Who would have guessed that one of Hollywood’s most notorious bad girls would one day become one of the most respected spokespersons for humanitarian causes in the world? Certainly not anyone who witnessed the early career and the very public ‘private’ life of Angela Jolie, that's for sure! It's been quite a journey for this Oscar-winning actress, from rebellious teenage delinquent to Hollywood royalty.
Angelina Jolie was born in Los Angeles, California. She is the daughter of the Midnight Cowboy star John Voight and the late American actress Marcheline Bertrand. Voight split from Bertrand in 1976 when Jolie was just one year old. Her mother abandoned her acting career to look after her and her brother James.
At age six, Bertrand and her partner, the filmmaker Bill Day, moved their young family to New York. During her first six years, Jolie would watch movies starring her mother and it was from viewing those that she developed an interest in becoming an actress. She was also given a small part in John Voight’s 1982 movie Lookin’ To Get Out.
Bertrand moved the family back to Los Angeles in 1987, and Jolie enrolled for two years at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. She also attended Beverley Hills High School. She did not have a happy time there, attracting bullies who picked on her for her gawky appearance, extremely thin frame, glasses and braces. Her mother also tried to push her into modelling at this time, but her efforts proved unsuccessful.
Jolie was eventually transferred to Moreno High School. This was a so-called ‘alternative school’ that allowed Jolie the freedom to develop any way she wanted. She chose to become a punk girl, dressing all in black, going to mosh pits and developing a ‘bad girl’ persona that appealed to certain types of boys. By sixteen she had a live-in boyfriend and the two would practice knife-throwing together.
After breaking away from her boyfriend, Jolie developed an interest in undertaking, dropping out of her acting classes to learn embalming. It was also during this period that she started to self-harm as a way to, as she put it, ‘feel alive’. It was an early manifestation of mental health issues that would plague Jolie for many years.
Abandoning undertaking, Jolie again became interested in acting. After graduating from high school, she began attending acting classes and going for auditions. Sadly, she was always turned down for movies for being ‘too dark’. It wasn’t long before she turned that darkness into an asset.
Jolie first came to public attention in a series of early-90s music videos. She appeared in the videos for Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Stand By My Woman’, The Lemonheads’ ‘It’s About Time’ and in Meatloaf’s ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’.
Her striking features soon caught the eye of Hollywood casting agents, and it wasn’t long before she was cast in the role that would bring the twenty-year-old actress her first taste of success. 1995’s Hackers would propel Jolie to indie stardom. The movie, about a group of teenage hackers involved in a dangerous corporate conspiracy, failed at the box office, but became a cult hit among teenagers and young adults thanks to strong word-of -mouth.
Mainstream success did not immediately follow Hackers. Jolie would go on to star in supporting roles in forgettable ’90s thrillers such as Love Is All There Is and Playing God. However, critics were beginning to sit up and take notice of this striking young woman who was often the only standout in fairly poor movies.
In 1997, she won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy for her performance in Wallace, a TV mini-series about the Alabama governor and US presidential candidate, George Wallace. Her role as Wallace’s second wife received widespread acclaim.
More prominent roles followed. Jolie’s portrayal of a troubled New York model dying from AIDS in the 1998 HBO series Gia won her yet more praise and a second consecutive Golden Globe, as well as another Emmy nomination and her first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.
Hollywood was now sitting up and taking notice. Roles in the gangster movie Hell’s Kitchen and Playing By Heart followed, and her performances in both movies were well received by critics.
Jolie hit the mainstream with the 1999 comedy Pushing Tin, in which she starred as the troubled wife of Billy Bob Thornton’s character alongside box office big hitters of the time, John Cusack and Cate Blanchett. Though criticized by some for her performance, fans greeted her punky performance with relish.
Her performance as a troubled yet free-spirited young woman offering guidance to Winona Ryder’s character in 1999’s Girl, Interrupted stole the movie and earned her her third Golden Globe, her second Screen Actors Guild Award and her first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Angelina Jolie had truly arrived.
Huge commercial success followed. She was offered the lead role in the Tomb Raider movie, playing the intrepid British archaeologist, Lara Croft. Despite almost universal critical condemnation, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its 2003 follow-up were both box office successes.
After a couple of fallow years starring in a string of forgettable romantic comedies and action pictures, Jolie would land the role that would propel her to the top of the Hollywood tree when she starred alongside Brad Pitt in the smash-hit action comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Audiences loved the movie, particularly enjoying the electrifying chemistry between the film’s two stars. Mr. and Mrs. Smith would go on to take $478.2 million worldwide.
Now dating Pitt, she agreed to star in the controversial biopic, A Mighty Heart playing the biracial wife of a kidnapped and murdered Wall Street Journal journalist. Despite accusations of racism, Jolie’s performance was widely praised and she was nominated once again for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Further success followed with parts in Beowulf, Wanted and Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, for which she received nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and an Academy Award.
As the decade came to a close, Jolie was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, banking fortunes for her roles in the Kung Fu Panda series, Salt and the Johnny Depp movie The Tourist, for which she yet again earned a Golden Globe nomination.
