Set amid the recriminations in the US intelligence agencies after the failure of the disasterous Bay of Pigs invasion, The Good Shepherd centers on a fictionalised version of a founding member of the C.I.A. (but based on real-life spycraft legends James Anderton and Richard Bissell. Directed by Robert De Niro and featuring an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt and Joe Pesci - in his first on-screen appearance for 6 years), the tale keys on the performance of Angelina Jolie as Margaret "Clover" Russell Wilson, the wife of the confilicted main character. Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier recently sat down with Ms. Jolie in New York to talk about commitment, vulnerability and the challenges of 'normal' relationships... (and also about some of Angelina's upcoming projects, including a biopic about Marianne Pearl and the possible Sin City sequel)...
Emmanuel Itier: How does being a mom in real life inform a character like this one?
Angelina Jolie: That was the one thing that kept me grounded to her and connected to her, because there was so much about her that I didn’t identify with, but her love and her commitment to her son, and certainly having lost her own family to this world of the CIA, and now her husband and then the fear that her son would get involved in this kind of dangerous, silent world and that becoming a reality, and how that would feel… so that scene, in particular, where I was fighting for him was very personal.
EI: Can you imagine sitting back and not saying something, if it was your own child?
AJ: No, but I couldn’t… I mean, so much of that film, for me, was a study in that kind of restraint, because I live at a time–we all do–where, as a woman, I can say, “I’m leaving. I’m getting a divorce. You tell me what’s going on.” Or even speaking in a manner that’s much harsher without it being the ugliest thing in the world, she had to maintain a certain kind of composure, a quiet decency, and just settle into that life. It was typical of that time, and then the CIA–the idea of getting out was just impossible as a woman. So it was very hard because everything instinctually in me was... [the opposite].
EI: How hard was it to play the unloved wife?
AJ: Well, I do have two divorces behind me... but I’m still good friends with them and so it’s still okay. I guess it was actually easier to play that stuff when you do have a balanced home. I think that if I did have alcoholism in my personal life, my mother or someone close to me–if I did have that experience, it might’ve been much more uncomfortable to get in there… and then that kind of relationship with a man too, I’ve never had that in my life. I’ve always married artists, and so they’re always very talkative and an expressive bunch. So it was just bizarre, but I think that was kind of a part of the character that was interesting. She did feel lost, and she did feel trapped and confused, and so I did as well.
EI: You’re such a strong personality: What was it about this character that attracted you?
AJ: I do see her, in the end, as being as strong as a woman could be at that time, but I did like that there were many things about her that were broken, and often I don’t get to play that part. That’s why I think it took a while for Bob [De Niro] to be able to decide that I should play that part, because she is more subservient, she’s more vulnerable–she is very broken. As an actress, it was a great challenge, and as a woman, as much as I do feel strong about certain things in my life, there are pieces of me that are broken.
EI: Do you think Robert wanted someone that could identify with that type of broken person?
AJ: I think that he needed to understand that I really knew her and my intentions for how I wanted to play her were accurate. I mean, he is very specific and he is very attentive to every detail of this film. He’s aware of it all and cares about it all, so I think that I’m a very modern woman and I’m thought of in a very modern way, and she is kind of a… even in the beginning, she’s very silly and light in a way that I usually don’t portray either. So there was a lot about her that he obviously couldn’t see that I was capable of doing. So I think that he had to know that I understood her. So we talked about it a lot to make sure that I did.
EI: He told me that he felt you connected with her.
AJ: Yeah, I do. I think that kind of feeling alone… I didn’t necessarily feel that in a marriage per se, but in my life, I’ve often felt that. She is surrounded by a lot of people who have a lot of secrets, a lot of quiet, and a lot of people just accepting. As much as she is broken and she’s that person, she’s also the only person that is desperate to scream out and to try to get some reaction–something honest, something… I have found that in my life a lot. I tend to want to be that person that I can’t tolerate, and it would break me. I would start drinking or something terrible if I was in a situation where I was surrounded by lies or quiet or secrets, just not a real life.
EI: Given the context of what you were saying about secrets in personal and professional lives, do you think that a bit of deception or self-deception is necessary in the relationship of the characters and sort of in general?
AJ: I’m not sure what you mean. In general in my life, or in the character’s life in this movie?
EI: Just in a normal relationship.
AJ: To have a degree of [deception or self-deception]? No, I think it’s quite the opposite. That is the only thing that works. I think you have to have that. I don’t want to spend my life having to pretend to be someone else, and I don’t want the person next to me to have to pretend ever, because we have a long life ahead of us. So you just want to be able to be who you are in every moment, and that is the only way that you’ll ever be truly happy anyway.
