Angelina Jolie is as much the all-action heroine at home and in the international arena as she is on screen. For the March issue of British Vogue, Edward Enninful caught up with the indefatigable star in her historic LA estate to discuss her latest directorial project, her book with Amnesty International and her continuing fight for the rights of women and children.
As the sun came up on Los Angeles on the first Tuesday of November last year, it brought with it the promise of an auspicious day. At 7am, the polls in California opened for a generation-defining American election, as the British Vogue team pulled up to a discreet estate tucked away in a quiet corner of Los Feliz, topped by an eye-catching Italianate Revival villa, built in 1913, and steeped in Hollywood history. Just like its owner.
Angelina Jolie – actor, film-maker, humanitarian – had invited us to spend two days with her, to let us into her world. To say the home she shares with her six children – Maddox, 19, Pax, then 16, Zahara, then 15, Shiloh, 14, and 12-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox – is full of life would be an understatement. Laughter, chatter, food, rabbits, dogs, lizards, political debate, music appreciation, impromptu haircuts and Zoom meetings are all part of the day-to-day. (The children ended up jumping into the photos, too.) As has been the way of late, I joined remotely from London to style the shoot. Angelina, who wears her clothes until they’re completely worn out and has a love for vintage, shared a few of her own treasured pieces.
It was a remarkable day… and night… and day. As the hours ticked by, we were all checking our phones compulsively between shots, watching the election results creep in, feeling ever more tantalisingly buoyant. A few weeks later, Angelina, 45, and I caught up to talk, her warm laugh and thoughtful pauses as bewitching in conversation as they are on the big screen.
What follows is a portrait of a woman, a mother and a rebel at heart. With two decades of experience as a humanitarian and human rights campaigner under her belt, and with a host of new artistic projects coming, she was, I found, in a reflective and open-hearted mood, cautiously hopeful for both her future and the world’s. As ever, what strikes you most about Angelina is that, no matter what life throws at her, her fire remains undimmed.
Edward Enninful: Angelina, what a pleasure it is to be talking to you today. There’s a new president moving into the White House; some positive steps, in terms of vaccinations, are being made in the pandemic; and we’re on the cusp of a new season. Despite everything, are you feeling a little hopeful?
Angelina Jolie: Well, I put a lot of my hopes for the future on the younger generation. Maybe that’s because I live with six kids, aged 12 to 19, so I see that particular group – and I certainly see how much more pressure they are under than we were at their age. They’re quite overwhelmed with a lot of information that we were sheltered from. But I see Mad [Maddox] online speaking in Russian to someone or talking to Korea, or Shi [Shiloh] saying hi to her friends in Namibia, I see there’s this new way young people can connect and know each other in this global way. It’s how they’ll start to solve our problems.
How have the past few months been for you? I know you’ve been at home in Los Angeles with your children.
I think that like most families, we have had this bigger thing happening with the pandemic. But of course you also have these life markers. We went into it having just gotten out of the hospital with Zahara [who underwent surgery early last year], and we were so happy she was OK that we entered lockdown in a different state of mind. But, you know, there are also these other markers of life: Pax going into his senior year, but not being able to enjoy all that it is to be a senior; Zahara finally getting her driving licence, but she’s taking the test with the driver wrapped in the full outfit with the masks. It’s not how you imagine these moments. But birthdays go on, and I think that for many people, it’s made us all feel very human together. There’s something beautiful about that.
There definitely is. We had the great pleasure of photographing you at your home, which also happens to be the former estate of Cecil B DeMille. How wonderful…
I wanted it to be close to their dad, who is only five minutes away. I felt a little pressure moving in. Like I had snuck into where DeMille and Chaplin would hang out. I love most that there is no entertainment room, but lots of pathways and places to walk and think. I feel very fortunate we have that at this time.
Can you describe a typical day for your family?
Well, I was never very good at sitting still. Even though I wanted to have many children and be a mom, I always imagined it kind of like Jane Goodall, travelling in the middle of the jungle somewhere. I didn’t imagine it in that true, traditional sense. I feel like I’m lacking in all the skills to be a traditional stay-at-home mom. I’m managing through it because the children are quite resilient, and they’re helping me, but I’m not good at it at all.
Oh, I don’t believe that!
Well, I love them. I feel like we’re such a team. It may sound clichéd, but you love and you try, and even if you burn the eggs, that doesn’t matter in the end. But also, you’ve met our kids. They’re pretty capable.
That’s a testament to you. You should be proud.
Thank you [laughs].
So, we had a wonderful time over two days shooting this story. I knew how important it was for us to reflect through the photography where you are now as a woman. Where do I find you in your life and your outlook?
I’m feeling that I’ve come through a few things. I’m trying to be hopeful. I think this is something we’ve all discovered through the pandemic.
One of the things I respect about you is the way you never lose sight of your passions. You’ll soon be publishing a book for children and young adults with Geraldine Van Bueren QC and Amnesty International – can you tell me a little about it?
It’s called Know Your Rights (And Claim Them). We want to help young people to identify who or what is blocking them from accessing their human rights, and how to try to overcome that. The message to young people is, no one has the right to harm you, to silence you.
Young people are engaged and ready to fight. But there is a level of misinformation we never faced growing up. We want the book to help give them the tools to strengthen their fight and empower them in a very practical way.
Maybe it’s just the young punk in me, but I like the spirit of the youth. I believe they can see right and wrong with more clarity. I see a lot of older people making excuses for certain behaviours, and it tends to be the younger person who is quicker to say, “But this is simply wrong, and we stand against it.” I’ve wanted to remain that person.