Angelina Jolie smilingly admits that motherhood sometimes dictates the kinds of roles she chooses. Yet motherhood has in no way slowed down the busy star, who has three films coming out in the remainder of the year, from the special effects-laden Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, to Oliver Stone's Alexander and the animated Shark Tale.
"It's been more about time right now because he's so young," says Jolie, who's in Los Angeles promoting Sky Captain. "When he's older, I think, it might be the type of character I choose, but for now I was happy to do 'Sky Captain' because I had three days and I was able to do it quickly. If it was a month, it's that much longer away from my son, so I like the films now that I can do less in."
Jolie, often defined by a clear inner strength which has parallels with the kinds of women she portrays, says that she has gained that strength from her own mother. "I think that I was raised by my mother to be very honest and straightforward, and I don't judge people. I love people when they are exactly who they are and they're straightforward about it and they're coming at me with whatever that is. So I tend to do that boldly because I don't look down upon, but I'm not comfortable with the other if that makes any sense. So I was always encouraged to be a hundred percent just whatever it is I am and who I am. Maybe because I've gone through, like we all have, different things be it my parents or that I'm a parent now or travelling the world and seeing that there is real pain and that there are things to be really frightened and really scared of and really emotional about, and that the other things that I live with on a daily basis are not those things. So I tend not to be scared of things that are now just not as serious."
Jolie says that she has attained inspiration not only from her son, but from life. "I just want to live a very full life. I love making films and am very fortunate that I get to do them. I love being creative in this form, but there was a time when I think that I lived through my characters and I've now found that I prefer my life. But I think that most actors have that thing where you go, 'I'd love to go do a film in the Sahara.' Why not just go, 'Why don't I just take my family and go across the Sahara and learn about those people and spend time there.' So yeah, my focus in this life is that I'd like to die feeling that I have been useful as a person, have done as much as I could with my life, explored cultures and peoples and lands and raised a family. So that's all I want to do and in between that I have this wonderful job that I'd like to enjoy."
Part of that job is playing make believe and that fantasy element is truly exemplified in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, in which she plays a one-eyed military commander helping the heroic sky captain of the title [Jude Law] to basically save the world. The difference between this film and your typical Hollywood adventure is that the entire film was shot against a green screen, including sequences set underwater and on massive battle ships. Jolie laughingly concede that shooting a film such as that was it was "a bit strange". I think that Jude [Law] and Gwyneth [Paltrow] had it worse because they had things coming at them that they were freaking out about, while I had ships coming in behind me and things like that. But I think that as actors, we tend to play make believe all the time, so we're used to a fake room or fake set."
Jolie says that doing a film like this, in which you totally depend on imagination, is part of the fantasy element she enjoys as an actor. "There was one moment where I had the bubble on and the eye patch where I was just sitting on a box and wasn't in a plane or anywhere. I was just in a room full of a hundred people, my English accent had to be very cool and I was just sitting on this cardboard box pretending that I was sitting on something completely different. At first it felt very silly and then I think that it's great to get back to what's fun about this business. It's creative and you try things that aren't safe, get to be silly again and be bold with your choices, which was nice and refreshing."
Jolie says that she was drawn to this unique adventure story because "I just thought that as an artist it was something that was original and hadn't been done before, so it was kind of a brave place to be. There was a bit of everyone going in and trying for something and I miss that spirit of things a lot. When you do films these days, you just lose that sense of fun and adventure and 'Let's try something that hasn't been done before.' So for that, just to be a part of it was exciting, but I also loved my character."
