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Portrait of a Superstar
By Rhona Mercer
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2009 Rhona Mercer
All rights reserved.
in the beginning ...
'I always live for the moment. Don't like to build plans for the future. Tomorrow evening everything may change – my life, my image, people around me, my occupation ... Otherwise, it would be boring to live.' Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie has grabbed headlines since bursting on to the Hollywood scene over ten years ago and the stunningly beautiful actress remains a constant source of fascination to her millions of fans across the globe. Over the years, we've watched a rebellious, depressed and self-destructive teenager mature into a contented, settled and sophisticated mother of three, and her personal journey has been absorbing to watch. As one of the most open and honest stars of her generation, it's no surprise that Jolie's controversial personal life has garnered far more interest than any film she's ever made, and – love her or loathe her – you could certainly never accuse the actress of being bland.
Born in Los Angeles, California, on 4 June 1975, to actor parents, Angelina Jolie Voight's life was unconventional from the start. Jon Voight married little-known French-Canadian actress Marcheline Bertrand in 1971, and their first child, son James Haven, was born in 1973. But, by the time Bertrand was pregnant with Angelina, their second child, their marriage was already in crisis. It's thought Bertrand rapidly grew tired of Voight's womanising ways – and, sure enough, he soon fell in love with the actress Stacey Pickren, whom he met on the set of the film Coming Home (which won him a Best Actor Oscar), and he left his family for her. By the time Angelina was one, her parents had separated.
For the first few years after the split, Marcheline and the children remained in LA and Voight saw his kids regularly, but in 1982 Bertrand moved Angelina and her brother to Sneden's Landing, which was an hour away from Manhattan, because the smog in LA was affecting her health.
Although Angelina has said, 'I never remember a time when I needed my father and he wasn't there,' and that she was 'never angry' with him for leaving, the pair would go on to have an extremely strained, complex and volatile relationship.
For his part, Voight once observed, 'She was a baby when we were divorced, so it surprised me when she said it affected her as severely as it did.'
According to one of Angelina's kindergarten teachers, who doesn't want to be named, Voight was very much a hands-on dad: 'Her father was always picking up her and her brother. He was always around. I don't know if they had a good relationship, all I know is that he did the fatherly thing.' And Jon's parenting skills didn't just extend to the school run. According to the same source, 'He came to sports day. He came to the school. They lived in Palisades, where all the big stars like Al Pacino lived. Angelina was just a little kid, cute, you know. She was always pretty.'
Although the pair haven't spoken since their very public falling out in 2003 – when Voight told the press that his daughter had 'serious emotional problems' – it's clear that, as a child, Angelina was very much a daddy's girl. According to Voight, 'When Marcheline and I broke up, I sat Angie down and asked her what kind of girl she thought her father should be with. She thought about it for a while and then said, "Well, Daddy, maybe me, because I love you more than anything in the world."'
Voight was no less smitten with his daughter and, in an interview they did together in 2002, Voight described to Angelina the moment she was born: 'You don't remember it, but, when you emerged from your mother's womb, I picked you up, held you in my hand and looked at your face. You had your finger by the side of your cheek, and you looked very, very wise, like my old best friend. I started to tell you how your mom and I were so happy to have you here, and that we were going to take great care of you and watch for all those signs of who you were and how we could help you achieve all that wonderful potential God gave you. I made that pledge and everyone in the room started crying. But we weren't crying; we were rapt in each other's gaze.'
After his ex-wife and children had relocated to New York, he confessed that he missed them very much: 'Angie is a real comedienne and Jamie is so grown up,' he revealed at the time. Keen to involve the children in his life even though he no longer lived with them, Voight gave his daughter her first acting role in 1982, casting her as Tosh in Lookin' to Get Out, a film about two New York gamblers that he co-wrote and starred in. Keeping it in the family, Voight also gave his ex-wife Marcheline the part of 'girl in jeep' and the role of Rusty went to his then girlfriend, Stacey Pickren.
Keen for his children to see what had been keeping their father busy, Voight often took them to screenings of his latest films including The Champ, in which he played an ex-boxer who tries to raise his son single-handedly. 'It was a little hard for them,' Voight observed shortly afterwards, in 1979. 'They both started weeping. The last scene was very unsettling. I had to take them in my arms and explain that Daddy was just acting – that he wasn't dead, that he was still here with them. You see, it is not my intention to walk away from my responsibilities. But I'm also realistic. I know that Marcheline may get married again and that another man will come into their lives.'
Similarly, when their father took them to see Table for Five in 1983, James and Angelina found it difficult to separate fiction from reality. The film was a study of children living through a divorce and, according to Voight, 'They found it deeply moving and knew that in some ways the film represents me and my deep feelings about needing to be close to them.'
