Although the main impetus for an interview with Angelina Jolie was for the film By The Sea — in which she wrote, directed and starred in — it seems silly to have a chat with Angelina Jolie and not bring up her relationship with Brad Pitt. After all, he's her partner in the art house-like, European-styled flick: The 52-year old plays writer Roland, while the 40-year-old Jolie takes on the role of his wife Vanessa. Set in the south of France (although it was filmed in Malta), the film sees through the 14th year of a couple's life — which, while undeniably stylish, is drenched in a state of unbearable ennui.
It's a film about grief, as Jolie had previously shared in the film's promotional behind-the-scens videos. "I wrote because I wanted to explore grief," says Jolie's voice-over in one. "Much of the film and character is very much about my mother, and my feelings about my mother."
Her late mother is actress Marcheline Bertrand, who was married to her actor father Jon Voight. While the film isn't a biographical recollection of Jolie's marriage or her mother's, it does bear sympathies which align those of herself and her mother when the duo found out of Bertrand's ovarian cancer diagnosis.
"When my mom first found out she had ovarian cancer, she was in the hospital and there was another woman down the hall who was wailing all the time," shares Jolie. "She was young and hadn't had any children and that was obvious she would never have any because she had the same issue my mother had. To me, this film is about my mother and that young woman and how all women deal with this tragedy. What I want to underline and speak about is that deep pain of those women who really suffer from the inability of becoming a mother. You almost torture yourself with it. And that's what my character Vanessa is constantly doing — she's torturing herself."
Considered to be more of a labour of love than a vanity project, By The Sea was made when Jolie turned 40, which was the same year she got married. In fact, the duo filmed it as part of their honeymoon. What a way to show your new husband who's boss — by directing him.
So you just had your wedding and practically the next day you had to direct your new husband...how was it?
There were certainly a few days when we thought this wasn't the best idea. Maybe if we were just starting our relationship, it would have been a disaster. But we've been together for so long so we knew how to handle many things. In the end we thought it was the best honeymoon in history because no matter how stormy it was, we stayed together. And that actually was not our personal discovery, but also one of the most important messages of the movie.
Was it difficult to direct him?
It was really a very unusual thing to direct him and we had to find a new language. I think our first few days were quite tricky. But he knows me so well, he knows every little gesture when I get impatient or when I'm not really happy. But sometimes we get stuck, and it was challenging to push him. We are open and honest with each other and I believe that ultimately helped us. I tried to give him a safe space and told him to trust me, that I would do my best to protect him in the editing room. I think he worked very hard.
Can you please talk about your decision to push Brad Pitt to speak French?
Oh, he worked so hard on it and it was so beautiful! Actually I didn't push him — he wanted to learn French himself. So I added a bunch of scenes where he could practice what he had learned. I love the French language, so it was a pleasure to be able to work in it as a director.
In the credits to the movie you are designated as Angelina Jolie-Pitt. You used to say that you didn't feel the need of getting married and now you have this official paper — which you didn't believe in — and a new surname. How has your marriage to Brad changed your views, opinions or feelings? Has it changed anything in general?
All my children are Jolie-Pitt and I thought it would be nice to join them. But I still think getting married is not something vitally important. And I really think it's nice to do it when you don't need it. Marriage is not something to complete you or to take to the next level of whatever. For us, it was something that we have already known and making it official was just nice and no more. It didn't change anything for us. I'd say the biggest change for me was when I signed over the papers and Brad officially adopted Zahara and Maddox. That was the day when I realized that I will stay forever with this man and that was many years ago.
You said the film might have been harder to make if you didn't know each other well because being together for such a long time gives you important experience of how to handle many things and avoid conflicts. But there must be some little things on a lighter note that still make you crazy...
Oh, to be clear, we have fights and problems like any other couple and certainly we have days when we just drive each other absolutely mad. For example, I am the kind of person that just throws my glasses and other things around. Brad finds that extremely irritating.
And what do you find irritating?
Big things and little things. Anybody who is married knows that you try your best not to focus on them, 'cause you are going to live with them for the rest of your life so you try to focus on something positive.
Your character Vanessa suffers from insecurity and jealousy, and I was just wondering whether you are acquainted with jealousy yourself?
Well, I don't think she actually has jealousy, but she has a deep personal pain. If somebody says to me, "Oh, I just got off the phone with my mom", I might have a tinge of jealousy because I can't do that. It's those kinds of things. I hope that when women see the film, they see through those layers and exactly what it means.
