Angelina Jolie: a biographer’s nightmare - Macleans.ca

Angelina Jolie: a biographer’s nightmare

Andrew Morton, author of a new Angelina Jolie book, is just trying to help her

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Bob Scott/Fotos International/ Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/Contour/ Getty Images/ AP

Angelina Jolie would seem to be a biographer’s nightmare. What else could there possibly be to say about the actress who has, in the tabloid press, played man-eating Veronica to Jennifer Aniston’s jilted Betty for the better part of a decade? To make matters even more daunting for an author looking to tell all, Jolie, apparently, already has.

Over the years, she’s regaled reporters with tales of her drug use, love of knives, sexual exploits with men and women—and even the story of how, feeling suicidal, she hired a hit man who subsequently backed out, counselling her to wait a month or two and see if she still required his services.

But Andrew Morton, the former Fleet Street tabloid reporter, is not easily deterred. He’s a big game hunter: both Diana, Princess of Wales, and Monica Lewinsky chose him to pour their hearts out to, and he’s also penned unauthorized biographies of Tom Cruise and Madonna. There are skeletons in every celebrity closet, and finding them is “just a question of digging away,” he explained in a phone interview, adding, “Hollywood is a pretty small village, when it comes down to it, and one person leads to another.”

He did manage to unearth some new tidbits about the Oscar winner/humanitarian, though most predate her six-year relationship with Brad Pitt and therefore qualify, in the here-and-now world of celebrity gossip, as antique novelties rather than breaking news. To wit, when Jolie was 14, her boyfriend moved in—at the invitation of her mother, who graciously vacated the master bedroom so the couple would have a larger bed.

Later, when Jolie was in her early 20s, Mick Jagger had the hots for her but the budding actress was ambivalent, leaving the fiftysomething rocker to wail plaintively into her answering machine and call her mother—who idolized Jagger and promoted the relationship—to inquire as to her whereabouts.

Jolie was also lukewarm about Leonardo DiCaprio; they showered together one evening, but he did not, Morton reports, “float her boat.” She was more keen on Timothy Hutton (with whom she had an intense affair while she was married to actor Jonny Lee Miller) and Ethan Hawke (who, when she reportedly bedded him, was married to Uma Thurman).

Monogamy is not, evidently, Angelina Jolie’s thing. A month after her second marriage, to Billy Bob Thornton, Jolie enlisted him to pimp for her—though he was unsuccessful, according to Morton. “She was into chicks and it seems that was his job, to bring her the girls,” an unnamed source told him.

Reviewers have made much of Morton’s reliance on unnamed sources—rather disingenuously, since every journalist knows that only a sworn enemy with a hankering to be sued would be willing to have his or her name attached to a really juicy detail. And in Angelina, there are several. Jolie, who has remarked that she finds scars “beautiful,” apparently has deeply scarred inner thighs—she was a long-time cutter. Morton also reveals that she tattooed Thornton’s name below her bikini line, and helpfully provides the font: Helvetica. The inclusion of photos from that tattoo session, of a topless Jolie with strategically placed duct tape, lends credence to these specifics. But there’s little shock value to this kind of minutiae, as Jolie has never sold herself as anything but a hypersexual free spirit.

It’s no surprise that in Morton’s book she comes off as a distaff version of a swordsman, seducing other women’s men—Ralph Fiennes, among others—only to toss them aside after she’s had her fun.

Morton did land some credible sources willing to go on the record, such as Jolie’s one-time heroin and cocaine dealer—who even forked over 1997 photos of a bleary-eyed Angelina—and also her mother’s long-term boyfriend, who moved in when Jolie was three years old, and whom she called “Daddy-O.” From them, a picture emerges of a troubled childhood, thanks to the ministrations of a stage mother seeking to live vicariously and her father’s abandonment of the family. Actor Jon Voight ditched his wife for a theatre student shortly after Jolie was born and—this is Morton’s big scoop—the baby was subsequently shunted off to live in a separate apartment for a year, cared for 24-7 by a ragtag, ever-changing assortment of babysitters. Apparently, her mother couldn’t bear to be around her. Jolie, who strongly resembles her father, brought up too many painful memories.