Voight himself had enjoyed a very close-knit family unit while growing up in Yonkers, New York, with his parents Elmer and Barbara and brothers Barry and James Wesley. (James would later go on to change his name to Chip Taylor and become a legendary songwriter, penning such classics as 'Wild Thing' and 'Angel Of The Morning'.) In many ways, he was keen to be the perfect family man himself, but something kept stopping him. In an interview a year after divorcing Marcheline, he admitted, 'I loved the idea of kids running into their parents' room and jumping into bed with them. But I've never been too sure of myself in terms of words like "husband".'
Chip Taylor admitted in a 2004 interview that Jon had never really recovered from the decision to leave his family: 'Jon was married to a lovely lady [Marcheline]. I don't know why it didn't work, but he fell in love with another girl and ran off with her. That didn't work either and he probably looks back and feels immensely guilty about what he did. He tried his hardest to be a good father, but I don't think he was comfortable in his own skin being a father.'
Angelina has in the past defended this attitude, saying, 'My father is the perfect example of an artist who couldn't be married. He had the perfect family, but there's something about that that's very scary for him.' As her own relationships would go on to prove, the apple clearly hadn't fallen far from the tree.
When Jon left his wife, his career was at an all-time high. He had shot to fame in 1969 playing Joe Buck, a male prostitute in Midnight Cowboy, and went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of Luke Martin, the wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran in Coming Home in 1978. Although Angelina would later go on to benefit from her father's Hollywood connections and knowledge of acting, the attention he received from fans was unwelcome as far as she was concerned. Voight admitted in an interview that his kids were 'growing up in the shadow of my mythology and they need special care because of that. I was having dinner with the kids recently and a man began approaching us. He was apologising from 15 yards away, saying, "Oh, I'm so sorry to bother you ... but you look so like ... Are you?" My daughter Angie, who wasn't feeling well that night, looked up and said, "Oh, God, not this again." And of course the man just about fell to pieces.'
Despite the upheaval caused by her nomadic childhood, Angelina was a joyful child. She delighted in the Disney film Dumbo (she has said that she cried when he found he was able to fly), had a crush on Mr Spock from Star Trek and loved to play dress-up with her much-loved older brother James. 'I used to wear costumes all the time,' she recalled in 2001. 'I used to love those plastic high heels.'
The fact that they moved around so much as children meant that Angelina felt like she never had a permanent base and she has said of this time, 'I always dreamed of having an attic of things that I could go back and look at.'
She and her brother leaned on each other for support from the moment she was born and were never short of finding ways to amuse themselves. From as young as five, Angelina would dress up in her mum's clothes, put on some make-up and perform shows while her brother filmed her. This collaboration would continue up until their teens, with Angelina starring in all five of the student films James made while studying at the USC School of Cinema, one of which won him the George Lucas award for directing.
As long as she's been famous, Angelina Jolie has been synonymous with sex. So it comes as no surprise that at kindergarten she became a member of a group named the Kissy Girls. Recalling her first experience of seducing the opposite sex, Angelina admitted, 'I grew up very aware of my emotions. I was very sexual in kindergarten and I created the Kissy Girls. We would chase boys around and kiss them a lot – it involved giving them lovebites – and they would scream. Then a few of the boys stopped and started taking their clothes off and I got into trouble a lot.' So much trouble, in fact, that her parents had to be called to the school to discuss their daughter's rebellious behaviour. Needless to say, the Kissy Girls were no more after this point.
Not that Angelina was much of a girlie girl at heart. While most children beg their parents for a puppy or a kitten, Angelina was more than happy with her pet lizard, Vladimir, and a pet snake named Harry Dean Stanton after the actor. She once said in an interview, 'While other girls wanted to be ballet dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire.' Other girls would write the name of their crush on to their pencil cases, but Angelina busied herself with drawings of old people's faces, nude women, mouths screaming and barbed wire stretched across people's eyes.
It wasn't long before her ambition to be a vampire was overtaken by an even stronger desire: to be a funeral director. Her maternal grandfather died when Angelina was nine years old and his funeral would prove to be quite fascinating for the impressionable young girl. Most girls her age would be overwhelmed by the occasion and scared of death, but not Jolie. She was far too preoccupied with how funerals should be conducted to be scared. 'My mother's father died when I was nine. He was a wonderful, spirited man, but his funeral was horrible. Everyone was hysterical. I thought funerals should be a celebration of life rather than a room full of upset people. I'm not scared of death, which makes people think I'm dark, when in fact I'm positive.' She said that she was 'very drawn to some things that are tradition and that are roots. I think that may be why I focused on funerals.' It was after the death of her grandfather that Jolie started to wear black. She even went as far as taking walks in graveyards and reading books on the art of embalming and mortuary science. 'There is something in death that is comforting,' she once reflected. 'The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate life now.'
