It is difficult to imagine a time when Angelina Jolie didn’t feel strong. The actress has always seemed, at least to film fans, to be a badass, with powerful, ass-kicking roles in Tomb Raider, Mr & Mrs Smith, Salt and Wanted. And she’s also a force to be reckoned with in the Maleficent films – and even in her Oscar-winning role in Girl, Interrupted.
Life doesn’t always imitate art, though, and Jolie came to her latest film, the thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead – in which she plays a smokejumper, a specially trained firefighter who is deployed as a first responder to remote wildfires – feeling anything but strong.
“I think we all have times in our lives when we just feel broken,” she says candidly as she chats with Zoom, immaculately dressed in a cream silk blouse. “And I’m certainly one of those people. I didn’t feel strong at all in that situation, and I didn’t know if I even had it in me to get through it.
“And like everyone, I have my own trauma, my own grief, different things that have happened in my life. And so it was very cathartic. Can I pull myself through this? Can I get through this? Am I strong enough? Am I stable enough?”
Over the past few years, the 45-year-old has certainly had a tumultuous time. She had a preventative double mastectomy in 2013 and developed Bell’s palsy and high blood pressure after a particularly difficult time in her personal life. She separated from her ex-husband Brad Pitt, with whom she has six children together, in 2016 after a ten-year relationship – and the legal battle over the split is ongoing in Los Angeles.
While she initially rose to fame as an actress, in recent years she has forged a career as a director, making films such as In The Land Of Blood And Honey, Unbroken, By The Sea and First They Killed My Father, and she had reservations about taking on a physical challenge again.
In the new movie, directed by Hell Or High Water’s Taylor Sheridan, her character Hannah is still dealing with the loss of three lives she was unable to save from a fire when she encounters traumatized 12-year-old boy Connor, played by Finn Little. She helps him escape when he is chased by two killers, played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen, after a deadly attack on his father, and the two brave a thunderstorm and a huge fire to escape them.
“It felt new,” she admits thoughtfully as she reflects on the plot. “I’m older, and it’s not just that my body was different, it was just that I’m different. And it’s been about a decade since I’ve done something like this. And then, of course, there’s that moment in the beginning where you think, ‘What am I doing here?’
“And my kids (Maddox, 19, Pax, 17, Zahara, 16, Shiloh, 14, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 12) aren’t used to seeing me do these things because I was really directing them during the time they were growing up. So it was kind of like mom did this a long time ago, so mom doing any of this is almost funny to my kids now, but I think it was actually really good for them.
“It was nice to see that I survived and was strong. But it was weird, I definitely had the thought that I might not be able to do this anymore.”
Joining Jolie in the film are co-stars Jon Bernthal, who plays a local law enforcement officer, and his heavily pregnant wife Allison, played by Medina Senghore, who provide a potential safe haven for Connor and Hannah. “One of the things I love about the film is that it’s set in this small town in the American West, and everyone in town knows the state of grief and difficulty that Angelina’s character Hannah is in,” Senghore says.
“But what you see are her peers, and everyone at some point holds space for Hannah in some way, and that’s what we need in life from the people around us when we’re going through it – for them to hold us up and give us grace and time.”
Even Sheridan was there to hold Jolie up, because he always had faith in her abilities. “Angie was there,” he says, “she did everything, she did a lot of her own stunts. That’s kind of a prerequisite for the way I film, because I try to put the viewer in the middle of the action as a voyeur. If it’s not the actor, they’re going to see it, so it requires a real physical commitment.”
The story is set in Montana, outside Cooke City, just north of Yellowstone National Park