If this depiction of emotional deprivation, and Jolie’s subsequent embrace of her mother’s bitterness toward her father, is accurate, it would certainly help explain her wild child behaviour in the ’90s; Morton believes she has an emptiness at her core, which she tried to fill with drugs, self-mutilation and in-your-face sexuality. A primal experience of parental abandonment would also explain her freak-out early in her relationship with Thornton—when he didn’t return her calls for a few days, she was in such a state that her mother checked her into a psych ward for 72 hours—and her seemingly compulsive serial adoptions of orphans from developing countries. Jolie identifies with neglected, abandoned kids so strongly that she once said she feels more for her three adopted children than for her biological children, because they have been through so much more.

Even if it’s on the money, however, an armchair diagnosis of early trauma just doesn’t carry the same bestselling explosive power as, say, the revelation that a princess has bulimia and a husband who’s cheating on her. Perhaps this is why Morton, in a weird echo of rival dirt-digger Kitty Kelley’s claim earlier this year to know more about Oprah than Oprah herself does—namely, the identity of her birth father—portentously insists that his findings are in fact earth-shattering, if not to readers then to Jolie herself. But unlike Kelley, who seems to revel in her subject’s mistakes and misfortunes, Morton’s bedside manner is gentle, and his prose, though cliché-ridden, oozes breathless sincerity. He believes he has much to teach Jolie about her own life, and he clearly feels for her (though perhaps his readiness to forgive her sexual transgressions is connected to his own passion for “kinky” extracurricular hanky-panky, which was exposed, fittingly enough, by a British tabloid, and occasioned a costly divorce).

Morton hopes Jolie will read his book, he confides on the phone, because he thinks it could “influence her life, so that she realizes that what she believed was the past is not really the past that was actually taking place. Angelina believes, basically, a bogus narrative about her life.”

The notion that Andrew Morton has, after a year and a half of research and writing, hit upon the true story, while Angelina Jolie herself still labours under false impressions about her own life, suggests either that the author has spoken to her—but alas, she declined his interview requests—or that he has extraordinary access to her inner circle. The latter is clearly not the case for her life post hooking up with Pitt; Morton is reduced to quoting “sources” such as an unnamed psychologist who has met Jennifer Aniston socially, and relies heavily on material from other media outlets.

Of course, what Jolie fans really want to know about is her relationship with Pitt, but here Morton has little light to shed. He depicts Pitt as “Mr. Mom,” tending to the kids while Jolie circles the globe doing laudable work for the UN, but this moniker appears based not on inside information but rather the actor’s own pronouncements about diapers at press conferences. Jolie comes off as a conflicted mother, forever vowing publicly to quit acting and devote herself to family, only to turn around and sign on for another movie or diplomatic cause. Too busy to be a hands-on parent, she has hired an army of live-in nannies and household help.

Only one thing is certain about her life now: whereas fame warps many stars, it fits Jolie perfectly. The more famous she has become, the less erratic and weird her behaviour has been—no more creepily passionate kisses with her brother at award ceremonies, for instance—and the fewer homes she has wrecked. She has become both genuinely philanthropic—she and Pitt each give many millions to charity—and truly committed to improving the lot of refugees and people in developing countries.

Success has quieted her demons, or she is better at keeping them under wraps. Either way, she has managed to transcend madonna-whore stereotyping, and prolong the appeal of her brand, simply by embodying both extremes in such excessive fashion: all those kids and good works! All that seduction and sex!

Throughout her life, Morton writes, Jolie has wanted to be “the other girl”—the good one, like Jennifer Aniston. At 35, she appears to have realized she doesn’t have to choose: she can be both, which is perhaps the closest to artistic freedom a Hollywood star of her wattage is likely to get.