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Angelina: "Being a mum is my favourite role"

By Gill Pringle

Fledgling movie star Vivienne Jolie-Pitt (5) is giggling playfully with a babysitter in an adjoining hotel room, happy in the knowledge that her mother is close by. “She's my shadow. She wants to know where I am at all times. I had to take her from school early today because she had to come here and hug mommy,” smiles her mother Angelina Jolie indulgently when we meet in Beverly Hills.

Fledgling movie star Vivienne Jolie-Pitt (5) is giggling playfully with a babysitter in an adjoining hotel room, happy in the knowledge that her mother is close by. “She's my shadow. She wants to know where I am at all times. I had to take her from school early today because she had to come here and hug mommy,” smiles her mother Angelina Jolie indulgently when we meet in Beverly Hills.

You'd pretty much have to live under a rock to not know that Jolie is the face of Disney's iconic villain Maleficent, a misunderstood woman with whom the actress has long identified. “I was afraid of her but I loved her too.”

While the other kids in the playground were playing princesses, a young Jolie always favoured Maleficent, the evil fairy who in the original 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty, curses the infant Princess Aurora to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die before her 16th birthday.

“I think we all know the story of Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent and what happened at the christening but we've never known what happened before and what drove her,” says Jolie (38), herself perhaps unfairly cast as the villain of the piece when she and Pitt famously got together nine years ago, although there are always two sides to any story.

“In the same way as Maleficent, I think I was born quite open-hearted, trusting, more loving and then, like everybody, there are different things in my life that made me trust less and become more alone and more angry and more careful,” says the actress whose late mother, Marcheline Bertrand struggled alone to raise her children without the support of their absent father Jon Voight.

“But then something brings Maleficent back and makes her realise who she was meant to be and so I felt like my family did that for me; they helped me to be light again.”

It’s evident how much joy her family — Maddox (12), Pax, (10), Zahara (9) Shilo (8) and five-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne — have brought, photographed together in far-flung locations, always with toys, costumes, fast food, and all the trappings of a regular childhood.

When any successful actor says they don't want their own kids to follow in their footsteps, it’s always a curious notion. “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 it's not the centre of their lives, that they also do many other things, because I don't think it's a healthy focus as a centre of your life,” she explains. “But we also want them to be around film and be a part of mommy and daddy's life, just to have a good, healthy relationship with it.”

After months vamping it up at Pinewood Studios, undergoing a four-hour process involving prosthetic cheekbones and ears, contact lenses, elaborate make-up and a urethane-horned headpiece, today she's still channelling her inner Maleficent, dressed from head to toe in black; black nails, black lace Valentino dress, black Louboutin heels, smoky eyes and an enormous black-stoned ring.

She's a mother, philanthropist, tireless humanitarian, and when you are sitting just a few feet away from this woman the almond-shaped blue eyes, spectacular bone structure and puffy lips all come together in an improbable juxtaposition of perfection.

However, she does confess to some flaws. “My biggest thing is I don't know how to do nothing. As a mother I have to learn to be able to just be home and enjoy my family and let everything ...” she sighs, words fading away. “I always feel there is something I should be doing. It's not good all the time.”

One of those itches she simply had to scratch was directing Unbroken, a big-budget epic chronicling the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner taken prisoner by Japanese forces during the Second World War; a project so daunting that it had been in turnaround for 55 years.

With British actor Jack O'Connell cast in the lead role as Zamperini, she admits: “Unbroken may be the hardest thing I have ever done. Louis is 97, he's my neighbour. We've spent a lot of time together, he's helped me through so much in my life. I didn't really have grandparents and I didn't grow up with my father so maybe there's something in just really getting to know an older man and getting the wisdom.

“He's been a guiding light for many people through his journey, so it's a big responsibility to take that life and put it onto film, because it's such a big life.”

Jolie's own life has likewise been lived large: from an unruly 14-year-old whose mother allowed her to have a live-in-boyfriend for two years, to a brief marriage to her Hackers co-star Jonny Lee Miller followed by an even briefer union with Pushing Tin co-star Billy Bob Thornton with whom she exchanged vials of blood.

Then there was the Oscar for her role in Girl, Interrupted followed by the infamous kiss with her brother James Haven, all of which seems like a rebellious youth compared with the Jolie we know and love today: the UNHCR goodwill ambassador and special envoy, and courageous woman who underwent a double-mastectomy last year after discovering she carried the BRCA1 cancer-gene mutation, and who wrote candidly about her decision in The New York Times.

She laughs at the notion she may even have a halo, confessing to the fact that she is not a turn-the-other-cheek kind of person.

Directing, she says, gives her a sense of fulfilment she doesn't always find when she's merely acting in a film. It also enables her more family time in a future where she plans to be a strong presence as they transition into their teens.

For the time being, she and Pitt enforce certain ground rules at home. “Cellphones are never at the dinner table, that's a no-no,” she says. “They do some stuff online, but no Twitter or Facebook or anything like that. They are not completely cut off to stuff but we try to guide it and protect it as much as we can.”

She shakes her head and smiles when you ask if she has any advice for raising teens. “No, but somebody said to me that the best thing to do is just not say very much. You give them as much guidance while they are growing up, before they are teenagers, and then when it's their turn to try things and express things, you just have to listen a lot.”

She is not looking to retire just yet, as has been erroneously reported. “Brad has known for a while that I love my humanitarian work and I love directing and writing and so he has seen this coming I think,” she says.

“But I am not retiring. I will do one or two movies if they come, the right ones, but I think that I have been in front of the camera for so long in my life and it's nice to step back.”

Ironically, she made her own big-screen debut, aged seven, in her father's movie Lookin' to Get Out, playing Ann-Margret's daughter. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School she quickly established herself as a talented actress across multiple genres: a detective in The Bone Collector; the kick-ass eponymous heroine of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, stylish period drama actor in Robert De Niro's Good Shepherd and Clint Eastwood's Changeling. She also voiced characters in Kung Fu Panda and Shark Tale.

But after writing and directing Bosnian War love story In the Land of Blood and Honey in 2011, she became enthralled with the process.

Flexibility is key, too: “I am editing now and the kids can come on set and I can be there for breakfast, I can be home for dinner, they can come to work with me and I can take days off if they need me to take them to the dentist, so it's a different kind of work, and with the kids getting into their teens they are going to need me to be ready to do less and be there.”

To this end, she has even written a script and hopes to direct Pitt in the future. “We haven't worked together for 10 years and when we first worked together we had so much fun although we weren't together at the time so this would be very different,” she says referring to Mr & Mrs Smith, the movie where they fell in love.

“Of course, when I worked with him then I realised he was like my best friend and a really great man,” she says.

When we meet, she still hasn't seen the final cut of Maleficent and smiles when you tell her how the audience at the previous night's screening sighed a collective “awww” at the scenes where Vivienne jumps into her arms.

“It was hard to hold your child and say right into their face, ‘I don't like children', and then hope that didn't leave a lasting impression,” she says.

Maleficent is at cinemas now

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