Angelina Jolie for “Girl, Interrupted”

In a short space of time, Angelina Jolie has rapidly emerged as one of Hollywood’s most sought after hot stars, cemented by her recent work in The Bone Collector and now in Girl,Interrupted. But for this alluring daughter of Oscar-winner Jon Voight, the road to fame has been far from easy as Paul Fischer discovered when he met the frank actress in Los Angeles.

The usually brunette Angelina Jolie sported a blonde look for one of her many screen outings. Perhaps the busiest young actress in Hollywood these days, Jolie can barely keep track of the different movies coming out which bear her name on the marquee. “Do you think I have a commitment problem? I haven’t been home for like, I don’t even remember.”

Jolie’s hypnotic screen presence is further exemplified by her radiant personality. Tough and clearly smart, the actress enters the interview carrying a hefty book, ‘The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country’. “It’s actually a brilliant book, about true freedom and our country.” Jolie is also uncompromising, sharp and brutally honest, with a quick wit. Looking comparatively petite in a smart silver-grey pants suit, when her short height is commented upon, she responds with: “Just the men are shorter”.

The actress is taking a day off from yet another movie set to promote her latest movies. Last year, audiences saw the tough, yet vulnerable side of the actress, in the serial killer thriller The Bone Collector, from Aussie director Phillip Noyce. Having played extreme characters, her streetwise cop who plays some sexual mind games with quadriplegic cop Denzel Washington, represented one of her toughest challenges. “This one was less extreme but nearly drove me insane because she was so insane INSIDE. Sometimes with the extreme ones, you’re a character so you are free; this one was like: Be yourself, let those tears fall, be simple, and be still. You can’t hide. Sometimes it can be harder.”

Jolie concedes that it was rough for her, and her many own insecurities came to the surface doing a film which, many times, she had to carry. “It was really lonely and I went a bit nuts. From the beginning, I felt as if I was not capable of doing this, of leading a film and being responsible for this, of physically handling this, of saving a life and going in there and being a cop.” Jolie even felt that throughout this process she wasn’t even “useful as a human being, or even a good person. It was just all those things by yourself: Am I good enough, am I worth anything, really, on a spiritual deep level? You start to get into those things and this is what she had to go through, and then get through it.” But get through it she did, and is happy to admit that despite the soul searching that went on within her, she ultimately came out smiling the other end, exemplified by the complexity of her performance, in what could easily have been another routine serial killer thriller. “Of course it’s more than that. What’s fascinating are the journeys these two characters undertake, and the deep relationship that evolves between them.” She even adds, “the best sex I ever had was in this movie.” She’s referring to a point in the film, where she uses smell and intellect, as tools to seduce her quadriplegic mentor. “It was great seducing someone with your mind, a huge turn-on.”

That role is in complete contrast to her latest movie, the often intense Girl Interrupted, which also stars Winona Ryder and Whoopi Goldberg. Based on the best-selling book, the film chronicles the true story of a young woman in the 1960’s who committed herself to a mental institute after being diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), leading to an 18-month stay in which she gets to know her fellow patients, under the care and supervision of a psychiatrist (Vanessa Redgrave) and the ward’s head nurse (Goldberg). Jolie gives the film’s most stunning performance as Lisa, an inmate that the actress describes “as a major sociopath.” She shot the film straight after Bone Collector, and was relieved at the change of pace.”The character in Girl Interrupted was the polar opposite. This was somebody who was completely unfeeling, completely uninhibited; sociopaths become serial killers, so it was the other side of life.”

The actress relished making that crossover. “It was actually what I needed – to break out. Because I had been so still, and I’ve cared so much, and my heart’s bled so much, I thought it was going to be very, very hard and many parts of it were, especially the end. The thing is, her impulses are completely free. So I found MY impulses completely free, more than a little weird and I was completely open. Then you realize how much we are restricted. This character could sit at a table, could kiss somebody, throw something, spit on somebody and could just say whatever the fuck she wants. To me she was heartbreaking, and the essence of her was that she wanted somebody to talk to and be a friend. She wanted somebody to drop their fucking guard and stop with the bullshit and just admit whatever it is and be whatever you are and just stop pretending.”

