Angelina opens up about work and marriage: ANGELINA Jolie-Pitt talks about married life, motherhood, menopause... https://t.co/BvhVuXderr— Sydney Confidential (@SydConfidential) November 21, 2015
SINCE its inception in late 2005, amid the rabid chatter of the Hollywood rumour-mill, the celebrity coupling known as “Brangelina” has been the subject of intense fascination and scrutiny.
And as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-Pitt aren’t exactly what you’d call the most conventional of couples, there’s been plenty to gawp at: the ever-expanding adopted and biological family; pre-empting the paparazzi by selling images of Shiloh, their first child together, themselves in 2006; Angelina’s 2013 preventive double mastectomy.
Plus the fact their relationship was only made “official” when the couple finally married at their home in the South of France last August, after nine seemingly blissful years together.
Yet somehow, throughout it all, they have remained masters at keeping their private lives together exactly that – private.
But now cinemagoers are being offered a rare glimpse behind the curtain.
Acting together for the first time since they met on the set of spy flick Mr & Mrs Smith in 2005, Brad and Angelina depict a couple on the verge of marital breakdown in the tense, but beautifully rendered By the Sea, also written and directed by Angelina.
The actor has acknowledged how her choice of subject matter may well be interpreted – “This is what 10 years of marriage will do to you,” she joked in a recent television interview.
“Brad and I have our issues,” she continued, “but if the characters’ [issues] were even remotely close to our problems, we couldn’t have made the film.”
In which case, I wonder if creating as dysfunctional a couple as Vanessa and Roland, the former dancer and washed-up, alcoholic writer they play in By the Sea, was another tactic to deflect attention away from the actors themselves?
“You know, we never actually focus on that. We’ve lived with it for so long, it’s not really an issue,” Angelina explains calmly, yet somewhat surprisingly, when we meet in New York to discuss the project.
If anything, “it was an experience we wanted to have together creatively. The question is whether people will allow us to just be artists, without picking it apart and trying to make it about us.”
We’re sitting knee-to-knee in a quiet greige suite at the Mandarin Oriental, Angelina dressed in a matching dove-grey pencil skirt and cashmere tee, a rope of pea-sized diamonds sparkling at her throat.
“They’re Tiffany,” she says demurely.
“Just something I’m having fun with at the moment.”
In the stillness of the room, her presence is almost regal, her poise impeccable, and her beauty, up close, is utterly mesmerising.
Unlike so many famous faces, hers appears in the flesh exactly as it does on-screen – a tribute to the absolute symmetry of her overblown features.
But she also exudes a warmth, as well as a sense of vulnerability and fun that rarely comes across in the media.
If I was expecting something of an untouchable superwoman figure, she confesses, “This film was a test for me in a way – of all the things I do, I’m most shy about writing.”
But the look in her eyes tells a very different story about the apparently fearless way she has coped with life’s challenges.
It’s been a big year for Angelina, personally.
Not only did she begin life as a married woman for the third time (her previous unions to actors Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton each lasted just three years), she also turned 40 in June, following an operation in March to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
After battling breast and ovarian cancer, Angelina’s mother, actor and producer Marcheline Bertrand, died at just 56 in 2007 – a tragedy Angelina has openly admitted had a huge impact on her.
It was the catalyst for her having both breasts removed after a blood test showed she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer herself, while a similar “scare” led to her second surgery this year.
The operation itself was performed by the same doctor who treated her mother (“She’d asked her [surgeon] to promise she would take my ovaries out”) and has triggered early menopause in the actor.
“I actually love being in menopause,” she tells me.
“I haven’t had a terrible reaction to it, so I’m very fortunate. I feel older, and I feel settled being older.
“I feel happy that I’ve grown up. I don’t want to be young again.”
Ageing is an issue for her character in By the Sea, which is set in the 1970s in the south of France, where Vanessa and Roland have travelled from New York to help him find inspiration for his next book.
(SPOILER -- Skip ahead if you don't want to know about the movie's key point)
Instead, we watch as the couple unravels on-screen – a miscarriage having left Vanessa barren, heavily and unsuccessfully medicated with anti-depressants.
The story was inspired by her mother’s death, says Angelina, a way of processing her own grief and also questioning how we move on when our body has failed us.
(END of SPOILER)
“I went to the hospital to visit my mom when she was about to have her ovaries removed. She was very upset, feeling like they were taking out the parts of her that were female,” she remembers.
“There was another woman down the hall who was wailing. I found out later she was a young woman who hadn’t had children yet – and that put everything into perspective.”