The actress's imagination was further put to the test as one of the fishy voices of Shark Tale, in which she plays "the bad fish. To do an animated film is a very different experience and this was an amazing process. I was just trying to make voices and I hate my own voice. Like most people, you listen to yourself on the phone or an answering machine and you're like, 'Ugh', and so to do something with just your voice is hard." Jolie laughingly recalls her initial meeting on Shark Tale. "When I was invited in to meet with them on Shark Tale, they brought me into this room and there were all these different pictures of fish. They were going to explain to me what they wanted me to do and I kind of looked around and saw this fish that I could see Will [Smith] doing. Then I looked at this other fish and saw this fish with this big red mouth and pointy eyebrows. I thought, 'They can talk as long as they want. I know that I'm THAT fish.' I saw her immediately, I knew it and I liked her. It was me just kind of filling those shoes because they made her very sparkly and sexy."
While these two films reinforced Jolie's inner child, working on Oliver Stone's Alexander, where she plays Olympias, represented a different challenge for this Oscar winner. "I loved doing Alexander, and I think that as an actor, that's more fulfilling," Jolie admits. "It has a soul, you can be this woman and go through so many different emotions. You can also analyse yourself, the world and your relationships, so when you're done with that film you feel like you've really grown and changed, which I like." As for working with the often prickly Oliver Stone, Jolie chooses her words carefully in describing her relationship with the contentious director. "I think that you can agree or disagree with Oliver or where he's coming from, but you can't kind of debate who he is. He is who he is and he's coming very straightforward with everything, which I appreciated. He didn't allow anyone to be safe. If anything, he demands a certain kind of commitment and bravery and doesn't allow for anyone to kind of get too relaxed. He pushes things so that they're more and he does know life more than most people and has lived very fully in his life. So when he does films that deal with war, loss, love, pain and relationships, then he's drawing from a very deep well."
Yet, adds Jolie, working with Stone was an intense experience. "With him you can't really come in and say, 'I don't feel like, or I'm not sure of or I'd like to change this or give me a few more minutes to get in this place.' It's kind of like he wanted me to be her and he wanted me to come on set as her. He wanted us all to live as our characters and he'd get upset if I lost my accent when we were out to dinner."
Jolie also hopes to produce a film based on another historical character, that of Russia's Catherine the Great. Here is an actress clearly inspired by women of the past, and this one has always held a particular fascination for her. "I love those historical characters, but I do think that they need to be done right, which is why it's never been a situation where I'm certainly doing that. That one, the more I've researched her the more I think that her story is very complicated and needs to be done correctly, so I get nervous that they could be done wrong. I take it seriously especially if it's a whole people's country or a people's hero. To step into that and say, 'Okay I'm going to be this woman that you revere or respect or like or dislike, she's a part of your history,' then I just take that more seriously. I want to make sure that it's how people see her and it represents who she actually was. So I'm fascinated by those kinds of women, such as Olympias, who wasn't everyone's favourite woman. She was a bit dark, but I still wanted to try and respect who I thought she was."
Jolie may immerse herself into the worlds of these strong women, but one character who will not resurface again is Lara Croft. "Look, I loved doing those movies, I learned so much and I had a great time, but I tend to not want to do them again."
Jolie's other priority remains her son, and to give him the kind of joyous sense of family that she missed out on as a child, especially at Christmas. "I've never really had a great Christmas, because I come from a separated home. So having a child I always thought, 'I better get the tree, I better get this, and I better make a home and Christmas.' Instead, I ended up deciding that I would show him the world every Christmas. So this past Christmas, I took him to see the Pyramids on Christmas day, and I've decided that every Christmas I will take him somewhere else. I'm trying to figure out this year what it's going to be. I'm looking at world heritage sites from the Taj Mahal to the Amazon," says Jolie, smilingly.
As to whether the actress plans to adopt again she is keeping her cards very close to her chest. "I haven't met a child, I'm always in the process and I've kind of done all my paperwork in case that day comes. I'll always live like that having done it so much on the American side, so if I went into an orphanage tomorrow and it felt right, for whatever reason I'd do it."
Jolie continues to pursue other passions, including flying. "I have learned to fly and it's great. I've been flying solo and bought a plane." It's all part of Jolie's consistent sense of adventure which shows no signs of slowing down.