Acting is not pretending or lying. It's finding a side of yourself that's like the character and ignoring your other sides. And there's a side of me that wonders what's wrong with being completely hon- Angelina Jolie
Actors with great looks and talent to match are a dime a dozen. Armed with thousand-watt smiles and a burning devotion to their craft, they flood casting agencies, resumes and head shots in hand, hoping to land that serendipitous role that will put them on the map — or at least pay the rent. For the painfully vast majority of hopefuls, mining for that lucky break can be a disappointing and humbling endeavor; the harsh reality of show business is that only a scant number will ever earn a decent, consistent income by acting, let alone be cast in a film financed by a major studio.
Of another breed altogether are movie stars, and what distinguishes movie stars from the thousands of actors who aren't movie stars is Presence. To be sure, Presence often owes a debt to beauty and skill, but it's an attribute that more importantly embraces a fearless, passionate, and truthful perspective. Actors who have it can succeed in making otherwise atrocious films worth seeing. They steal scenes away from the principals without any perceivable effort, dominating movies in supporting roles. To illustrate this quality in operation, consider, please, the career of movie star Angelina Jolie, who is an exemplar of what Presence can do for a girl.
'Just look at that beautiful face and all the intelligence that it has and all the passion. It's quite extraordinary,' says actor Jon Voight, who, admittedly, is not the most unbiased observer, considering that the Oscar-winning actor is Jolie's father. Born to Voight and actress Marcheline Bertrand, Jolie began studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute at age 11. She was even more precocious than that, having made her screen debut six years earlier alongside papa Jon in the Hal Ashby-directed comedy Lookin' to Get Out, an obscure film that will likely one day be remembered only as an answer to an equally obscure Angelina Jolie trivia question.
Eschewing her youthful dream of becoming a funeral director, Jolie struck out on her own at age 16, finding work as a professional model and appearing in a handful of music videos (for the likes of Meatloaf, the Lemonheads, Lenny Kravitz, and the Rolling Stones), and entering film studies at New York University. She eventually gravitated back to acting in a more formalized setting, joining the Met Theatre Group in Los Angeles, where she studied alongside esteemed actors Ed Harris and Holly Hunter. 'I didn't know exactly what I wanted, but I knew I could know,' the actress told Mr. Showbiz about her rekindled interest in theatrics. 'I loved some kind of expression … I want[ed] so much to try to explain things to somebody … I'm very good at trying to explore different emotions and listen to people and feel things. That is an actor, I think. To be sure, Jolie's first explorations were underwhelming — a supporting role as a human-machine hybrid in the 1993 direct-to-video sci-fier Cyborg II: Glass Shadows preceded her first lead outing in the 1995 cyber-thriller Hackers. A confusing, muddled effort, Hackers nonetheless proved to be a significant milestone for several reasons: it got theatrical release; Jolie's performance received some of the only good notices afforded the marginally deplorable film; and, on a more personal level, the venture put her in the company of a free-spirited British actor named Jonny Lee Miller.
After a brief courtship, the co-stars were wed in a ceremony that epitomized Jolie's over-the-top approach to life. The nuptials also earned her the first bad reviews of her career. The bride wore black — black rubber pants, to be more specific — and topped off her ensemble by writing her groom's name in blood across the back of her shirt. 'It's your husband,' she explained to the New York Times. 'You're about to marry him. You can sacrifice a little to make it really special.' Sacrifice notwithstanding, the two separated, if not before the blood could dry, within a year; their divorce became final in 2000.
Jolie's bit of matrimonial notoriety didn't stanch the flow of career opportunities. She set about essaying a diverse range of roles, all of which brought her glowing notices, attesting to the fact that she possessed that elusive quality, Presence, in spades. She piqued critics' interest with her performance as a self-possessed teen drifter (appropriately called 'Legs') who incites female students at a small-town high school to stand up for themselves in the 1996 Joyce Carol Oates adaptation Foxfire. Her magnetism also stood her in good stead in her role as a star-crossed Italian girl in love with the son of her restaurateur family's business rival in the club-footed romance Love Is All There Is (also 1996). She struck a more serious chord as a drug-addicted teen in the 1995 based-in-fact suspense flick Without Evidence, and she wrested a surprising amount of dignity from her supporting turn as a gangster moll caught between the affections of her kingpin boyfriend and the mob doctor in his employ in the woebegone David Duchovny-starrer Playing God (1997).
Unfortunately, precious few people saw the films. At the same time that moviegoers were turning an indifferent shoulder to Jolie's film efforts, a brace of small-screen outings were netting her plenty of positive attention. Her impassioned and intense portrayal of Cornelia Wallace — to Gary Sinise's equally excellent title turn — in the 1997 TV movie George Wallace garnered her a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination. But her star was truly set ablaze by another galvanizing biopic portrayal — this time as the drug-addicted, AIDS-afflicted model Gia Carangi in the 1998 HBO-produced Gia. Jolie's brave, fiery, but perfectly controlled characterization netted a second Golden Globe statuette (this time in the Best Actress category), another Emmy nomination, and widespread acclaim.
Most important of all, Jolie's increased exposure translated into a decidedly more high-profile mix of challenging film roles in 1999. She co-starred as Billy Bob Thornton's va-va-voom wife in the Mike Newell-directed air traffic controller comedy Pushing Tin. Later in the year, she tackled a headlining role as a tough, no-nonsense policewoman in the serial-killer thriller The Bone Collector, holding her own opposite formidable leading man Denzel Washington. Collector director Phillip Noyce commented to Time magazine about Jolie's acting mettle: 'She's not burned out with the joy of performing. She's in her element because she can set parameters for a character, whereas I suspect she doesn't know her own boundaries emotionally and physically.' She pushed emotional, physical, and mental boundaries to the limits in her strong turn as a seductive sociopath in Girl, Interrupted, a starring vehicle for Winona Ryder that was based on author Susanna Kaysen's best-selling account of her own two-year confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jolie's full-tilt performance in the coveted supporting role was rewarded with a Golden Globe, not to mention a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
So, at the age of 24, with three Golden Globes on the mantel and an Academy Award to balance them out, Angelina Jolie has landed firmly in the driver's seat. Speaking of driver's seats, her next film, the auto-boosting action-drama vehicle Gone in 60 Seconds, paired her with Nic Cage, an actor who likewise has Presence to burn.
On a more personal note, Jolie surprised everyone in May 2000 with her seemingly sudden marriage to Pushing Tin co-star Billy Bob Thornton — likely the most surprised by the whirlwind nuptials was Thornton's recently spurned ex, Laura Dern, who had assumed even a few weeks before that the two of them were destined to walk down the aisle.