JOLIE GAME FOR
Copyright 2001 David Gritten Source: LA Times
[ January 21st 2001 ]
Angeles Times today published an exclusive interview
with Angelina Jolie from the London Pinewood Studios
set of Simon West's action adventure movie Tomb
this role, and then I got worried," Angelina Jolie
confided. "Lots of people were telling me I should
do things that are considered to be more serious.
At first, I thought I'd ruined my entire career
and my entire life." She sighed deeply. "Then
I thought, OK, I can't start worrying about that
and not doing what I feel drawn to do. And I wanted
to go on this adventure." Thus Jolie became the
flesh-and-blood embodiment of Lara Croft, virtual
heroine of the video game Tomb Raider. As Lara,
she is the star of "Tomb Raider," an all-action
extravaganza with a budget of just under $100
million that Paramount hopes to position as one
of the must-see summer movies for 2001.
sees her point. To play an action-adventure character
(especially one based on a video game) hardly
seems a logical step for an Oscar winner for best
supporting actress only last year, for "Girl,
Interrupted." Jolie mused on this apparent contradiction
as she sprawled on a director's chair in a quiet
corner of a sound stage on the "Tomb Raider" set;
she knows the tradition of adapting video games
for movies is hardly a distinguished one. In status
terms, such movies are near the bottom of the
totem pole; all to date have been critical bombs,
and most have failed to find the same massive
audiences as the video games that inspired them.
"Super Mario Bros." (1993), a monumental flop,
later inspired star Bob Hoskins to explain: "I
only did it for the money. It was appalling, a
joke. Such an unhappy experience." As for "Street
Fighter" (1994) and "Mortal Kombat" (1995), it's
hard to find moviegoers prepared to express affection
for them. Yet Jolie has gambled on bucking this
trend and is happy to be playing the world's leading
cyber-babe: pneumatic Lara Croft, the energetic
adventuress, perennially clad in a body-hugging
T-shirt and microscopically short shorts, who
is loved by millions of devotees of Eidos' Tomb
has shipped more than 21 million units since it
first appeared in 1996. And on this 80th day of
a long, grueling shoot, Jolie has emerged as the
main ambassador for the film, and for Lara herself.
She rejects any idea that she's playing some cyber-cipher,
a virtual character: "There's an image about Lara,
something she represents that people like about
her and we hope to capture. Lots of people love
this game. We didn't want to dismiss that." So
what does she think people like about Lara Croft?
"She's got a great spirit of adventure. She's
also a lady. It's funny, this is me doing an action
movie, but I'd never done such a lady. She was
raised properly in England, she's very well-bred,
but not uptight or stuffy. She has all the great
gadgets a Bond would have, she's wicked and wild,
with the same sense of freedom of an Indiana Jones.
Lara doesn't use her sexuality in a silly way.
She's completely sensual--sexual, open, free,
primitive--but it hardly comes into play. She's
just human, she's alive. She's like a wild animal."
casting, then. For Jolie, 25, has a reputation,
quite apart from her acting talents, as something
of a bad girl. Since she first attracted notice
about five years ago, she has been known as one
of the most candid of interviews, discussing her
private life with indiscreet abandon. Then, of
course, her famed tattoos (cosmetically hidden
for this movie), her alluring body (scarcely less
curvaceous than the cyber Lara Croft) and her
extravagantly full lips all reinforce her image
as a sultry young woman. Her first marriage to
English actor Jonny Lee Miller just fueled the
flames; at the ceremony, Jolie wore black rubber
pants and wrote her new husband's name in blood
across the back of her shirt. They split up after
18 months, and last year Jolie married actor-writer-director
Billy Bob Thornton (who only shortly before the
wedding had been engaged to actress Laura Dern).
defying anyone who might accuse her of restraint,
Jolie then gave interviews detailing the delights
of her sex life with Thornton. And of course during
last year's Academy Award ceremony, Jolie expressed--both
physically and verbally--a degree of affection
for her brother rarely seen in public. It may
seem odd that such a powerful, almost overwhelming
personality would be drafted to play someone who
has hitherto existed only in cyberspace. Jolie,
looking fit, toned and lithe in a track-suit top
over Lara's trademark T-shirt, bit her famous
lip as she considered the proposition, then shrugged.
