So there we were, sat on the steps of Pinewood’s 007 soundstage, with Angelina Jolie curled up next to us, her head nestled in our lap.
This was way back in 2000 but, for some reason, the memory still lingers. Jolie was shooting the movie that was supposed to send her stratospheric but actually set her back – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a lifeless beast that only avoided more ire because it had the good fortune to come out in the same summer as Michael Bay’s forehead-spanking Pearl Harbor and that remake of Planet of the Apes where Mark Wahlberg was apparently on a personal quest to out-chimp his co-stars.
Our interview was taking place in the studio’s largest shooting space, which had been dressed up to look like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, for this picture’s key set-piece. We were told to sit on a huge set of steps covered in jungle vine that snaked down to a vast “tomb” deep below in the dark. The dank stone (actually polystyrene) walls were adorned with terrifying gargoyles, who would go on to become a lot less terrifying when they were badly CGI-d into life in the final movie. The air was musty. Shadows hid secrets all about.
And then Jolie appeared out of nowhere, gave a cute “Coo-eee!” and skipped over to us wearing that official Lara Croft uniform of black T-shirt and hot pants. And then she said she was a bit cold and asked if she could “snuggle up”. And it just seemed rude to say no.
These days we know Jolie to be the respected film star, director, UN ambassador and mother of six married to, most likely, the most handsome man in the world.
But, back then, she was Angelina The Wild Child, a reputation built around her breakout, Oscar-winning hit – Girl, Interrupted (1999) – that she delighted in doing little to dispel, much to the equal delight of the tabloid press. “I guess I haven’t done myself many favours in that regard,” she smiled. “But some of the things people find weird or scary just seem normal to me. And I’m not going to start apologising for the way I live my life.”
The truth is, you should probably believe about 20 percent of what you read back then. Yes, her and then-partner Billy Bob Thornton did each have vials of each other’s blood hung around their necks. Yes, there was a period he would only eat food if it was orange. And, yes, they did buy a house off Slash from Guns N’ Roses, and discover a secret dungeon deep within it.
Interestingly, we ran into Thornton a few months later, at the Cannes Film Festival he was wowing with his turn in the Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There. “We turned it [the dungeon] into something fun,” he revealed. “You know those Fly Wall things, where you dress up in a Velcro suit, bounce on a trampoline and launch yourself at a Velcro wall?” (Trust us, these were a thing about 15 years ago.) “We had one of those. Some days I’d get myself stuck up on that wall for ages. Angie would come back hours later and find me down there, screaming ‘Angiiiieeeee! Help!’”
Off the back of two movies as a director – firstly the three-time Oscar-nominated Unbroken in 2014 and then last year’s self-indulgent ’70s riff By the Sea – Jolie this month returns to screens in the role that has proved her most box office-friendly so far: a talking tiger.
The movie is Kung Fu Panda 3, the smash animated franchise that reunites her with Jack Black (the handy panda of the title) as they go up against the evil baddie Kai (J.K. Simmons). “It’s good for me to be around Jack, just like it’s good for [my character] to be around Po [his character]. I think Tigress can take things too seriously – I think I have that problem, too. I can want to be in battle all the time and take things very seriously and forget to have a laugh,” she says. “One side of me likes to fight and is a bit stubborn. It’s good for me to play with the other side a bit.”
Already verbally signed up to the future of the franchise (“we’ve heard it could go to six or seven”), Jolie credits it with more than just helping her cut loose, even if it’s not been without its challenges. “[My kids] have jumped in on this movie, to play little pandas,” Jolie reveals. “It was really fun. I told them that they didn’t have to and that it would just be a few lines for fun. They’re not interested in being actors, but they enjoy the movies. I didn’t know how they were going to do, but they all did it really, really well. Afterwards I said, ‘Are you okay?’ And they said, ‘Acting’s easy!’ Now I’m going to hear about that the rest of my life. ‘It’s easy, Mom. Why are you always so tired?’”
Jolie rolls her eyes for effect before dipping her shoulders in a what-you-gonna-do kinda way. “Doing an animated movie [where you’re just providing the voice] is a very different process than doing the ones where you are actually in front of the camera,” she says. “I love it. I’ve heard some people don’t, but I think it’s the greatest thing. Maybe if that’s all you did you’d feel restricted and like you also had other things to share, but for me, it’s great – you get stripped of so many things and you are just using your voice. So as an artist you think differently about how you approach it, how you communicate with just one part of your instrument. So it’s all very interesting, you know?”
She stands up to leave, and something pops into her head as she reaches the door. “And you can come to work in your pyjamas,” she says. “Just throw yourself together. It’s fine – nobody cares.”
Kung Fu Panda 3 is out in cinemas across Dubai from Thursday March 17.