The film is a difficult – albeit visually stunning – piece to watch, and with its European, art-house feel, certainly isn’t blockbuster material.
Unlike her previous directorial projects – 2011’s Bosnian War story In the Land of Blood and Honey and 2014’s Unbroken, about US Olympian athlete Louis Zamperini’s time in a series of prisoner-of-war camps – there’s no political message.
She shakes her head.
“I can’t say this story needed to be told. But I felt like I needed to tell it, and that these were important themes to discuss.”
Even if, she insists, she never thought the movie would get made.
In which case, then, I need to know how a mother of six managed to find the time to write a screenplay solely for personal catharsis.
“Thank you! I wrote it in bed when they were asleep. Brad would be reading, and I would be writing. That would be the end of our days.”
Which makes life in the Jolie-Pitt household sound oh-so domesticated.
But on-screen, it seems the chemistry between the couple – if softened in the decade since Mr & Mrs Smith – is alive and well.
When questioned about what it was like to be directed by his wife, Brad, 51, has described her as: “Decisive, incredibly intuitive, knife-sharp and, might I say, sexy at her post.”
When I repeat the last part back to her, she looks mildly annoyed, responding with a small smile, “Well, I would hope it’s more than that at my post…”
As for working with her husband, “When Brad is challenged to do more and to give more as an actor, it’s beautiful to see what can come out of him. It was a pleasure to push him further than I often see him on-screen.”
So, how does it feel doing sex scenes with your husband? She giggles.
“I prefer them! But it’s awkward that there are so many people around, and you know what? It’s awkward to direct them.”
She leans in, woman-to-woman.
“That’s the strangest thing, when the director has to tell the actor to perform a particular kind of seduction. Where to put his hand, where to put his… Which is a very funny thing to be doing when it’s your husband.”
She widens her eyes.
There are also plenty of topless scenes for her character.
I wonder, was this a way to reclaim her body following her double mastectomy and ensuing reconstructive surgery?
“It wasn’t. But the scenes were in the original script and it did feel wrong to take them out because of the mastectomy. I think it’s important to be seen as you are.”
Speaking before about how her health issues have affected her relationship, she has said how, “[Brad] made it very, very clear to me that what he loved and what was a woman to him was somebody who was smart, and capable, and cared about her family, that it’s not about your physical body,” she says.
“So I knew through the surgeries that this wasn’t going to be something that made me feel like less of a woman, because my husband wouldn’t let that happen.”
I wonder, after so many years together, has marriage changed anything between them?
“I don’t think so,” the star reflects.
“If anything, it challenges you because you really start to think about the rest of your life. You feel very tied. It’s interesting for me having his last name.
“Everything you do becomes as ‘wife of’… which is an interesting transition.”
The biggest step for the couple, she goes on, “was when he adopted the kids. That was something. Because you can always get divorced, but you can’t walk away from parenting.
“That was a big, not a hard, thing, but I really wanted to make sure that nothing would go wrong for the kids.”
She has described her own mum as an “earth mother”, and many people see her that way too, I tell her.
She can’t suppress a hoot of laughter.
“My kids would all find that funny!” she says.
“My mother’s whole life was motherhood, and she was very soft and sweet. Obviously, I’m very affectionate with my kids, but I don’t know if I take care of them or they take care of me.
“I feel like Mad [Maddox, her 14-year-old adoptive son, who was born in Cambodia] and I have grown up together, and he kind of taught me how to raise him.”
For somebody who has embraced motherhood so fully, I’m surprised to hear her say, “No, not at all” when I ask if she always wanted to be a mother.
“I was never one of those people. I never played with dolls, I never babysat. I had no natural instinct or curiosity [about motherhood],” she says.
“If anything, I wanted to become a parent because I felt a real connection to Mad’s country, and I felt very much for orphan children who didn’t have a home.”
The whole Jolie-Pitt family travelled together to Gozo, Malta, to film By the Sea, as is their wont.
“I end up spending too much time away from the children otherwise,” she explains, telling me how “we’d walk them to school, which was right opposite the hotel we were filming in, before we went to work each morning”.
Taking place right after their nuptials last year, Angelina has also described the shoot as “our honeymoon” – and it’s interesting they’d choose such uncomfortable relationship material to work with at this time in their lives as a couple.
Brad has described the film as dealing with “that period when the honeymoon is over, and the couple is faced with the banality of the everyday and the pains of the unplanned”.
But if we know anything about Brangelina, it’s that they don’t do banal – if anything, choosing the unconventional route appears to be what’s strengthened their union over the years.
And, whatever they do next, one thing is for certain: the world will be watching.
* By the Sea is out November 26.