"You know what?" she said at last, her enthusiasm
unmistakably genuine. "I love Lara, and everything
she stands for. And this," she gesticulated with
both arms to include her surroundings. "I love
all this!" By "this," she meant the extraordinary
sets--the two most spectacular of which have been
constructed on Pinewood's huge 007 sound stage,
so named because many films in the James Bond
series were shot here.
above Jolie and filling this half of the sound
stage is an orrery--a traditional form of planetarium.
It consists of an enormous flickering metal orange
globe, surrounded by smaller globes revolving
around it; these represent the sun and the planets
in our solar system. The entire contraption is
mounted in water bubbling like hot springs. This
arrangement is set in the middle of a circular
stone temple, its walls marked by intricate stone
carvings, from which steam rises; mock stalagmites
and stalactites confirm the impression of a subterranean
lair. If anything, the other half of the 007 stage
is an even more jaw-dropping sight. It is named
the Temple of Ten Thousand Shadows, and is a huge
hall lined with stone statues of monkey warriors;
these come to life in the film's action sequences.
At one end, in murky darkness, a huge gilt-covered
Buddha with six arms can be discerned.
trees with thick twisted branches have grown through
the temple's floor, thus emphasizing its great
age. Above an ornate tomb at its center, a huge
cylindrical piece of carved wood protrudes. This
can swing along the whole temple's length; in
some sequences, Lara Croft stands upon it, brandishing
sundry weapons and warding off bad guys. The sets
took 20 weeks to build, utilizing a crew that
numbered up to 160. They are underground interiors
to match exterior shots filmed over seven days
in Cambodia, at the historic Angkor Wat temples.
(Five more days were spent in a remote part of
Iceland for scenes in which Lara drives a team
of wild huskies in a thrilling race across a glacier.)
Clearly, then, "Tomb Raider" is a project of enormous
proportions. Yet the principals share a reluctance
to divulge too much of the film's story. "The
story has a slightly dark edge," offered director
Simon West ("Con Air," "The General's Daughter.")
"She gets to solve, umm, the world's puzzle,"
Jolie reflected enigmatically. And producer Lloyd
Levin added: "Lara gets to save the world, but
there are quite a few twists along the way."
not unclear is the amount of physical exertion
Jolie has undergone during the filming of "Tomb
Raider." Before shooting even started, she spent
2˝ months getting fit. "I went on a protein diet
and bulked up as much as I could," she explained.
"I wanted her to be about sweat and muscle and
yet still feminine. "Her boots are heavy, and
so are her guns. I spent days practicing reloading
them and flipping them. I went through a military
style of training, from target practice to combat
maneuvers. I learned martial arts, about shooting
with different weapons. Lara picks up everything
she comes into contact with and fights with it."
Jolie related all this with relish. She had already
ridden motorcycles and honed her expertise for
the film. She also learned to handle a variety
of vehicles, ranging from a Land Rover to an Aston
Martin. For pleasure, Lara indulges in something
called "bungee ballet," pacing around the high
walls of her father's baronial mansion while attached
to a bungee rope.
has found herself hanging from chandeliers, as
well as bestriding that huge carved log above
the underground tomb. Ironically, then, given
the dubious status of video-game movies, she has
been more stretched as an actress playing Lara
Croft than in any of her other roles to date.
For one thing, she speaks her lines in a posh
(and creditably accurate) English accent. And,
above all, she has had to rise to unprecedented
physical challenges. "So many nights I've gone
home with injuries, soaked in the bath, dealt
with different injuries and tried to get through
to the next day," she recalled. (An ankle injury
kept her from working for two days.) "I've felt
broken, exhausted, yet excited by the challenge.
My days aren't about pretending to be her, they're
about being a young woman waking up in England,
saying OK, today I have to do the bungee ballet,
fight with this person and drive the motorcycle
off that thing. And then come home and get a few
hours' sleep because tomorrow is the next fight."
Jolie has proved to be both tough and resourceful.
The action scenes require several dangerous stunts,
and Jolie has volunteered to do most of them herself.
"I've become blasé about all the things she does,"
said director West with a dry smile. "I'll say,
'OK, Angelina, you're going to be on top of that
sun, dive off and hit the water.' And she says,
'Fine.' We have a stunt double lined up who does
it fine, then Angelina goes up and does it 10
times better. "On the Temple of Ten Thousand Shadows
set, you've seen that log that sweeps across.