Jolie was born in 1975 to Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actor Jon Voight and former actress Marcheline Bertrand. Voight, who separated from Bertrand when Jolie was 1, remained in California while the family lived in the East Coast. “He was the perfect example of an artist who couldn’t be married,” she says. “He had the perfect family, but there’s something for him that’s very scary about that.” Even though she planned to be a funeral director before becoming an actress, she says, “There’s something about death that is comforting. The thought you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.” Angelina worked as a professional model in London, New York and Los Angeles. She also appeared in music videos for artists such as Meat Loaf, Lenny Kravitz, Antonello Venditti, The Lemonheads and The Rolling Stones. In addition, she appeared in five student films for the UCLA School of Cinema, all directed by her brother, James Haven Voight. Since becoming an actress, she used her middle name, Jolie, as her screen name, in order to succeed on her own merit. As she once recalled, “I love my father, but I am not him.” Angelina landed her first starring role in “Hackers”, portraying the only girl in a group who can lay claim to the status of elite hacker. Jolie married her “Hackers” co-star, Jonny Lee Miller, in May 1996, where she wore black rubber pants and a white T-shirt with Jonny’s name written on it in her own blood. “I’ve always been an individualist”, she says laughingly. The marriage ended a year later, but the couple has remained firm friends.

Her professional career began with several independent films such as, “Gathering Evidence” and “Oh No, Not Her.” But it was her raw performance in the cable docudrama, “Gia” that truly catapulted her into stardom. “Gia” was the biography of the late supermodel Gia Marie Carangi. After the acclaim and accolades that followed that film, one would have thought that this star-on-the-rise would have the world at her feet. But not so, as she now recalls. “After Gia I felt like didn’t have much to give, because she was so much like me, she just broke me and I didn’t want to do and I knew it was going to make me; I kind of died with her, so I moved to New York and separated from my husband because he didn’t want to go there; we both thought it was best for each other.” Jolie stopped going to auditions and instead went to New York University to study writing and directing. It was a lonely existence. “I knew nobody in New York, and was suddenly away from having cappuccinos made for me every morning in a chair. There I was suddenly with a backpack. At that time I had only really done Hackers. A few kids in school thought they knew me, because it was right after. Then it was suddenly the Golden Globes, the TV movie Wallace, and then finally Gia came out, so it was that middle time when I was in the subways, by myself and fixing that damn heater and listening to that guy playing the saxophone. The first few nights, it was so romantic. By week three with the snow sliding around, falling asleep on the subway and hearing him, I realised how much I wanted to be in this business and just what a blessing it was to have a job.” The period of disillusionment, which followed Gia, gradually subsided. “I was so sad in New York. I love acting and I was so empty; I wanted so much to get back. You realize that you don’t learn much in school when you had the opportunity. There you were sitting on a set with someone like John Frankenhiemer and you could have asked him a hundred things; then suddenly you’re sitting in a class with a hundred people. God I’m stupid – I was RIGHT THERE. But it got me to learn a lot of different things, make a lot of student videos and get my hands on things; it also just made me want to jump back in. I missed acting so much. I felt I had learnt something, had replenished myself and had something new to offer.”

Advance word is, that this most unlikely of Hollywood stars could get an Oscar nomination for Girl Interrupted, but for this fiercely passionate individual, it’s the work that counts “and what I’m passionate about.” What she’s not passionate about is the idea that she’s being labelled Hollywood’s hot new thing. “I feel scared of that all being about ME. I would love it if people said: You are doing the best characters, you are doing great work. Being about me frightens me.” While Jolie had a complicated relationship with her politically minded father, the relationship has changed, and the actress is ready to admit that she’s learnt a lot from Jon Voight. “I’ve learnt from him that the search is never over, that it feels good to do good things and to do things of importance, that success in Hollywood and fame does not fulfil you and doesn’t make you complete. I never thought: I’ll do a hit movie and be really feeling good and everything would be O.K; if anything, I’m trying to get my dad to get silly. He’s taught me that you can be. I think a lot of people misinterpret me for not being serious, for not being kind, or whatever it is. If I’ve got tattoos or act crazy a little, people think that means I’m not caring, that I don’t care about causes or don’t do things that are important. I think he’s gone the opposite, where he’s almost SO focused on his causes and serious side of life, that we never see him be goofy. I think that we can finally find a balance in each other.” It also seems that Angelina Jolie has discovered her own brand of happiness and inner peace. “I feel good about myself, and just content.”