Angelina Jolie :: Wearing Horns and Scaring Children as Maleficent
Angelina Jolie has been away from movie screens since 2010's "The Tourist." Part of the break was that she spent time behind the camera making her first directorial feature, "In the Land of Blood and Honey." Of course her children, family and charity work always receive equal time.
The film that brings Jolie back to acting, this time, is a Disney movie. "Maleficent" is the live-action retelling of "Sleeping Beauty, " but told from the perspective of the evil queen. Jolie plays the title character and explained to reporters why now was the right time for her to make the fairy tale.
"It's such a great project I imagine I would always have considered it, but I think it was after having directed and thinking that I wasn't sure if I wanted to act, or how good I'd be," Jolie said. "This challenge of it wasn't returning to act, it wasn't anything normal. It was such a crazy idea and I was so challenged by it. My kids are now all watching all these movies and wanting to play with mommy and it was perfect timing to have them all on set, playing, being a part of the adventure with me, and for me as an actress to not do something where I'm taking myself so seriously and I'm trying to do something for myself and my art, but just play. Just remember what it is to play and entertain and try something bold."
A family affair
"Maleficent" was such a family affair that Vivienne Jolie-Pitt plays young princess Aurora in the film. Aurora grows up to become Elle Fanning, and falls under the curse to sleep forever, unless she receives true love’s kiss.
"Well, Brad and I never wanted our kids to be actors," Jolie cautioned. "We never talked about it as a thing, but we also want them to be around film and be a part of mommy and daddy’s life, and for it not to be kept from them either, just to have a good healthy relationship with it. This came about because there were kids that would come to set and they would see me and I would go up and say hi to them and they would cry. I actually had one child completely freeze and then cry, it was like terror. I felt so bad, but we realized that there was no way that we were going to find a four or five-year-old that I could be as strong with, that would not see me as a monster, and suddenly there was Vivie running around looking like little Aurora and everybody kind of thought, ’Oh, the answer’s right there.’ But then I had to go home and talk to dad and we both sat around thinking, it’s our kid, so it’s so sweet, the idea of it’s so cute to us as mommy and daddy, but then the fact that she’s in a film and suddenly it’s the world and film and all that, took us a second."
The then five-year-old did not actually take direction very well, so Pitt and Jolie had to be hands on behind the scenes just to get her to perform. "The first day was the day she had to catch the butterfly and she just really didn’t feel like doing it," Jolie recalled. "So I actually was holding the pole with the ball on the end and bouncing up and down and kind of dancing trying to make her laugh, and daddy was on the edge of the cliff she had to jump off, kind of like making faces and doing all these things."
A striking look
Not just mommy and daddy, but the whole family joined in. "Her brothers and sisters were kind of edging her on, and she eventually did it but she was just taking her sweet time and not wanting to do it twice certainly. But then when we got to our scene, we’d kind of practiced it a little bit at home where I’d say, ’Okay, I’m gonna say go away and then you try to get back.’ So by the time we did that, when we did it together we had a good time, we played together and I was actually shocked that she was doing so well. Inside I thought, oh, she went back and hit her mark. It’s frightening."
For everyone wondering if there might be more acclaimed thespians in the Jolie-Pitt line, Jolie keeps things in perspective. "I just want them to like it like this. I want them to do it for fun only, and if, when they get older they decide to be actors, I would just ask that that’s not the center of their lives, that that’s an aspect, but that they also do many other things with their lives and are involved in many other things. Because I don’t think it’s a healthy focus as a center of your life."
The look that Jolie affects as Maleficent is striking. She has horns, and a flowing black gown, just like her animated counterpart (though no green face as she was in the 1959 animated Disney classic "Sleeping Beauty" -- leave that for another famous witch from another famous story). Jolie’s performance had to be large enough to match the image. "Part of the thing with this role is you realize that there’s no halfway, that if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna have to just to fully get into it and enjoy it. The original was done so well and her voice was so great and the way she was animated was so perfect that if anything, I just was so worried I’d fail the original. But I practiced a lot with my children, my voice and when I got them laughing, I figured I was on to something."
About those horns...
Her previous creature performance, as Grendel’s mother in "Beowulf," was a motion capture situation. Digital artists captured her movement and added the monstrous additions and tail later. Maleficent was a practical concern.
"It took a little time to figure out how to do the horns, even how to get them on my head and how do they stay on the head," Jolie said. "We used my hair as kind of my braids to nail it down to different things. It was a headpiece, of course, with the horns. It wasn’t like a headband. So we kind of put my hair in these balls and then you put the headpiece over and you pull the braids through and then you use it to anchor it. Then we had different horns. At first they were too heavy, then we got them softer, then we found ones that would snap off because I kept banging into things. We had feather hair at one point, but we finally go to it."
Jolie added a nose-piece as well. "My nose is not very strong. It’s a fine nose but it can be like a cute nose. I wanted her to have a stronger nose. She has a little piece to make it less of a slope and more of a bump. We wanted everything to have angles and take all the softness out of my face and make everything sharper and stronger."
Back to directing
The next film Jolie directed is "Unbroken," the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who was a POW in Japan during WWII. The epic tale was even more daunting than "In the Land of Blood and Honey."
"I jumped into something so much bigger, so it was daunting in a whole different way," she said. "’Blood and Honey’ I wrote, it was in a few rooms, there were certain things to tackle -- certainly the politics of it which you balance and many, many things like that. But getting into ’Unbroken,’ two plane crashes and shark attacks and 47 days at sea and three prison camps, and the 1936 Olympics.
"You wake up in the morning and you think, ’God there’s a way to do that, isn’t there? There’s a way to direct races.’ This isn’t just show up at work and cover it this way or that way. This is actually something I have to really understand. With the bombardiers, I have to really understand how they went in formation, who was where, what happened?’ So it was just so much more. There were just days I didn’t know if we would be able to track it all and accomplish it all, because we didn’t have that much money, and we didn’t have that much time."