The prevailing few years have seen the actress expand her repertoire. In 2007 she made her first documentary. In 2011 she made her directorial debut with the foreign language love story In The Land Of Blood And Honey. This earned her her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
The actress returned after a three-year acting hiatus in 2014 to star in as the villainous Maleficent in the movie of the same name. Her second movie as director followed with the release of 2014’s Unbroken. A third stint in the director’s chair saw her renew her onscreen partnership with her partner Brad Pitt in the gloomy marital drama, By The Sea.
Since then, an increasingly politicized Jolie has dedicated most of her time to her humanitarian work. Though no longer a frequent sight on the silver screen, she is contracted to return to the role of Maleficent in a sequel scheduled for 2018.
It’s hard now to square the tireless human rights campaigner Jolie has become with the punky Hollywood wild child who once wore a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck.
Over the course of nearly thirty years, Jolie has transformed herself from a troubled teen with crippling mental health issues into a UN ambassador and outspoken advocate of human rights.
It could have been so different. As a teenager and young woman, the troubled star had a self-destructive streak that twice led her to attempt to take her own life. In 1997, she infamously tried hiring a hitman to kill her. She also self-harmed as a teenager. “For some reason, the ritual of having cut myself and feeling the pain, maybe feeling alive, feeling some kind of release, it was somehow therapeutic to me,” she would later say.
Her drug use was legendary. By the age of twenty she had, in her own words, used ‘just about every drug possible’. It was all but inevitable that the pressures of fame, a dysfunctional family life and a self-destructive streak would eventually lead, in 1999, to her being admitted to a psychiatric hospital following a nervous breakdown.
Already the subject of gossip column tittle-tattle, Jolie’s public image took a further battering when she married hell raiser Billy Bob Thornton after a brief, two-month courtship. The pair were frequently in the news, most famously for wearing vials of each other’s’ blood around their necks and for having their names tattooed onto their bodies.
Their intense, roller-coaster ride relationship would eventually come crashing back down to earth in 2003, but not before millions of column inches had been dedicated to their bizarre, three-year relationship.
Two years later, Jolie hit the headlines again as the hated ‘other woman’ in the breakdown of the marriage of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Pitt and Aniston were the darling Hollywood couple of the day, and Jolie was blamed for destroying this beloved fairytale romance
Jolie was adamant that Pitt and herself were just good friends during the break up of Pitt’s marriage to Aniston. However, despite her protestations, the rumors persisted.
Eventually, wounds healed and Pitt and Jolie fast became the most glamorous couple in Hollywood, with a string of adopted kids and both of them dedicating enormous amounts of their time to charity work.
It was for her charity work that Jolie’s public image was finally changed forever. First encountering the plight of refugees while filming 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in war-torn Cambodia, the actress became increasingly interested in humanitarianism and human rights.
In conjunction with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the actress began visiting refugee camps in war zones all over the world, and became a very public spokesperson for the refugee cause. She has since become a UN Ambassador.
Her humanitarian work has taken her to all corners of the globe and won her many plaudits. Her later work highlighting the plight of women, advocating the cause of women’s rights and highlighting the need for breast cancer screening following her preventative double mastectomy in 2013 has cemented her in the public’s mind as one of the leading humanitarian champions of her age.
It’s quite a transformation from being one of the most notorious bad girls of Hollywood.
Jolie has lived almost her entire life under the harsh glare of the media spotlight.
Jolie and her father John Voight have had a very rocky relationship over the years. Voight walked out on his young family in the 1970s, and father and daughter have rarely got on since. Voight disapproved of his daughter’s lifestyle, and the two frequently fell out. After years of public bickering, they would only really start to rebuild their relationship in 2007 when Jolie’s beloved mother Marcheline died from ovarian cancer in 2007.
Jolie has been married three times. The first was to the actor Johnny Lee Miller, who she met on the set of ‘Hackers’ in 1995. The two married in March 1996. Infamously, Jolie attended the wedding ceremony dressed in a white t-shirt with Miller’s name scrawled across it written in her own blood. The relationship lasted four years, though the two remained on good terms after their divorce in 1999.
Jolie’s second marriage to Billy Bob Thronton was a turbulent and wild ride, and it came as no surprise when it finally broke down after just three years.
The actress’s third and final (to date) marriage was to Brad Pitt. The two were together for ten years. During that time they became the most glamorous couple in Hollywood, with the media dubbing them ‘Brangelina’. The pair eventually tied the knot in 2014 at a glamorous ceremony in France. The pair have six children, three of which Jolie has adopted throughout her adult life, the first back in 2002 when Jolie was 27.
In 2016, the romance was over for Brangelina, with the two formally separating and then divorcing that same year. Since then, Jolie has focused on her family, campaigning and charity work.
- Notes From My Travels by Angelina Jolie
- Angelina Jolie – Portrait of a Superstar by Rhona Mercer
Written by: Ben Perry