EI: You’ve done a lot of humanitarian work and in places where the CIA has been known to operate. Have you known any direct or indirect activity in the culture or political structure that you’ve worked in?
AJ: Ooh. That’s such a huge question. I think that…
EI: And could you even talk about it if you did?
AJ: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been clearly aware of something specific, but I think that certainly I’ve witnessed our foreign policy and I’ve witnessed the change in the perception of America’s foreign policy in the last few years. Every trip that I take, the field has been different because of the changes we’ve made, and I’m sure that the CIA has had a hand in that.
EI: What have been some of the changes?
AJ: Well, to be completely honest, I think about five years ago, when I started traveling and I would say that I was American, everyone was very, very excited and thought that it was the greatest thing in the world and the greatest place in the world–and now there is a certain… you feel cautious. You feel that people aren’t so joyful about that. They question my country, or people say things like, ‘Oh, it’s extraordinary that you’re here because you’re American.’ And that’s not true to the American people. American people are very caring and generous people. That’s been proven with all the work that every individual household has done abroad and the charity that they do, and who we are as a people, but it’s not what our government has represented in the last few years, I think, and so it has been difficult to go to places abroad and see that there isn’t… I think we all know exactly what I’m saying [Laughs].
EI: I know that Robert got to meet with the KGB, and Matt got to meet with the CIA…
AJ: I like how you’re saying “got to”. Is it a dream of yours?
EI: Go out and see the world.
AJ: And meet the KGB? Sorry! [Laughs]
EI: Matt got to spend some time with a CIA family. Did you get to do anything in that area to see how these families function?
AJ: I didn’t, because most of the people that they could all talk to were really the men in the CIA, and the women like Clover were kind of absent or had been quieted, or had moved to Arizona. One of them did actually move to Arizona–that is actually a true story. Someone is living there now, and she is loosely based on a few people, but it was almost impossible to talk to the women, and I think that the reality is that the women knew so little, there would be very little to talk about. So my choice was almost to really talk to no one, really understand nothing, and be trapped in this world where sometimes DeNiro’s character would come in and I hadn’t focused on exactly who he was in the script and exactly what he did, and I didn’t do my research on it, and so he would walk in and I really wasn’t sure who he was. That’s really how I just stayed in the dark.
EI: How did you feel about seeing yourself age in the film and if it gave you a glimpse of what you’ll look like in real life?
AJ: Well, my mom is aging gracefully, so if I’m anything like my mother, she is just lovely. I love age on a face. I think that it’s great. I know, in this business, there’s not a lot of leverage for the way people’s opinions are on how people should look, but I personally love it. I love to age in movies. I love to see my face old in different ways, and I actually feel that there is something very comforting about seeing yourself as an older woman so that when you get to that point, you’re going to have earned so many different things and be rooted in so many different ways that there is a kind of comfort to it.
But Clover was a little different because hopefully I will not break apart as she did. We had these big yellow contacts and yellow teeth. You might not have noticed it, but I had the alcohol age with her, if you look closely–a lot of broken capillaries and a lot of yellow. So that was more of that, and hopefully I won’t be looking like that. That’s more what I will look like if I start drinking.
EI: Can you give me an update on the Mariane Pearl project and talk about your interest in that project?
AJ: I think that it’s a wonderful book. I’m a fan of her writing. I think that it’s an amazing project and, in many ways, a very controversial project, and a complicated one too. I think that it needs to be done right, and so there has been a lot of talk as to how that can be–what the important reasons for making it are. There are a lot of really great people involved in it. It’s being written now, and so we’ll see when the script comes out to see how close we are, and then we’ll know how close we are to possibly making it. And everyone involved–the producers involved–we all sat down around a table and we all agreed that if we couldn’t do it right and if we couldn’t do it justice, if along the way any one piece didn’t come together – the right director, the right script – we would all just fold and not do it. So that’s where we’re at now. We’re taking it step by step and we’re going to make damn sure that it’s done right.
EI: What do you think the important reasons are for doing it?
AJ: I don’t know if we should get into that now. I think that it is too complicated to get into it here because I think the discussion about that project, the misconceptions about her, different interpretations about her and that script… it is a huge script. So I would be tentative to just speak lightly about it.
EI: You’ve been very socially active in the last five years. Has that changed the way that you look at roles and what you want to do? Do you see parts from a political perspective first–what kind of statement they’ll make about women in the world–or do you ever just take something for the fun of it?
AJ: I think that it’s important to just have fun and not take everything so seriously, because I think there is a big room for entertainment in this world. Those are most of the movies that I go to with my kids and watch. That is part of what we do. I’m not a politician. I’m just an actor, and I’m supposed to just entertain and tell stories. So I do remember that, but I do certainly think about a film project when they come along, like this one or like “Mighty Heart”, the Mariane Pearl story–they are the ones that take a priority in my life and are the ones that I enjoy more in a different way and are a very different experience. The thing that I think right now, which makes the big choice, is kind of how long it is shooting, because I don’t think that I’ve shot for more than seven weeks on a movie in two years. I need to make sure that I have time with my kids.
