Over the course of her career, the Oscar winner has tackled addiction, mental illness, and serial killers (in movies, of course), but now she's taking on a sinister force so powerful that it's been giving kids -- and some adults -- nightmares for decades.
"Maleficent," Disney's live-action re-imagining of "Sleeping Beauty," retells the story from the oh-so-misunderstood villainess's point of view, following the fairy from her mysterious childhood to her better-known darker years. And who better to play one of Disney's most celebrated villains than one of the world's most celebrated stars?
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Jolie sat down with Moviefone to chat about Disney's dark fairy, the challenges of bringing her to life, breaking character for some snuggle time with a scene-stealing costar, and whether or not she's raising a family of actors.
Moviefone: How intimidating is it to take on an iconic character like Maleficent?
Angelina Jolie: Hugely intimidating. She was done perfectly the first time: Her extraordinary voice and the way they animated her, and the way she looked. And I was in awe of her when I was a little girl. I thought she was so elegant and so tough and so cool.
Our first goal was, okay, it's different, but we're going to end up with the christening scene, so that christening scene... Whatever I choose to do, however I create things or expand her story, I have to understand that that christening scene has been done and we cannot disappoint the fans of the original in that scene. And so, whatever choices we make, it has to all come together there.
I was nervous. I was nervous about my voice. I worked really hard on my voice. I worked on it with my kids until I found a voice that made them laugh. I did some voice classes -- because I don't have theater background -- so I kept trying to get comfortable speaking. It's an odd thing. You don't walk into a room and just... do that. And then figuring out the look and the horns... It was fun.
All the while, every decision was kind of weighted with, Are we going to mess this up, or are we going to nail it?
Was there anything or anyone saying "Don't do it, it's too precious"?
I kind of felt like I was at that place in my life where you just can't -- maybe I've always been at that place in my life -- but you just... you can't be scared of things, you know? And I finally realized, okay, if I do it with the intention of giving the audience what they want, if my goal is to tell this story -- entertain, not disappoint -- then I will go into it with a kind of generosity and openness. I won't go into it taking myself seriously and thinking of myself as the mistress of evil. I'll go into it with a sense of goofball a little bit. If I have fun, they'll have fun. And we'll have fun together. And somehow that made me feel like it was going to be okay. But it was scary. And the day of the christening [scene] was scary.
Maleficent's fixation on Aurora changes from a kind of revenge focus to more of a protective coveting. What flipped the switch? Was there a turning point?
I don't think there was. I think it's kind of this idea of something we can all relate to, where we've gotten to a place in our lives where we feel a little hardened by life. We feel a little darker. We feel we've been hurt, wounded, upset -- whatever it may be that's turned us where we don't trust. We've all got it. And then there's something that enters your life -- whether it be love or children or something that we just discover -- that just kind of opens you up again and takes you a while to identify or understand what's happening inside of you, and especially for Maleficent. It would take her a while because it is very foreign to have certain feelings.
And so I think that there's not one moment, but I think that the person she was when she was born had a lot of the qualities of this later person. And it was in watching [Aurora] grow up that she starts to remember and wonders if she could ever be that again. I think the fun in her is in her reluctance to not really be comfortable doing that or know how that's going to work. So, in fact, it's quite funny in that Aurora actually has the ability to scare Maleficent with her purity and spirit.
One of those "scary" moments was maybe the most adorable in the movie, which was when your daughter, Vivienne, showed up as Aurora. There were audible "aws" in the theater when you picked her up and she started pulling at your horns. Was it a challenge to stay in character in that moment?
It was. It was. But also because I had to say things to her, like "go away" and "I don't like children." But that's how we knew Viv would be perfect, because she is like my little shadow and there's nothing I can say that she doesn't just interpret as "Mommy doesn't mean that. She wants me to stay." But it was hard to stay in character. We did -- in our outtakes -- we get very snuggly, just to apologize.
Your kids have been popping up here and there in your movies. Zahara was in "Maleficent" as well.
[She] and Pax are in the christening scene for a moment. It's like a cameo.
And then Maddox was in "World War Z"...
He was going to be in "World War Z," but they didn't tell us when they were filming that the ratings wouldn't allow a child zombie.
Really? So are there any future acting gigs for the Jolie-Pitt kids, then?
Our idea is not to have them in film but to share our lives with them and play with them, so it's not to look for them to be actors. But if there is some kind of experience where they can jump on set and feel what it's like to be on set and not feel separated from our work, then it's fun. But we would really like to keep them separate from it... as a career. We're hoping that we don't have actors, but maybe we do.
You never know.
You never know.
Let's talk about "Unbroken," which is coming out later in the year.
Yes, Christmas. This is your second time directing a feature film. What's the most important thing you learned from directing "In the Land of Blood and Honey" that you took to your work on "Unbroken"?
"Unbroken" is based on a true story, and "Blood and Honey" wasn't a true story but it was based on many true stories that happened, and it was a real history. So both being real histories you understand that you have to take the time to learn about all sides, really understand the history. There's not one view of history... You're not doing a documentary, you're doing a film, and you have to try to find that line of what things mean for an audience. So it's an interesting balance to pay respect to all the things you know you need to pay respect to, and then also give the audience the journey they're ready to take.
The Coen brothers were very helpful with that in helping me to understand that they're all different mediums. A documentary is one. A book is one. A biography is one. And a movie is one. And they're all not to be done the same, and so find the best version for film. And, as always, to hire great crew and listen to them because I think that's what makes a great director. There are so many people around me who have done this many, many times more than me. And if you just ask for advice, they'll give it to you.
One last question: Is there anything you can tell me about "Salt 2"?
Only that I've never read anything. [Laughs] I don't think it's actually in the works. I think maybe there's somebody planning it, but I have absolutely no idea.
Disney's "Maleficent" casts its spell in theaters May 30. Get movie times and tickets now.
Article photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images