Do you ever get jealous in your relationship? You are married to Brad Pitt after all...
You know, it's a funny thing. I love him so much and he's the father of my children and he is one of my great friends in life — so when somebody says he is attractive, I am happy for him. When you have children with somebody you look at this person and see not only him but also your children. And when I look at Brad I see exactly that mix. I know I am not the only woman that he would ever look at but I have a trust that he understands the value of family.
As you said, we all have our ups and downs in relationships, so what have you learned over the years and what do you tell your children about relationships? Are they talking about it yet?
They are not talking about relationships yet, no. And what have I learned about relationships through all these years? These are those heavy questions like I am in a therapy session...but you're right, it's good to ask yourself things like this from time to time. I think I have learned a lot about how to compromise and how to help the person you love to be a better version of himself. I also think it's very important to have a common goal as that's what really keeps people together. Certainly children are the easiest way to have the sense of purpose together because no matter what, they are first. And I try to talk to my children a lot about anything and if they ever hear their mommy and daddy argue, we try to explain to them what we were talking about and why. And I want my children to be able to ask any questions.
It's been more than 10 years since you and Brad worked together. Can you talk about the difference in working with him as an actor now and then? And you also became his boss as a director. Was there anything that surprised you about him in this new relationship that you are having professionally?
Yes, lots of things. And of course it was very different when we first worked together. We didn't really know each other ten years ago and we were young and it was a really fun film. But now it's a whole new story and I enjoyed the process very much. It was very sensitive, but I know his triggers and I didn't want to guide him. So if anything, I had to step away and kind of just be very, very careful in how he was directed. I think the strangest scene is when we were both fighting on the screen. In order to shoot it, I had to fight with him trying to explain how to better fight with me. One moment I am the crazy Vanessa who is so broken and weird, and then when I went to the studio to cut the material. And I wasn't Vanessa anymore, but this other person who is a director and who has to have a strong opinion about everything. And then I went to the set again and became Vanessa. It was kind of schizophrenic for all of us.
What happens when you get mad? Do you yell and scream or do you turn inward?
When I am really mad, I get quiet and self-contained. I think when I stop talking I get dangerously angry. And if there is still something to debate, then there is hope. But once you are sure you know that there has been something that is wrong or you are very angry or against something, then there is very little to discuss. But I do like to solve things quickly and I don't sit on anything. Which probably drives Brad a little mad because I do need to discuss it and discuss it right now. Being artists we both do talk a lot and that's very helpful in our relationship.
In your movies you mostly focus on the darkest elements of life just sprinkled with a little bit of hope. What drives you and what is your focus as a director versus as a person and a mother?
I think I'm average parent just trying to be the best of myself with my children. I am playful but I am also very honest with them about life because I don't want them to be disillusioned and walk into a life being unaware of what is to come. And as a director I do films that raise questions and speak about the harder issues in life because that's what we are here to help each other get through.
How involved are your children in the making of your films?
Maddox is working with me in production so when I have my production meeting, he is sitting right next to me. Pax is going through photography and Shiloh is sketching the sets. And that is how things should be now.
Which is your favorite phase of your life?
I love being a woman. I am more comfortable with who I am today as I feel more balanced but still as wild at heart as I was years ago. When you're younger, the things that are wild tend to be a tattoo or something of that kind. But when you get older and more tame you're traveling to certain countries that are a more extreme life experience or you're flying an airplane or you're having a full extraordinary wild time with your children and there's no other real chaos than the chaos of a houseful of children. There's no 20-year-old of wildness that can compete with that.
What makes you happy?
In my early-twenties while traveling to certain parts of the world I realized how fortunate I really was with all my food, water, hygiene supplies and clothes. Then I became a mother and it's just an incomparable happiness. Every single morning, I wake up knowing that the most important thing and the only thing that matters is that I raise my children right and that they're healthy and have a wonderful future ahead. It's also such a pleasure to be a part of the movie business and have an opportunity to express myself in my work.
What kind of clothes are in your closet?
Black. I don't like having to think about clothing so I have pants, skirts, tops and t-shirts —and pretty much it's all the same and it's all black and not out of a moodiness, just out of a practicality. And lots of boots.
Is Brad's closet bigger than yours?