Angelina Jolie has played a mysterious mental patient, a glamorous computer wizard, a suspicious super-spy, a brave wife in mourning, a vindictive regal queen, a courageous beat cop, and dozens of other complex characters over her 20-year career. And on May 30, she’ll add a misunderstood winged fairy to that list with the release of Disney’s Maleficient.
The family film offers a twist on the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty and its antagonist specifically; not only is Maleficient’s backstory thoroughly explored to paint her in a much more sympathetic light, but the fable undergoes a much-needed revision, getting an important dose of feminism that’s sadly missing from most classic children’s tales.
“I was moved for many reasons when I read the script, but that was the biggest,” Jolie told BuzzFeed, while sitting at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “It was a really interesting story that’s full of strength and feminism, but is, ultimately, about the strength of these women.”
And strong females are a speciality for Jolie, for whom self-assuredness is an essential quality for any character she takes on, even from her nascent roles like Hackers and Gia. The Oscar-winning actress and mother of six recently sat down with BuzzFeed to reflect on five of her earliest performances, revealing what she remembers most about each project, how she felt about the characters then, and how she feels about them now.
3. Cyborg 2 (1993)
In her film debut, Jolie played Casella “Cash” Reese, a cyborg assassin gifted with the ability to emulate human emotions, which results in chaos when she becomes self-aware and refuses to carry out a mission that would kill her.
“Oh, I threw up,” Jolie said, with a laugh, of her first viewing of the sci-fi movie. “I did. I saw it and I threw up. Just nausea. But the kickboxing was fun. It was the first time I was sent to do kickboxing. But I was 17 and I think I thought I was making a real movie, which is odd, since there’s a scene when I’m decapitated and talking … as one does. But, yeah, I saw it and got really sick. I just remember my brother Jamie [Haven] holding me and saying, ‘It’s going to be all right.’”
4. Hackers (1995)
In the cult classic, Jolie played Kate Libby (aka Acid Burn), an online genius who teams up with a band of misfits (led by Jonny Lee Miller, who became her first husband) to stop a sleazy computer expert from capsizing a fleet of oil tankers to mask the theft of $25 million.
“Well, oddly, love,” said Jolie upon being asked what comes to mind when thinking about Hackers. “That’s where I met Jonny, who is still a great friend. So I think of him when I think of that. Although, I’m sure the movie looks so ancient now, but we had a lot of fun making that.”
5. Gia (1998)
Jolie won her second Golden Globe (the first was for the 1998 TNT TV movie George Wallace) and her first Screen Actors Guild Award for her searing performance in this TV movie about Gia Carangi, a fashion model who was as beautiful as she was troubled. The film chronicled Gia’s rise, fall, and subsequent death in 1986 due to complications from AIDS.
“I was so sad for her,” Jolie said, her energy immediately shifting to a somber place. “Playing a real person you identify with and can feel makes you feel a responsibility. Then you live inside her world for a bit and you just feel so deeply sad that she never really knew love and felt she was of value other than a thing or a face. And at that time, with AIDS, I can’t even imagine how she must have felt about how she was treated.”
6. Playing by Heart (1998)
Five years before interconnected tales of love became Hollywood’s rom-com format du jour, Jolie co-starred with Ryan Phillippe, Gillian Anderson, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Connery, Dennis Quaid, Gena Rowlands, Jon Stewart, and Madeleine Stowe in writer-director Willard Carroll’s beautiful story of love in Los Angeles. Jolie played Claire, an outspoken club kid who falls quickly in love with Keenan (Phillippe), a withdrawn young man hiding the fact that he’s HIV positive.
“It was such a great cast,” Jolie recalled. “I wanted to play and wanted to be free and I liked that character. I loved her story, and that beautiful scene where Ryan’s character talks about having AIDS, and how she reacts to it … there’s a real sweetness to it, a kindness with all the different things people face in the world, innately. I think in the end, with all of that, you just hope people will be kind. And they were.”
7. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Jolie won her first Oscar (the Academy gave her an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 2014) for her unforgettable performance as Lisa, one of the many young women Susanna (Winona Ryder) meets after being sent to a sanitarium in 1967.
“I really, genuinely thought I was the only character who was sane in the entire film,” Jolie stated. “And if you watch it closely, that’s exactly how I was playing it: I am just the only sane person here. I was actually almost upset when people said I was so good at playing insane because I never thought she was insane. She was just incredibly honest, which, I guess, made her seem crazy.”