Angelina Jolie: The maneater - or a victim of hypocrisy?

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The Independent Online

One would be forgiven for thinking that Angelina Jolie has committed some crime so dark and terrible that the Hollywood actress has been assigned her own special corner of hell. This past week the 29-year-old has come in for a barrage of comment, innuendo and outright attack that has from the comical to the ludicrous. In between, she's been on the receiving end of a fair old helping of hypocrisy and misogyny.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Angelina Jolie has committed some crime so dark and terrible that the Hollywood actress has been assigned her own special corner of hell. This past week the 29-year-old has come in for a barrage of comment, innuendo and outright attack that has from the comical to the ludicrous. In between, she's been on the receiving end of a fair old helping of hypocrisy and misogyny.

Her offence? To have allegedly consorted with fellow actor Brad Pitt, thereby causing the break-up of his seven-year marriage to the safe Jennifer Aniston, herself an actress we all love for her delightful hairstyles and for playing that nice, funny Rachel in the TV comedy Friends.

It did not help that Jolie denied the affair in the most unequivocal of terms. "I did not shag Brad Pitt. No, absolutely not," she reportedly told one red-topped newspaper, with a fair measure of élan and a suspicious understanding of tabloidese. No matter, her role as the woman who broke up Hollywood's so-called golden couple was by then already fixed.

An item by a usually sane columnist in the London Evening Standard was typical of the consensus. "Angelina has a mouth designed for Hoovering up husbands," claimed the writer, more concerned to ensure Hoover received a capital H to protect its trademark than in displaying any common sense on the subject in hand. The headline left nothing to chance. "Angelina, man-eater, makes short work of unwary husbands." Elsewhere things were even sillier. A columnist for a New York newspaper claimed that in the aftermath of the alleged Jolie-Pitt affair "women all over the city are examining their own partner's platonic pals". Call it The Angelina Factor, declared the writer.

Meanwhile, another widely syndicated article examined the relationships and careers of Jolie's male co-stars after they had worked with her, suggesting that sharing a screen with her was nothing short of a curse. By way of proof it cited the experience of Dennis Quaid, who starred alongside Jolie in Playing by Heart, only to see his wife, Meg Ryan, start a relationship with Russell Crowe. The headline to this particular piece of nonsense declared: "Aniston and Pitt latest in long line of prey devoured by Jolie." And, of course, among all the column inches and headlines and endless references to the "tattooed" and "randy" Angelina who "likes S&M", barely any mention was made of the role of Pitt - whom we all love for his muscles and charm and for his smouldering break-out performance in Thelma and Louise - or of his responsibility for destroying his marriage. That tramp Jolie, she's evil. Ladies, you'd better lock up your men when she's around.

Who really knows if Jolie and Pitt started an illicit relationship when they worked together on the yet to be released film Mr and Mrs Smith and, frankly, who cares? But the episode has in itself been insightful, not just about the way we so readily use double standards to assign blame or otherwise to events we know nothing about but also about that old chestnut concerning the way we approve or disapprove of certain stereotypes, especially those for women. Think of how differently we treated David Beckham from Rebecca Loos. Think of David Blunkett and Kimberly Quinn. Think, too, of Angelina Jolie who is no stranger to this sort of controversy.

The actress was born in Los Angeles on June 1975, the daughter of Hollywood couple Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, who divorced soon after she was born. She was raised mainly by her mother and moved extensively with her and her brother, James Haven. When she was just five she featured alongside her Oscar-winning father in the 1980 film Lookin' to Get Out. When she was 11, Jolie enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in New York, and as a teenager she worked as a professional model and featured in music videos in London, New York and Los Angeles. Even now, a quick search on the internet will come up with some of the more "artistic" shoots she posed for back then before she was famous.

As a young woman she also signed up at New York University where she took film studies and where she first performed in student theatre productions. During this period she also featured in five student films directed by her brother.

Jolie's first proper film role came in 1993's Cyborg 2, quickly followed by Hackers, Foxfire and Love Is All there Is. It was while working on Hackers, in which she played a computer hacker called Acid Burn, that she met the British actor Jonny Lee Miller, to whom she was briefly married. For their wedding ceremony, Jolie famously wore rubber trousers and a white shirt on which Miller's name was written in blood. The marriage lasted about 18 months.

Such publicity did nothing but good for her movie career. In the late 1990s Jolie starred in a series of films including Pushing Tin and the critically acclaimed The Bone Collector. She also won an Oscar for her 1999 performance in Girl, Interrupted and a Golden Globe for the TV movie George Wallace. Soon she was appearing on talk shows, offering her opinions on everything from her tattoos to her famous father. It was perfect fodder for the entertainment press.

