”One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life is to be fearless,” Angelina Jolie says. ”When I was younger I would get very, very nervous. But I had a great mother who loved me for my flaws and my attempts. ”I know there is more danger in not speaking up in life, not being who you are and not standing up to injustice,” she continues. ”If you stay silent, it’s the absolute worst thing you could ever do. Even if it’s scary, you must do what you feel compelled to do in life.”
Jolie is on the telephone, calling from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, where the mother of six is enjoying some rare time on her own: Their father, Brad Pitt, has taken the whole brood to the movies. According to Jolie, this means that the kids, or at least the girls, will be getting anything they want all day. ”It’s funny in our house,” the 36-year-old Oscar winner says with a laugh. ”The asking for things is split 50-50. The girls know that Mommy might not be a pushover, but Daddy is the biggest pushover in the world. I’ll say to Brad, ‘Do you realize that you can’t say no to the girls?’ Brad will just smile at me and say, ‘How can I say no to any of the girls in our house? All of you are perfect.’ ”He even calls us ‘his girls.’” On the other hand, she admits, the boys know that their best shot is with Mommy. ”OK, so Brad has called me on this too,” Jolie concedes, laughing harder. ”Brad goes, ‘You let the boys walk all over you.’ It’s true. Boys push their moms. Moms know how to say no to girls, because women know women and girls. I’m like, ‘I know what you’re doing, girls! I see you working Daddy for cookies. There isn’t a man alive who could say no.”’
Like many a mom, Jolie seems as if she could talk about her kids all day. Officially, though, this call is to talk about ”In the Land of Blood and Honey,” the Bosnian War drama that is her debut as a screenwriter and as a director. It’s the story of a Serbian soldier, Danijel (Goran Kostic), who encounters a Bosnian woman, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), before the war. Their attraction is strong, but they’re pulled apart by conflict. The war breaks out, and she ends up a captive at the camp that he oversees.
The film has not been without controversy. A Croatian journalist who writes under the name James J. Braddock has charged that Jolie stole parts of her plot from his 2007 book, ”The Soul Shattering.” She insists, however, that there’s nothing to the charge. ”I wrote this script,” she says, ”and I didn’t plan on writing a script. I just sat down one day, frustrated, after meeting so many people in post-trauma situations. I wrote this trying to reflect on what war does to fathers, sons, mothers, children and couples.”I felt this was something that is not discussed enough,” she continues. ”This is a war that happened to our generation. It took too long for us to intervene, and the film in essence is about that time before we stepped in. I wanted an audience to sit in the theater and think, ‘Please stop this. Please.’” That the film could be a love story amid the killings, rape and casual violence of war doesn’t seem implausible to Jolie, even when it’s a woman falling in love with her jailer. ”These were two regular, decent people,” she says. ”These are two people who would have had a real chance to be a great couple if it wasn’t for the war. They could have had a wonderful family together. ”It’s a story about the loss of humanity and the ugliness that takes over during a war,” Jolie says. ”It’s unbelievable how ugly people can be during war. The violence in the film is a drop in the ocean to what’s happening today around the world.” She herself had a hard time coming to terms with the theme, she admits. ”It’s hard on filmmakers to make sense of these things too,” Jolie says. ”There is no sense to be made of this violence of neighbors turning on each other. It just doesn’t make sense.” It didn’t help that initially she hadn’t conceived of herself as directing the film.
”I can’t even say the word ‘director,’” the actress insists. ”I never intended to direct. I never wanted to do it. I never thought I had the confidence to think I could write a script and direct it. But a few people whom I allowed to read the script told me it was good. There was a discussion of who should direct it, and I felt linked with the project.” It was important to her, she says, that the film be about the evil of war, not the evil of the Serbs or of any other group in the Bosnian conflict. Accordingly she sent the script to people who had been on all sides of the conflict, asking for their reaction and their help in making the film.
”I thought, if all sides agreed to participate in this film, then I would direct it,” she says. ”If not, I would burn the script.” Jolie ended up behind the camera – but not in front of it, though her presence on the screen would surely have helped the film find an audience. ”I stepped back when I directed,” she says. ”I thought, ‘You don’t need me here as an actress.”’ Jolie’s detour into directing has nothing to do with her occasional past comments that she might retire from acting to raise her family and focus on her humanitarian work. That isn’t likely, she says. ”Look,” she says, ”I’ve had a great run. It’s not that I’ll never act again – I will always want to find projects that mean something to me – but it’s OK if other things in my life take over.
”Maybe I’ll just do more kids’ movies,” she jokes, ”so my children will be really proud of me.” It’s ironic that Jolie should draw away from acting at a point when her onscreen work has finally earned her the respect that her offscreen celebrity denied her for many years. Such films as ”Beyond Borders’’ (2003), the smash hit ”Mr. & Mrs. Smith’’ (2003), ”A Mighty Heart’’ (2007) and Clint Eastwood’s ”Changeling’’ (2008) have impressed many who previously saw her mainly as a flamboyant wild child, the reckless daughter of Oscar winner Jon Voight who went through quick marriages to Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton before hooking up with Pitt to form the tabloid catnip ”Brangelina.”
In recent years, however, despite the tabloids’ reluctance to let go of the triangle between her, Pitt and his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, Jolie has earned kudos for her commitment to humanitarian work, especially as an advocate of refugees. She has been named an official goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and two of her children were adopted from refugee camps. Though Jolie says that a bit of the bad girl still lurks within her – ”I just save it for Brad,” she says – she admits that family life and inevitable maturity have conspired to change her outlook on life.
”I didn’t really know myself when I was younger,” she says. ”I knew what I wasn’t. I knew that I was confused. I knew what hurt me, I knew what excited me. What I didn’t know was how to be of use to other people.
”We don’t innately know how we can be of use and who we are inside when we’re young,” the actress continues. ”We’re basically straddling fences. I love aging because now I know where I stand. I’m defined. I stand taller. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to stand taller. ”I’m more generous of spirit now,” Jolie says. ”I also appreciate people for their failings and attempts. I’ve become more selfless. In many ways, I find that I’ve just joined the human race.”