EI: Will you work with Brad [Pitt] again?
AJ: Who’s going to watch the children? [Laughs]
EI: Are there other projects that you want to initiate that help your causes like you did with Cambodia–anything else that’s philanthropic or on the world-oriented side?
AJ: Yeah, there are many different things. I will continue to work with refugees, and I will never shift focus from them because I think that it’s important and it is where my heart lays. Cambodia–we just went back there, and it’s changed so much over the years. It’s now Millennium Village that Brad and I are supporting. It is also 148,000 acres of protected forest, and it has also many, many villages, which is huge. It’s a huge, huge project, which is not what I intended, but it’s wonderful and I’m learning a lot. But we’re involved in many things, and I think about Brad’s work in New Orleans too.
So we’re just trying to make sure that we always stay focused, because our temptation is that if we fear something is going on somewhere, we want to get involved, and so we try to stay focused. We’re working together on AIDS orphans in passing some legislation for them on their behalf, because there is actually no one fighting for them. So we’ve put together a group of people who will do exactly that. Yeah, there are many things. We also, with Sahara, want to do something in Ethiopia. We’ve been supporting an orphanage there, but I think that we’re going to think of something specific just so that Maddox will take over his project, and we want her to take over hers. So we have to figure out what that is.
EI: Does that prompt cinematic projects as a result?
AJ: Sometimes it does, and to be honest I am interested in the art coming out of different countries. I’m starting to learn about different directors. Even Cambodia is having a big art surge now, and they’re having posters up for their movies now, which they never had a few years ago. So I’m fascinated by supporting local artists, which I’m sure will be little projects that will not make it here any time soon, but we’ll start to get to know their stories. When we were in India, we talked to people from India and Pakistan and many people who are so great, and talked about their favorite plays, their favorite pieces of literature…
EI: Have you talked to Robert Rodriguez about doing “Sin City II”?
AJ: Yeah, we’ve talked about it and I read the comic, and I don’t think that the film is being made at this moment. So when it’s actually going to be made, I’m sure that we’ll talk about it. It was a funny thing because the idea came to me when I was pregnant, and so it was this idea of I’d been Clover and depressed and quiet, and then I was feeling very maternal and pregnant, and it was this idea of this sexy, violent, and loud character, and I suddenly thought, “Well, maybe after I’m pregnant that’ll be nice to do.” [Laughs] But it didn’t come at that time, though we were still talking about it.
EI: So you’re going to fit it in, then?
AJ: Well, I have no idea when it might go, and if I’d have time when it does… but I think that it’s a very interesting project and I like the comics, and I love him as a director. So it is a possibility–a strong possibility.
EI: You’re obviously an engaging and connected person. How has the fact that every sneeze or cough by either Brad, you or one of your kids ends up on a magazine changed your life and the way that you live?
AJ: I’ve made a point to not let it change the way that I live my life, other than I carefully plan my holidays or where we go or where we stay or things like that, to try to ensure some kind of quality of life that is private and nice for the kids. But we simply don’t let it affect us. I think that the only time that it is hard is when the kids want to go somewhere and want to see something, and I’ve had so many people offer to take my children to Disneyland or places that I can’t take them, and they don’t understand how upsetting that is–or take my kids trick-or-treating or take my kids to whatever – things that they assume my kids can’t do. So we plan to find ways to do all of those things. There are worse problems and so we’re okay.
EI: Can’t you put on a costume for Halloween?
AJ: Oh, I have.
EI: What were you?
AJ: I was just a mix of odd masks and things, and well, this year we were in India and so we had this really odd celebration in the hotel. We just had candy and costumes sent up from the States, and so we were just all like – she had a really big afro and Maddox had dreadlocks. We tried to explain to them what it was, but we just had some fun with dress-up.
EI: How are you able to juggle so many things that you always have going on?
AJ: I plan a lot–obsessively. I’m very, very lucky. I love the different elements of my life. I love working abroad and I love being with my kids and I love being with Brad. So this is the life I’ve chosen to have, and I’d like to add many more children and many more obstacles and many more things.
EI: What is it that draws you to children?
AJ: A lot of fun. They’re fun. They’re just a joy. It’s a joy of life that exists nowhere else.
EI: Do you see movies as having the ability to changing things around the world?
AJ: I think that they can, but I don’t rely on movies to do that. I don’t think we can just rely on movies to do that...
Universal Pictures' 'The Good Shepherd' opens in theaters nationwide on December 22, 2006.