When she was ten, Angelina recalled that her life 'started not to be fun' and, after Marcheline moved her children back to LA, her daughter's rebellious streak grew stronger. In fact, kissing boys in kindergarten seemed positively tame compared with what was to come. She has said of this time, 'I always thought I was sane, but didn't know if I'd be comfortable living in this world. As a child I contemplated suicide a lot – not because I was unhappy, but because I didn't feel useful. I had insomnia and was up all night with a mind that wouldn't stop.'
Angelina has said that she spent much of her childhood 'staring out of my window thinking there was somewhere I could finally be grounded and happy. I belonged somewhere else.' This feeling was probably never stronger than when she enrolled at Beverly Hills High, the most glamorous and affluent school in LA. Her fellow classmates were rich, beautiful and spoiled; Jolie couldn't have been more different. For a start, despite her dad's Hollywood status, there wasn't much money flying around when she was growing up. Voight has always been notoriously fussy when it comes to choosing film roles and rejected several big roles because he didn't feel they were right for him; he famously turned down the lead role in Love Story, despite being offered 10 per cent of the profits.
Voight prided himself on the fact that he didn't spoil his children, stating in 1979, 'I have tried to bring up my children to realise the value of money. Because I don't have a swimming pool, when we want to swim we have to get permission to use somebody's pool. I'm aware of the value of things and I want my children to be too.'
Angelina's family lived relatively modestly compared to her peers and, instead of flexing her dad's plastic on Rodeo Drive, the actress bought most of her clothes in charity shops – Aaardvark's in Pasadena being one of her favourite haunts. Like most teenage girls, she also had several hang-ups about her appearance and was teased regularly for having braces, wearing glasses and for being so skinny. Although her bee-stung lips are now one of her most outstanding features, she learned the hard way that anything that made you different at a tender age could only be a bad thing. As if to cultivate her reputation as an outsider, Jolie was also prone to dyeing her hair and permanently wearing black, her favourite colour.
Many of Angelina's glamorous classmates did modelling and, in an attempt to make some extra cash, Jolie tried to get in on the act, despite thinking she looked like a muppet. Although it is hard to believe now, given that she is often referred to as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Angelina initially failed miserably in the competitive profession and was told by agents that she was 'too short, too scarred, too fat, too everything'. The scars that the agents used as an excuse not to hire her were from her self-harming, something that Jolie began at the age of fourteen in an attempt to break free from her teenage frustrations. Angelina has since admitted that, 'Thirteen, fourteen – that was a bad time. Yeah, very.' So bad, in fact, that she remembers 'not wanting to be around any more'. Although she has never condoned her behaviour, Angelina has been very open about this phase, reflecting, 'I went through a period when I felt trapped, cutting myself because it felt like I was releasing something. It was honest.' This need to 'feel' had always been one of Jolie's preoccupations, and the actress has admitted that, as far back as childhood, she only liked to be touched in a certain way. 'I don't like when I am lightly touched,' she confesses. 'You see, I like [it] when I am grasped and held tightly, if someone strives not to let me go, and if I am not touched in a proper way, I hate such touching. It's like the handshake – I don't like a light one. If you want to shake my hand, shake properly.'
Jolie certainly knew what she wanted in terms of physical contact with her first boyfriend – and, as we will discover, the consequences were often little short of life-threatening.
Like many children who come from a broken home, Angelina was expert at manipulating her parents, who were competing with each other to be the main influence in her life. When the family moved back to LA, it meant that Voight got to see his kids on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every weekend. Voight admitted in an interview in 1987 that, even at the age of twelve, his daughter knew how to wrap him round her little finger. 'She'll spin 45 minutes' homework into maybe an hour and a half, because of her reminiscences and teasing, and then she'll make a game of it. I'm delighted I spend this time with her. We just giggle and shout and we become a bit of a pest to Jamie, whose nature is quite the opposite.' Voight may sound like the smitten father at this stage, but the actor was also aware of Angelina's potential to rebel. In 1987, he described his daughter as 'quite striking, and perhaps a bit more like me – which may be unsettling to her – because she has quick wit, she's very imaginative and very active, she must be doing something continually and I delight in her. She's a bit of a wise guy at this stage – with me she definitely is! Ever since she was a baby she wouldn't let you help her, even with her ABCs. She'd say, "No! I do it. I do it." That's the way she is.'
Excerpted from Angelina Jolie by Rhona Mercer. Copyright © 2009 Rhona Mercer. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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