at ease to just be a part of it, as opposed to

How would you describe "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"?

AJ: That's a kind of odd - I don't know how to explain it - I'm sure I haven't got the notes - this is how you don't sell this film and this is how you do. It's me and Brad Pitt and we are a married couple who are living in the suburbs and we are bored from a 6-year marriage and living in therapy. And then you discover . . . that we have secrets from each other and we have the same secret. In fact, we are both hit-men. And we blow each other's cover and spend half the film trying to kill each other. It is a lot of fun, and he's great. He's a great actor and also a great comedian. . .

Are there any fight scenes?

AJ: We do. We actually fight each other. Really badly. The kind of, you know, where you say to your spouse, I'm going to kill you.

What's the key to surviving a movie like this and not getting lost?

AJ: That would be to the credit of our director. Because he really could just focus on every different - he can make reference to some joke about Aristotle that we all just laughed out loud and he's just extremely educated so he was able to focus on each of us and each of our stories and each of our things and balance it. And that was all we had to do - focus on our individual characters.

Favorite moments?

AJ: I loved it when Val said, "Get them drunk so they'll like me." The way he played it - I think that's just the saddest thing. Colin and Jared, their scenes together are beautiful.

How was working with Colin?

AJ: Colin is the only actor I feel could have played Alexander. Because he is the everyman, he supports other people, he loves the guys he worked with, he was their best buddy, they would have followed him into battle, and they would follow him anywhere now if he asked them. He comes from a very good place. He doesn't need to be the centre. He's not arrogant, he's not selfish. He's a really hardworking, wild free-spirited person. It looks like when he gives the speeches as Alexander you just kind of feel he can inspire a group of people.

Something about how modern audiences will see this. . . .

AJ: Since Oliver started this film so many years ago, as if the story took place so many years ago, there was no intention of any significance today. But clearly you can find significance if you take it apart and analyze it. To me the interesting thing in watching the film that I was most focused on - the man who says we're going to go to war being the one who was front and centre in the battle and the first to take the shots and bleed - I think that's a different kind of leader and a different kind of way of approaching war. And I think it's interesting that - Alexander is good and bad, and I think that's why it's interesting today. There's no kind of total opinion about anything, saying this is how you should feel about this film. But I think the way he approaches, he didn't change the culture and the religion, and he wouldn't allow his soldiers to rape women. That's not today's society, I'm just saying that this is the kind of look at this leader . . . it was just interesting. It's not saying this is an opinion of this person or that person. It's just: this is who this leader is.

Did you do a lot of research?

AJ: I did, and mostly I studied a lot about her because she was so into her gods and her altars and the place she came from that made her different. So I read a lot of Greek plays and philosophies and a lot about Dionysus, and how could she believe he was the son of Zeus, and what does that mean? You do realize that at the time they didn't understand conception and pregnancy and sperm, and they go to a place where they're having sex and there's a lightning bolt and the next day they discover they are pregnant.

Hints of incest?

AJ: That was improvised. That just happened. And me spitting on him just happened. It was when they were fighting and it actually came out of him disrespecting her. In fact, it was a crass thing and it angered me . . . yes, there's a thought that there might have been. We really didn't get into that. We didn't intend to get into that.

What can you say about the bisexuality and the homosexuality?

AJ: I think that it's funny that we were free in the fourth century BC . . . I think if you look at this film and they way it was handled, I think it was handled beautifully. And I'm proud of everybody for their work, and especially that. I was stunned when I saw it. I walked away thinking, that the relationship between the men and women, and the men, was more emotional than I thought it was going to be. I was really surprised. Didn't know how it was going to be edited how it would be shot .There's no way I could have done it without having been a mom. Just simply because that's totally who she is - the way she stands, the way she protects, the way she lives for her son. And her dreams are in his dreams. And also I have a strong sense of my son and being responsible. . . I'm going to insist on a certain kind of commitment and I feel he has a destiny that I want him to fulfill.

How's motherhood versus work?

AJ: I haven't done anything for a long time that's taken like . . . he's on set every day, after school, he comes to lunch, and I come home. This was a hard one during these weeks. I was just not in a good place. I was in a dark place. He had to hear that lullaby a lot. My son's named Maddox. I want him to do whatever he wants to do, but I also want him to be compassionate and aware of his country.

What advice give him if does go into the business?

AJ: Just love it. Because if you don't love it, the other side of it - the criticism and the success or failure of it - is a horrible thing, but if you love doing it, it's okay.

Do you want any more children?

AJ: Not at the moment. I will eventually, but not at the moment.

How was the relationship with kid in the movie?

AJ: The little one? I loved the little one. He was like my kid. I felt so bad having to put a snake around his neck. But he liked it in the end. He's okay. He's lovely, a sweet little boy who's never acted, and for someone who's never acted to suddenly be in a room with some psychotic woman who's like singing and putting snakes in your face. But yeah, I thought he was great. He entered the film business in one of the weirdest ways.

Do you read much of what is written about you? Ignore it?

AJ: I don't actually - even if I hear there's a nice article, I don't read it. Cause I can't. I don't want that stuff in my sub-conscious. I love being an actress and work really hard when I've got a job, and I love a good film when I see it, but I personally don't - it's not something that's important to me in life and not something that - it's just not something I think about on a daily basis, not something I focus on. It's not who I am, but I'm grateful I've had a career. I'm taking a break right now because there's nothing I care to do, and I want to travel.

What would be top of your wish list?

AJ: I've just got my pilot's license so I'd like to play a pilot.

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