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Changeling - Angelina Jolie interview

Angelina Jolie in a scene from Changeling.

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ANGELINA Jolie talks about making Changeling, the true story of a mother who loses her son and has to subsequently fight police corruption to get her case heard, as well as the joy of working with Clint Eastwood and why she has dedicated her performance to her late mother.

She also talks about her decision to cut back on her acting career in order to spend more time with her family, as well as how she’s feeling after appearing in such an emotionally draining movie.

Q. It’s a very harrowing film to watch, does it follow that it was a very harrowing film to make?
Angelina Jolie: Yes, it was. It was a very hard film for all of us to make but at the same time because it was a true story, and because this woman went through so much, it was also very inspiring.

Q. Was working with Clint Eastwood a long-held ambition?
Angelina Jolie: I’d always wanted to work with him because I loved his work but I’d also read a few things, or seen different things, and he just seemed like such an interesting man. And he is… in person he’s a really good man. He’s very solid, very strong and has a great crew. He’s very fair and a strong leader. He’s just a really great director.

Q. How, if at all, does Clint’s working style differ from other directors you’ve worked with and how did that help during some of the more emotional scenes?
Angelina Jolie: He’s very decisive. He’s famous for shooting just one or two takes, which does sound terrifying to an actress. But because of that you know he’s not going to drain you emotionally. He will be prepared. He’ll take more than one if he needs it. But he’ll be very prepared from the moment you walk in the door and so you have this feeling of having to bring your all, but if you bring your all and give it everything you’ve got until you’re emotionally drained he will capture it on film and he won’t ask you to do it 20 times. So, it does allow for you to really push yourself. And because he does do everything in one take, everything is very fresh. You don’t have a lot of time to over think things, which as actors we tend to do. You don’t have time for that, so it keeps you very in the moment and very real.

Q. How did you observe him working with the children in the film who, I guess, had to also convey some pretty tough emotional stuff?
Angelina Jolie: He’s a dad, so is great with kids, but he didn’t baby them. He’s very direct and he casts really well. He cast them to fit their individual parts. It’s funny, my actual son was very gentle in nature, while the other boy had a little bit more of a swagger and just naturally brought that. He tends to, I think, trust in who he hires and try to let them do what they do and not get in the way too much. He was very good with the children.

Q. As a mother yourself, was it very hard to get your head around what happened to the mother in this film?
Angelina Jolie: It was very hard. I’ve said it before but when I first read the script I couldn’t put it down but then I said “no” immediately. I didn’t want to go into this project because it was too upsetting. But then afterwards I couldn’t stop talking about her. I found myself sitting with people wanting them to know about this extraordinary woman and you wouldn’t believe what happened to her, and what these people did to her in this time in our history. In the end, it became a story about democracy in action, about justice… even suffering a great loss and fighting through it and making a change for the future for other people, and questioning the government and the police. So, I found it very inspiring and really wanted people to know about her and felt like it was an extra piece of justice for her.

But as a mum it was horrible. I had my kids with me as much as possible at lunch and after a day at work I’d just run home. I just wanted to be silly. I was so emotional that I just found myself being very, very goofy with them. I was so happy that I knew where my kids were and that they were OK.

Q. Did you find yourself becoming frustrated with your character and the way that she doesn’t shout from the rooftops and put so much faith in the police force to begin with?
Angelina Jolie: It was… it was a hard thing. Usually I feel I can find out where I relate and improvise and react how I would naturally react. But women of that time, it wasn’t just that she trusted in them. But she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if she didn’t try to keep her place. She had to walk a very, very fine line. And when she did speak out was when they locked her in the institution. So, she had this real struggle to try to behave with these very corrupt people. She was also a single mother in 1928, which was a very difficult place to come from and didn’t command any respect at that time.

Because I couldn’t relate to it, my mum… she wasn’t around in 1928 but there was something about her. Her name was Marcheline, but we called her Marshmallow, as a joke, because she was just the softest, most gentle woman in the world. [Battles to hold back the tears]. She was really, really sweet and she would never get angry. She couldn’t swear to save her life. But when it came to her kids, she was really, really fierce and so this is very much her… her story in that she was the woman I related to, who had that elegance and strength through just knowing what was right.

Q. There’s obviously no happy ending to this story. And one thing that’s left out is that she died in 1935, which is the year the film stops. Was that a deliberate decision to omit?
Angelina Jolie: I think it would have been off subject. The idea was more what her search was about. I think it would have taken you emotionally to a different place. It wasn’t intentional so much as it seemed like the other things were more important parts to have, to remind you of what has changed. The research on this… serial killer alone and his life had many, many more levels that we could put in the film. Code 12 and the women being locked up could be a story in itself. There is so much in this story that it was hard to even condense it as it was because it’s just so rich and so real. So, it wasn’t that there was an intention to leave anything out, it was what do we need to focus on at this exact moment in order to tell this story as clean as possible and explain at least these few things as best we can.

Q. Was there one particularly challenging scene that was especially difficult for you?
Angelina Jolie: I think one of the most difficult scenes for me was just making that phone call in the beginning [to report the missing child]. It’s such a serious fear, especially for any parent, that you just don’t want to physically do it. You don’t want to go up to a phone, pick it up and report a missing child. It’s horrible. So that was hard to do.

