IAR INTERVIEW: Angelina Jolie Talks 'Maleficent'

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 15:13 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Angelina Jolie Talks 'Maleficent'

Neither Angelina Jolie nor the title character in Maleficent require much in the way of introduction.

As an actress, Jolie is one of the most famous and bankable stars in contemporary film, an Oscar winner whose credits include searing performances in the likes of Girl, Interrupted and Changeling, as well as crowd-pleasing turns in blockbusters like Salt and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Maleficent, meanwhile, is one of the most iconic villains in the history of Walt Disney Animation Studios, having burned herself into the imaginations of generations as the sinister fairy in the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty.

These two world-famous forces come together this Friday, May 30th.  Jolie stars as the instantly-recognizable villain in Disney's Maleficent, a live action take on the Sleeping Beauty story. 

Maleficent is by no means a remake, however.  It is instead an origin story for Maleficent that expands upon and redefines a familiar tale.  This version is an origin story for the character, showing how a betrayal changed Maleficent from a kind-hearted protector of her native forest realm into a vindictive misanthrope whose curse upon Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8) is even more complicated than Sleeping Beauty or the Brothers Grimm ever suggested.

Jolie recently began screenwriting and directing, making her debut with 2011's Bosnian War drama In the Land of Blood and Honey.  Her next film is this December's Unbroken, a true story based on the WWII experiences of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete whose survival at sea and as a prisoner of war are truly remarkable.

Maleficent is very different from Jolie's directorial projects, but she says that the screenplay by Linda Woolverton (The Lion King) hooked her on Disney's epic fantasy. "I wanted to do something that my children can see, I wanted to have fun and explore different art and performance in a way I hadn’t done.  But most of all, I read Linda’s script and I was really moved by it and I actually got very emotional when I finished it and I thought it was one of the best scripts I had read in a long time because of the issues it dealt with and I thought it was, in fact, an important story to tell," she explains.

With Angelina Jolie in front of the camera, Maleficent marks a big debut behind the camera.  Robert Stromberg, the Academy Award-winning art director of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland.

"He hadn’t directed before but he was very into creation of the world and the script was so strong that we kind of felt that all pieces would come together," says Jolie. "Because we had such a solid script and even though he hadn’t directed before, the script would kind of help in a way, direct itself and the actors would feel close to their characters, and he did really have this focus on the creatures and what the world would look like.  I haven’t seen the 3D but I’m sure his history would be instrumental in making that work."

The film also marks another auspicious screen debut: Jolie and Brad Pitt's five-year-old daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt appears in Maleficent as a young Princess Aurora. "Well, Brad and I never wanted our kids to be actors, we never talked about it as a thing," says the actress.  "But we also want them to be around film and be a part of mommy and daddy’s life and for it not to be kept from them either, just to have a good healthy relationship with it."

Her daughter's casting, Jolie says, "came about because there were kids that would come to set and they would see me and I would go up and say 'Hi' to them and they would cry.  I actually had one child completely freeze and then cry, it was like terror.  And so I felt so bad, but we realized that there was no way that we were going to find a four or five-year-old that I could be as strong with that would not see me as a monster, and suddenly there was Vivie running around looking like little Aurora and everybody kind of thought, 'Oh, the answer’s right there.'

"We got to to our scene," she recalls. "We’d kind of practiced it a little bit at home where I’d say, like 'Okay, I’m going to say go away and then you try to, you know, get back.' So by the time we did that, when we did it together we had a good time, we played together and I was actually shocked that she was doing so well, you know, inside I thought, 'Oh, she went back and hit her mark.' It’s frightening."

The star proved intimidating to youngsters on set because of her elaborate costume and striking makeup effects.  These effects instantly conjure up the appearance of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty but also present a distinct and new look for the character.  "We wanted everything to have like angles and take all the softness kind of out of my face and make everything sharper and stronger," says Jolie.

As for the often arduous makeup application process, she says, "It wasn’t that much, the creation of it took a little time to figure out."

"Well, it was a headpiece, of course, with the horns, it wasn’t like a headband," she continues. "So we kind of put my hair in these balls and then you put the headpiece over and you pull the braids through and then you use it to anchor it.  And then we had different horns.  At first they were too heavy, then we got them softer, then we found ones that would snap off because I kept banging into things. It just all slowly came together. We tried different things and some of the things didn’t work. We had feather hair at one point.  We went about crazy, 'Well she’s a bird maybe she has feather hair instead,' but we finally go to it."

"We just wanted to have a character that when you’re watching it, when you’re seeing the dramatic scenes you feel that you can watch her and I can perform without people staring at the makeup," Jolie says. "So we wanted to really find a balance so it was kind of an enhanced face but it still felt like a real face somehow."

No amount of prosthetics, however, makes a performance.  In Maleficent, Jolie commits to villainy, channeling the animated incarnation of the fairy but also infusing her with an arch comedic charm.

"That was part of the thing with this role, is you realize that there’s no half way, that if you’re going to do it, you can't kind of do it half way, you’re going to have to just to fully get into it and enjoy it," says Jolie.  "And the original was done so well and her voice was so great and the way she was animated was so perfect that if anything, I just was so worried I’d fail the original.  But I practiced a lot with my children and when I got them laughing, I figured I was on to something."

"Well, they laughed and cried," she adds, laughing.

Though Maleficent is very much a Disney movie that the whole family can enjoy, it also features moments of darkness and emotion that could prove surprising for some.  To Jolie, however, this darkness is essential, as she says, "I think the depth, what children can handle and what they’re really interested in is much deeper than I think people assume.  And I think it’s why sometimes we make things too simple for them.  A film like this, people say, 'Is it too dark for children?' It’s not, they want to understand things that frighten them, they want to see dark things that happen and they want to see how to rise above them.  They don’t want to be hidden from all things and everything sweetened.  I think that’s something that always surprises me about children."

Maleficent opens in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D this Friday, May 30th.

Watch IAR's exclusive video interview with Sharlto Copley (District 9) about playing the crucial role of King Stefan in Maleficent.

To watch IAR's Managing Editor Jami Philbrick review Maleficent on PBS' Just Seen It, please click on the video player below. 

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