But for those who feed on such stuff, it was to get even better. In May 2000, at a ceremony in Las Vegas, Jolie married actor Billy Bob Thornton, whom she had played opposite in the 1999 film Pushing Tin. The couple adopted a baby boy from Cambodia, whom they named Maddox - one of two children Jolie has adopted. Thornton and Jolie also swapped vials of blood which they wore around their necks. Even such romantic behaviour as that was not enough to prevent their relationship from foundering three years later.

It was Thornton's fifth failed marriage, and while rumours circulated as to the cause of the break-up, it was he who set the record straight. "I am a scared person," he said. "I walked away. It's the most stupid thing I've ever done. I fell in love - the hardest I have ever fallen - and that was a scary thing. Nothing was her fault, absolutely nothing. It was all down to me."

It was while she was married to Thornton that Jolie took on one of her most famous roles - starring as the sexy, young adventurer in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which was based on the popular computer game of the same name. In order to match the 36DD figure of the computer character, she wore a padded bra throughout filming. Jolie admitted that many of the people they were hoping to attract to the movie were the ones who had been mesmerised by her busty alter ego as they sat in their bedrooms, hands on joysticks. "We did want to put in something for those hardcore game fans. Lara has those big breasts in the game. We didn't want to make them as big as in the game, but at the same time we didn't want to take away from her the things that are, you know, her trademarks," she told one interviewer.

The same year that Tomb Raider was released Jolie agreed to become a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and undertook trips to Cambodia, Pakistan and Africa. It is a role she still holds and last autumn she travelled to the Chad border on behalf of the agency and spoke to the staff of aid agencies as well as many of the thousands of refugees from neighbouring Sudan who had been forced from their homes by the Janjaweed militia. In 2003, she published Notes From My Travels, a collection of her journal entries from her trips on behalf of the UN.

Such good deeds have not hampered her prolific work rate. In 2003 she starred in an equally pneumatic sequel to Tomb Raider as well as the film Beyond Borders. Last year she was involved in a number of movies, including Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, and Oliver Stone's flawed epic Alexander. And, of course, Jolie also worked on Mr and Mrs Smith, a film with an unlikely plot in which she and Pitt play a bored married couple, Jane and John Smith, who - unknown to each other - both lead secret lives as assassins who are then hired to kill each other.

It was last spring, while the film was on location in California, that rumours first began to emerge suggesting the pair were acting like a couple off the set as well as on. Pitt's agent Cindy Guagenti insisted the two were simply friends. "Yeah, they have gotten close because they've been working together, but that's it," she said.

But if the reports are true, the pair certainly became more than friends. Indeed those same reports claim it was a phone call between Jolie and Pitt - variously described as a "phone sex session" or "intimate love chat" - which Aniston listened in on that led to the break-up and which resulted in the current frenzy directed at the "man-eater".

Apart from the brief denial, Jolie has said nothing about the alleged affair. Pitt and Aniston have been on the best of behaviour as one might expect from the golden ex-couple, insisting they will remain friends. They also appeared to deny reports of an affair. "For those who follow these sorts of things, we would like to explain that our separation is not the result of any speculation reported by the tabloid media," they said in a statement.

It is, of course, much too late to do anything about all of that. The accusations have been hurled, the headlines printed and "those who follow these sorts of things" have lined up to have their say. Angelina Jolie - twice married and twice divorced, a fine actress who remains best known for playing a computer game character and who is yet to turn 30 - might feel she has been typecast once again.

A LIFE IN BRIEF

Born: Angelina Jolie Voight, 4 June 1975, Los Angeles, daughter of Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand.

Family: Married Jonny Lee Miller, 1996, divorced 1999. Married Billy Bob Thornton, 2000, divorced 2003. Two adopted sons, Maddox, three, and nine-month-old Gleb.

Education: Beverly Hills High School; Lee Strasberg Theater Institute; New York University.

Career: Lookin' To Get Out (1982); Cyborg 2 (1993); Hackers (1995); Without Evidence (1996); Mojave Moon (1996); Love Is All There Is (1996); Foxfire (1996); George Wallace (1997); Hell's Kitchen (1998); The Bone Collector (1999); Girl, Interrupted (1999); Gone in 60 Seconds (2000); Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001); Beyond Borders (2003); Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003); Taking Lives (2004); Fever (2004); Alexander (2004); Mr and Mrs Smith (2005).

She says...: "I realise there's a very strong possibility I might be raising my children by myself."

They say...: "You put the two hottest people on earth together - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie - and that's going to add up to a lot of heat." - Marc Malkin, "celebrity" journalist

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