Funnily enough, one of the more difficult scenes was picking him up at the train station because it was so weird. Even for the other actor… he presents a child that he realises is not her child and has to convince her, because the cameras are on him, that it is and she has to take him home. She somehow, in the course of this very short scene, has to go from “this is not my child” to “OK, I’ll take him home”. We couldn’t figure out, as two actors, trying to get there. It was just so bizarre and so strange. I think Clint just helped us to understand that it was that bizarre. But I didn’t know where to put myself during that scene.

Q. Why do you think this case is so shrouded in mystery?
Angelina Jolie: It is bizarre. The writer of the film had a friend who worked in a library who called him and said: “We’ve got all these old discs of all the old front pages of the LA Times, are you curious to see them?” So he went in and you could imagine what he must have felt when he started to put the discs in and so many of the front pages were the Collins case, and then he looked more and she was missing, and then there was the slaughterhouse with all these children. It’s kind of unbelievable that it hadn’t been done before and it must have been an amazing discovery sitting alone in that room for that time going through all those papers. I don’t why it hasn’t been told. I don’t know if it’s yet another conspiracy but it is strange. It was front page LA Times. It was a giant case.

Q. You could read that script and almost not believe it…
Angelina Jolie: Well, what they did which I thought was very clever was they took copies of the front pages of all the LA Times and they slid them in the script. So when you read in the script that she went to the train station and then she is forced to keep the boy, you think: “How could that possibly happen?” But then you flipped the page and there it was.

Q. Have you ever fought as hard for something in your own life, with the same passion?
Angelina Jolie: There is no specific thing. I think when you make a commitment to have a child you have that immediate commitment that you’ll do anything for them, and anything to protect them. You naturally have that commitment made and hopefully it’s not tested. I know when I first started travelling and met refugees in Sierra Leone on my first trip with the UN I remember coming back and meeting my mum and saying: “I really want this to be discussed more. I really want these people to have a voice.” I’m sure I’ll work with them for the rest of my life because they’re so extraordinary and should have more of a voice publicly. But it’s not a conscious waking… it’s just the things that I’ve discovered I feel I have a responsibility to.

Q. Have you ever rollerskated before Changeling?
Angelina Jolie: I had to learn how to rollerblade for Hackers. For some reason I didn’t get that description in the script. So, when my rollerskates arrived I didn’t think it was serious. They’re not only rollerskates, but they’re all metal, so they have no rubber, and they have no brakes on them and you have to wear your heels on them. So, you have a 2-inch heel with a screw, so you’re moving forward with no brakes! It was very funny and I spent quite a few days falling over!

Q. Did you have to unlearn anything for playing a character of that era?
Angelina Jolie: When I did The Good Shepherd I had taken a manners class. It was things like sitting this way, or that it was very polite for a woman not to sit, like I do which is very direct, but like this [motions her head to one side]. There are odd things that you learn. I found myself covering my smile a lot. I don’t know why. Maybe it was something that my mum did, or maybe it was just an instinctual thing out of politeness. My posture was different. But there were also certain words we couldn’t use. I think there as one scene where I kept saying: “Come on guys, let’s go…” It was the most takes we did, I think, because “guys” was just something my character wouldn’t have said. So, it was little things like that.

Q. There’s a lot of speculation about Oscar nominations… how important would it be for you to get a nomination in terms of recognition for this? I’ve heard you lost your first Oscar?
Angelina Jolie: [Laughs] I didn’t actually lose it… I gave it to my mum and she was one of those people who didn’t put things up she thought were too special. So, I don’t know where she put it when she passed away. We’ve not gone through all her stuff but nobody knows where it is at the moment. But anything that acknowledges a film that you did work on, and that you worked hard on, means a great deal. But at the same time, if nothing is ever acknowledged you’re just as proud and you know you worked just as hard.

Q. Are we correct in believing that you’re going to cut back on your acting career?
Angelina Jolie: No, I will. I haven’t worked for about a year. I’m going to work for a few months and then I don’t know when I’m going to work again. I’m not going to make a retiring announcement but I have a big family and I have a lot of responsibility at home and am very fortunate to financially not have to work all the time. And so I just feel privileged that I get to be home a lot and I feel a responsibility to be there as much as I can. So, maybe once a year, or once every two years and maybe eventually I’ll stop.

Q. You’re not one to shy away from a difficult role. Do you ever have days when you just want to stay in your pyjamas?
Angelina Jolie: [Laughs] Well, I’ve been off during the last year and I spend a lot of time at home in my pyjamas and doing a lot of colouring! I don’t watch much TV.

Q. You’ve had a couple of years of emotional extremes. How are you in yourself?
Angelina Jolie: I’m very, very lucky. I feel… you have a loss and my mum was far too young. She was 58. But she lived long enough to meet most of my children. So, you can only think of that and you can only focus on just how grateful you are. I also think that when you love somebody that much, you’re happy when they’re out of pain. Period. As much as you miss them, the important thing is that they don’t suffer. But I’ve been so blessed to have healthy children and a great partner… we’re having such a wonderful time raising our children together. There’s a lot of love in our home. So, I remind myself of that whenever I think of what I’ve lost.

Read our review of Changeling