If heroism endures, so too does villainy, as “Maleficent” proves. After all, the titular enchantress was the principal antagonizing force in Disney’s animated “Sleeping Beauty” more than five decades ago. Now she’s the focal point of her own movie — a fanciful feminist re-imagining of the same basic tale starring Angelina Jolie in the title role. ShockYa recently had a chance to participate in the film’s Los Angeles press day. A roundtable conversation with Jolie is excerpted below:
Question: It might seem a little odd, but I was just wondering, when you get in the full costume with the headdress, is there sort of a Norma Desmond thing that takes over… because I was reading a little bit of, like, “Sunset Boulevard” into [your performance]?
Angelina Jolie: Well I’ll take that as huge compliment. I would love to think so. I think that was part of the thing with this role — you realize that there’s no halfway, that if you’re gonna do it, you can’t kind of do it. You’re gonna have to just to fully get into it and enjoy it. And 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, and… and when I got them laughing I figured I was on to something.
Question: Got them laughing — is that what you were going for?
Angelina Jolie: Well they laughed, they cried. They did hide in the corner for a bit.
Question: Your own daughter was in the movie, and I’ve read that you were maybe a little reluctant to do that, to have her in the movie.
Angelina Jolie: Well, Brad and I never wanted our kids to be actors. We never talked about it as a thing, you know? 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 for them to have a good, healthy relationship with it. And 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. And so I felt so bad, but we realized that there was no way that we were going to find a four- or five-year-old (for this bit role) 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 out in the world and film and all that… it took us a second, but we came around to it.
Question: Well, how’d she like it? How’d she work on the set?
Angelina Jolie: She was good. The first day was the day she had to catch the butterfly and she just really didn’t feel like doing it. 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 making faces and doing all these things. And her brothers and sisters were kind of egging her on, and you know, so she eventually did it, but she was just taking her sweet time and not wanting to do it. 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, you know, 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, you know? Inside I thought, “Oh, she went back and hit her mark, it’s frightening.”
Question: Might you have your kids in other movies after this experience?
Angelina Jolie: 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 not (be) 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.
Question: What part did timing play in this? If this project had come up five years ago, would you have considered it?
Angelina Jolie: I don’t know. I mean, it’s such a great project I imagine I would always have considered it, but I think it was really … after having directed and thinking that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to act or how good I’d be … 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 and 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. It was a good time to just remember what it is to play and entertain and try something bold.
Question: So motherhood had everything to do with it then?
Angelina Jolie: It had a lot to do with it — and then also the artist in me felt that it was good to do something bold every once in a while, that you’re not comfortable with, and that you haven’t done. You know, I was actually a bit nervous to take her on. I just thought, you know, I don’t have a big theater voice, I don’t do things that are kind of comedic — this is such a crazy idea, that I’m a fairy. But somehow it’s great to jump into things that you’re not sure of and you haven’t done and are a little scary — that’s what we have to do as artists.
Question: What would a non-parent under-estimate about what actually appeals to kids in movies… or, you know, what kids specifically might love about this Maleficent?
Angelina Jolie: Well it was interesting — my boys saw an early cut of “Unbroken” the other day and I thought they would be talking about the sharks, and instead they asked me about one of the character’s deaths. And I was very confused by that so… no, not confused, I was surprised… you know, I think the depth that children can handle and what they’re really interested in is much deeper than I think people assume. And it think it’s why sometimes we make things too simple for them. They want to understand things that frighten them, they want to see dark things that happen and they want to see how to rise above them — they don’t want to be hidden from all things and have everything sweetened. I think that’s something that always surprises me about children.
Question: Could you describe the process of getting ready — the prosthetics, the makeup, everything?
Angelina Jolie: It wasn’t that much. The creation of it took a little time to figure out — how to do the horns, you know, even how to get them on my head and how do they stay on the head. We used my hair as kind of braids to nail it down to different things. Well, it was a headpiece, of course, with the horns, it wasn’t like a headband. So we kind of put my 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. And 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, and, you know, it just all slowly came together. We tried different things and some of the things didn’t work, you know. We had feather hair at one point. We went about crazy [thinking], “Well, she’s a bird so maybe she has feather hair instead.” But we finally just wanted to have a character that when you’re watching, when you’re seeing the dramatic scenes, you feel that you can watch her without [just] staring at the makeup. We wanted to really find a balance so it was kind of an enhanced face but it still felt like a real face somehow — that a soul could still come out through that face.
Question: Is Maleficent a character you could imagine returning to in the future?
Angelina Jolie: Nobody’s asked me that. I don’t know. I’m not dead at the end of it so … she’s still there. But I don’t know. I loved playing her (though).
Question: Why did you feel so strongly in the first place that this was the story that really you needed to tell?
Angelina Jolie: Well, I think I wanted to do something that my children can see, I wanted to have fun and explore different art and performance in a way I hadn’t done. But most of all, I read the script and I was really moved by it and I actually got very emotional when I finished it and I thought it was one of the best scripts I had read in a long time because of the issues it dealt with. I thought it was, in fact, an important story to tell.
Question: In regards to the experience you had as a director with your first film — I know you came out the other side of it as something you were so proud of, but returning to (the director’s chair) the second time do you feel a little different… were you more assured in a way?
Angelina Jolie: Yes, but I jumped into something so much bigger, so it was daunting in a whole different way because “Blood and Honey” I wrote, it was (set) in a few rooms, there were certain things to tackle and certainly the politics of it which you balance and many, many things like that. But getting into “Unbroken,” it’s suddenly… you know, two plane crashes and shark attacks and 47 days at sea and three prison camps and the 1936 Olympics and, you know, it races. You wake up in the morning and you think, “God, there’s a way to do that, isn’t there?” …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, we didn’t have that much time. So it was kind of a new scare.
Question: Sort of to that same point, I understand you were very instrumental in helping (director) Robert Stromberg to take on this massive of a project, in his directorial debut. Can you tell me about that?
Angelina Jolie: Well, it was Disney’s choice and, you know, I think they felt strongly. … He hadn’t directed before but he was very into the creation of worlds, and the script was so strong that we kind of felt that all pieces would come together because we had such a solid script and even though he hadn’t directed before, the script would kind of help in a way, direct itself and the actors would feel close to their characters. And he did really have this focus on the creatures and what the world would look like and the feeling.
Question: I just have a question about your work/life balance — how do you prioritize everything?
Angelina Jolie: I mean, my kids are here upstairs, you know. They homeschool, so we travel everywhere together, and they were on set most every day for “Maleficent.” We travel everywhere together and when I feel I’m doing too much I do less if I can and that’s why I’m in a rare position where I don’t have to do job after job — I can take time when my family needs it. And I can edit now, that’s the nice thing about being a director — I can say, “I can only get into the room after the kids are at school and I have to be back for dinner, and they’re coming for lunch.” So I actually feel that women in my position, when we have all at our disposal to help us, shouldn’t complain when we consider all of the people who are really struggling, who don’t have the financial means, who don’t have the support, and so many people are single raising children — that’s hard.
NOTE: “Maleficent” is in theaters now. Check back for more interviews with the cast and crew.
Written by: Brent Simon