We had two stunt doubles. The first couldn't do
it at all. Then, because we've been short of time,
Angelina hadn't had time to rehearse. I asked
her to get on and do it, and within 10 minutes
she was standing up, swinging on it, doing it
better than the stunt girls." West shook his head
in disbelief. "And she's an Academy Award-winning
actress!" West, in fact, thinks Jolie is such
a revelation that he has joined her in asserting
that he would happily be involved in a "Tomb Raider"
sequel. "She's so totally right for it," he said.
"It's just like finding Sean Connery in 1962 for
James Bond--the actor and character became so
close you know you've hit gold.
I had Angelina and saw her the first couple of
times in the role, I felt it almost doesn't matter
what I do. As long as I keep on pointing the camera
at her, the film can't fail. I now can't see how
I'd have done the film without her." Given Lara
Croft's extraordinary popularity, "Tomb Raider"
has had a long gestation period. About three years
ago, producer Lawrence Gordon and his partner,
Lloyd Levin, first approached Eidos to discuss
an adaptation of the company's game. "They were
definitely open to the idea," Levin said. "There
was a sort of prolonged courtship between us and
Eidos. "From when we started pursuing rights to
the point of obtaining them, just about every
studio in town became interested. We were really
straight with them about it. We told them it wasn't
going to be fast-tracked, there would be hardships
and pain, but we wouldn't give up."
hardships, according to West, involved early drafts
of the script: "When I got hold of old scripts,
it occurred to me this could be a great character.
But the scripts were appalling. I'd turned this
film down over a two-year period. "Each time it
came up, I never considered it. I thought: a video
game? What a stupid notion, we must be bankrupt
of ideas. I was a total snob about it. I finally
said I'd do it if they let me change every single
thing apart from her name and the title. They
said yes. So over Christmas , I had to come
up with this story. And such a flood of ideas
came out of it, I could easily do a sequel right
now." Clearly West has tried to raise the bar
for video game movies. He has surrounded Jolie
with mostly British actors of the serious rather
than starry species. Iain Glen, a stage and screen
actor, plays Lara's nemesis, the villain Manfred
Powell, while the rapidly emerging Daniel Craig
(he had a small role in "Elizabeth") portrays
Alex Marrs, one of Lara's accomplices.
technological genius, Bryce, is played by Australian
actor Noah Taylor, who appeared as a roadie in
"Almost Famous." The experience of shooting "Tomb
Raider" has certainly been a heady one for those
cast and crew members who visited Cambodia. It
is the first English-language film to be shot
there since "Lord Jim," starring Peter O'Toole,
in 1965. Jolie in particular was overwhelmed by
the experience of visiting the temples at the
Angkor Wat complex. "The monks there gave me a
blessing, which was so amazing," she said. "The
best thing about my time [on this movie] has been
that I'm now able to look at the world differently.
I've realized Hollywood is such a tiny place,
and there are things in the rest of the world
that are much more important. You're in somewhere
like Cambodia and see the things that are held
up as important--the temples, the monks, the sense
of family. We went there and we changed, we were
humbled and thankful they let us be there. It's
odd to come back and have to listen to people
spreading gossip from Hollywood, while we're trying
to say we learned something in Cambodia."
has another reason for finding her "Tomb Raider"
experience memorable; her father, Academy Award-winning
actor Jon Voight, was cast as Lara's father, Lord
Croft. At the age of 5, Jolie had a small role
with Voight in the forgettable Hal Ashby movie
"Lookin' to Get Out," but he was absent for long
periods in her formative years, and this marked
their first real acting work together. "Our scenes
together were special, for so many reasons," Jolie
affirmed. "You get to that place where your parent
has truly become a great friend of yours, and
we sat up all night talking about our characters
and the things they'd want to say to each other.
"So much of this story is about Lara reconnecting
with her father. All my life my dad was always
there for me, but I was very independent as well,
and he'd always send me letters, books and information.
And in the end we did the same thing with our
lives--acting. So our scenes ended up becoming
seems to be going rather well then, with one small
exception--Jolie's lack of competence at the Tomb
Raider game. "I'm terrible at the game," she confessed.
"But there are people on set training me, getting
me better." Is she at a certain level? "I'm not
telling you. But people are giving me all the
secrets to the next level, so I can whisper them
to kids who want to know." And she bounded off
eagerly to her next scene, which involved standing
on one of the smaller planets in the orrery, then
diving from it into the hot bubbling waters. West
watched her go. "She's a true movie star," he
said admiringly. "And I plan to ride her coat-tails
just as long as I can." *