How Angelina Jolie Transformed Over Two Decades and Three Cover Stories
Esquire profiled Angelina Jolie three times during her 15-year transformation from sex symbol to director and activist. Here, our profile writers reflect on Jolie, as they knew her.
1. 1998–2000She was skinny and pale, jittery and raw. Nothing would reassure her. "It's not okay! That's what everybody always tells me, 'It's okay' and 'It doesn't matter,' and it does matter."
This was a few months before she became an international star. Her spectacular performance as a doom-hungry junkie supermodel on HBO's Gia had won the critics, and now she was about to win an Oscar and a mass audience playing another feral renegade in Girl, Interrupted. Off-screen, she'd been a cutter, she had tattoos, she did drugs, she had sex with women as well as men, and she talked about it all. The result was an image of erotic power and recklessness that was almost aggressive: She may have chosen to turn the tools of destruction on herself, but first she took them into her own hands. Acting was another opportunity to throw herself open to the human being in front of her and let something "break inside" her.
In person, she did just that. She chased her sentences around trees and down holes, following her thoughts with a moment-to-moment intensity that was hard to follow but always achingly sincere. She was kind. She was spacey. She seemed doomed. How much of that was real and how much the kind of roles she was playing then is hard to say. But just before she left, when she described her perfect farmhouse, with big porches and lots of room for all her friends to build tree houses and put on shows, where she could be happy and raise lots and lots of kids, the only rational response seemed to be No! No! No! Don't have lots of kids! Look at yourself! You're a character out of Breathless or Sunset Boulevard or In a Lonely Place or Gia, the heroine of a glorious gloomy movie where everything ends badly!
Then she decided to change the script.
— John H. Richardson, "Angelina Jolie and the Torture of Fame," February 2000
2. 2001–04Her hair was long and chestnut, framing her porcelain face. Her lips were wrinkly pillows. She was smaller than imagined, thin and insubstantial.
"I have a fire inside of me that maybe could be a little less. I've gone through two marriages because I couldn't just be at peace and be at home."
Her relationship with the actor Billy Bob Thornton, with its vials of blood and magnetic public displays of affection, was over. Two years earlier, in Cambodia, she'd adopted her first child. "I do believe I have to concentrate on my son," she said. "That's why I have lovers right now and not a boyfriend."
On the eve of big-ticket movie roles in Oliver Stone's Alexander and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this incarnation of Angelina Jolie was a cross between her comic-book hero Lara Croft and the do-gooder in Beyond Borders. She was confident. She had a mission. She had found the wherewithal to turn her gaze finally outward. She was fairly obsessed with motherhood, flying airplanes, and the world's disadvantaged and displaced. She had been named a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations. "I'd love to be able to donate my services," she said, "to fly sick people to hospitals, you know, like people who have cancer or people who have lost their limbs. I could deliver food. Anything. Just to be doing something practical would be great."
Brad Pitt was married to America's sweetheart, the wholesome Jennifer Aniston. The tabloid juggernaut Brangelina was yet unknown. "In Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Brad and I are a married couple who have been together for a few years. I'm a little homemaker and I'm totally psychotic about how I want the curtains and everything, and he's mowing the lawn, all that."
She was a work of art imitating life imitating art.
— Mike Sager, "Women We Love," November 2004
3. 2005–2007She had become, by 2007, the oddest of things—a tabloid saint. She was once a walking scandal. Then she presumed to become something else—a global do-gooder and mother of many—and only at the supermarket checkout did the scarlet woman endure, her every act of charity or conception scrutinized for self-interest. According to the gossips, the man she loved, the movie star she had stolen, was always trying either to stop her from adopting or birthing another child and begging her to eat.
What a home wrecker she was! And what a prodigy of will. Six years later, Brad described their home life as "crazy," their bed crowded with children who complained only about their parents' public displays of affection—"Daddy, you're not going to start making out with Mommy again, are you?" But the tabloids, at last, were right.
Brangelina had a secret.
The secret was that Angelina Jolie didn't want to die. She had always spoken of the trauma of watching her mother die of cancer, but now she'd discovered that she had inherited the fatal predisposition to both breast and ovarian cancer and had slipped into a hospital for a preemptive mastectomy. She became an ambassador for her decision, as is her wont. But the knowledge of her trial is what makes the scene of her waking up to shorn wings in Maleficent hard to watch. It's what made her recent marriage to the father of her children a tribute to the least tabloidy qualities of all—devotion and endurance. And it's what makes the title of the new movie she's directed, Unbroken, sound so flatly autobiographical, though it's actually about World War II hero Louis Zamperini.
Does she have any secrets left? It hardly matters. We don't revere saints for their secrets, but for their sacrifices, and blood is what Angelina Jolie has always been willing to spill.
— Tom Junod, "Angelina Jolie Dies for Our Sins," July 2007
4. 2008–presentAnd here, an excerpt from "The Real Life of Brangelina," Junod's reflection on Jolie's mastectomy and her nuptials to husband Brad Pitt:
I didn't know [when profiling Pitt] what I know now—that a month earlier, his partner, Angelina Jolie, commenced the series of surgeries that would end, a month later, with her pre-emptive double mastectomy. Over the next few weeks, I talked to several of Pitt's close friends. They must have known what the couple was enduring, but of course they never told me. One of them, however, called me back after our first interview. His name was Frank Pollaro, and he'd spoken about the furniture business he'd started with Brad Pitt, and about Pitt's excellent eye. But he wanted to say something else, so he called Brad, and asked if he was at liberty to speak about Brad's relationship with Angelina. He was, and so when he called back, he told me what he'd seen at Brad's house -- "once I walked in and Angie was standing there and Zahara walked up and said, 'Daddy, you're not going to start making out with Mommy again, are you?' And it's like that. This is a guy who has tried not to do any sexy scenes with other women since he's met Angelinia. He's crazy about her, and she's the same way about him. No matter how hard he's working, if one of those kids runs by the window he'll get out of his chair and give them a kiss. And I don't think I've ever seen Angie without one of those children in her arms."