By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Angelina Jolie delivers a more emotionally complex characterization of one of Disney’s most famous villains in “Maleficent.” The actress, mother, world-famous celebrity, humanitarian, and significant other of actor Brad Pitt, recently spoke about taking on the iconic role and how she was, at first, afraid to do it. And then, once she committed to it, how she faced the dilemma of putting her young daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt in the film, when no other child actor could be found to handle Jolie’s fearsome get-up (including horns) as the vengeful fairy without crying.
The live-action adventure drama, of course, is a take off on the Disney classic animated feature, “Sleeping Beauty,” where a beautiful princess is put under a spell as a baby by a wicked magical creature known as Maleficent. The curse means the girl will die on her 16th birthday by pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel unless she receives her true love’s kiss. This live-action retelling of the story gives an alternate version of the tale (much like the musical “Wicked” retells the story of the Wicked Witch from “The Wizard of Oz.”) in which we see the motive behind Maleficent’s malicious deed. Jolie stars alongside Elle Fanning (as Princess Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty), Sharlto Copley as her father, the king and Sam Riley, as Maleficent’s trusted crow/henchman.
At an intimate roundtable interview at a tony Beverly Hills hotel, Jolie, 38, reveals that her children are upstairs doing their homework on a school day while she promotes her film. She also spoke about the difficult choice she and Pitt made to allow their 5-year-old daughter to be in the film as young Princess Aurora, whom her character warms to despite her angry feelings towards the girl’s father, who betrayed her years earlier. (Two of her other children, Pax and Zahara, have brief, non-speaking parts in the film’s christening scene.)
Q: When you get into the full costume with the headdress, is there a sort of Norma Desmond thing that takes over? It’s a little “Sunset Boulevard.”
Jolie: Well, I’ll take that as a huge compliment! I would love to think so. Yes, of course, I think that was part of the thing with this role that you release there’s no half way, that if you’re going to do it you can’t kind of do it — you’re going to have to just go fully into it and enjoy. And the original (animated “Sleeping Beauty”) was done so well and (Maleficent’s) voice was so great and the way she was animated was so perfect that, if anything, I was worried I would fail the original. But, I practiced a lot with my children, my voice, and when I got them laughing I figured I was onto something.
Q: Got them laughing? Is that what you were going for?
Jolie: They laughed, they cried.
Q: Your daughter Vivienne is in the movie. I read that you were maybe a little reluctant to have her do it. Why?
Jolie: We never wanted our kids to be actors. We never talked about it as a thing. But we also wanted them to be around film and part of mommy and daddy’s life and not be kept from them either, just have a healthy relationship with it. And this came about because there were kids that would come to set and they would see me and I would go up and say “hi” to them and they would cry. Actually, one child would completely freeze and then cry. It was, like, terror. I felt so bad, but we realized there was no way that we were going to find a 4 or 5 year old that I could be as strong with that would not see me as a monster. Suddenly, there was Vivienne walking around looking like little Aurora and everybody kind of thought, “Oh, the answer’s right there.” But then I had to go home and talk to dad. We sat around thinking, “It’s our kid, so it’s so sweet, the idea is so cute to us as mommy and daddy,” but then the fact that she is in a film suddenly it’s the world and film, so it took us a second.
Q: Well, how did she like it? How did she work on the set?
Jolie: She was good. The first day was the day where she had to catch the butterfly and she just really didn’t feel like doing it. So, I actually was holding the pole with the ball on the end, bouncing up and down and dancing trying to make her laugh. And daddy was on the edge of the cliff she had to jump off making faces and doing these things. And her brothers and sisters were kind of egging her on. Yeah, she eventually did it. She was just taking her sweet time and not wanting to do it twice certainly. But then when we got to our scene, we kind of practiced a little bit at home. “I’m going to say ‘Go away!’ and you try to get back up.” So by the time we did that one we did it together. We had a good time. We played together. I was actually shocked she was doing so well. I thought, “Oh, she went back and hit her mark! That’s frightening!”
Q: Does this change your mind in terms of having your kids in movies after this experience?
Jolie: I just want them to like it like this. I want them to do it for fun only and if when they get older they decide to be actors I would just ask that that’s not the center of their lives, that that’s an aspect but that they also do many other things with their lives and are involved in many other things because I don’t think it’s a healthy focus as a center of your life.
Q: If this project had come up five years ago would you have considered it?
Jolie: I don’t know. It’s such a great project I imagine I would have always considered it. After having directed and thinking that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to act or how good I’d be, it wasn’t returning to act as anything normal, it was such a crazy idea and I was so challenged by it. My kids are now all watching these movies and wanting to play with mommy and it was perfect timing having them all on set, playing, being part of the adventure with me. For me as an actress to not do something where I’m taking myself so seriously and I’m trying to do something for myself and my art but to just play and entertain and try something bold.
Q: Motherhood had everything to do with it then?
Jolie: It had a lot to do with. Also, the artist in me felt it’s good to do something bold every once in a while, that you’re not comfortable with, that you haven’t done. I was actually a bit nervous to take her on. I just thought I don’t have a big theater voice. I don’t do things that are kind of comedic. This is such a crazy idea— I’m a fairy! I come home, “How was your day, honey? I was a fairy!” But it’s great to jump into things that you’re not sure of, and you haven’t done and it’s a little scary. That’s what we have to do as artists.
Q: Why did you wear a prosthetic nosepiece in this?
Jolie: Well, my nose is not very strong. It’s a fine nose, but it’s not— it could be a cute nose but I wanted her to have a stronger nose so she has a little piece to make it less of a slope and more of a bump. We wanted everything to have angles and take all of the softness out of my face and make everything sharper and stronger.
Q: Is Maleficent a character you could imagine returning to in the future?
Jolie: Nobody’s asked me that. I don’t know. I can’t imagine. I mean I’m not dead at the end of it, so… She’s still there. I love playing her. I love playing her, so…
Q: You’ve got six kids, this amazing career and a great partner—how do you make it work? You just finished directing a World War II film called “Unbroken.” How did you juggle work and family during that?
Jolie: Yeah, well, that was hard because for most of the time the kids went back and forth. Sometimes we’d each have some but, for most of the time, I had them all and it was hard. I’m not a single mom with two jobs trying to get by every day. I have much more support than most people and most women around this world. I have the financial means to have a home, help with care and food, so I don’t consider it a challenge.
Q: Do you struggle with working mom guilt?
Jolie: No, my kids are here upstairs. They home school, so we travel everywhere together. They were on set almost every day for “Maleficent.” When I feel I am doing too much, I do less if I can. That’s why I am in a rare position where I don’t have to do job after job. I can take time when my family needs it. That’s the nice thing about being a director, I can say I can only get into the editing room when my kids are in school, and I have to be back for dinner, and they’re coming for lunch. (She laughs.) I actually feel that women in my position, when we have all at our disposal to help us, shouldn’t complain when we consider all of the people who are really struggling, who don’t have the financial means and don’t have the support. Many people are single raising children— that’s hard.