Wearing black leather and high-heeled boots, Angelina Jolie walks across her Beverly Hills hotel room toward me, holding a serrated knife in her hand. The alluring co-star of Girl, Interrupted has a lurid fascination with sharp metal objects--exotic daggers, tattoo needles, the works. She has even confessed to cutting her own skin in the past. But tonight she's in a more benign mood, so Jolie slinks past me and proceeds to carve up a steak delivered from room service.
The girl could use an interruption of protein. She's pretty slim, despite the half-eaten Toblerone scattered around the room. Her skin seems pasty, her face is gaunt and barely made up, and her famously full, pouty lips appear in need of Blistex. Still, she exudes a misty, undefinable star quality: there's something edgy yet enigmatic in both her appearance and her manner. Jolie's real-life over-the-top intensity and f__-it-all attitude are nearly as unsettling as her screen performances, like the self-destructive fashion model in HBO's 1998 movie Gia and the dangerously seductive mental patient paired with Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted. At 24, she behaves like an awkward teenager trapped in a centerfold's body.
That contradiction is not lost on Hollywood. "Porcelain isn't fine enough to describe how fragile she is," says director Philip Noyce, who nevertheless cast her as a feisty policewoman opposite Denzel Washington in last fall's hit thriller The Bone Collector. "She's not burned out with the joy of performing. She's in her element because she can set parameters for a character, whereas I suspect she doesn't know her own boundaries emotionally and physically. I suspect she's happiest when she's not being Angelina Jolie."
She was born Angelina Jolie Voight, daughter of Oscar-winner Jon Voight and actress Marcheline Bertrand. Dad left not long after she was born. (The two are now on good, if occasionally strained, terms.) Raised by her single mother, Jolie struck out on her own at 16 and seems to revel in her reputation as a wild child. She talks openly about her drug experiences, about having had bisexual relationships and about how she gets her best kicks from kink. With her famous lips pushed into a wicked smile, she describes how she dragged an agent from the Creative Artists Agency on a tour of New York City's bondage clubs. "S&M focuses you on survival," she explains. "It's a weird cleansing of self."
But her bravado is backed up by substance. "Angie is rebellious, volatile and really smart," says director James Mangold, who clashed with her during the shooting of Girl, Interrupted. "Playing this role put her in the mode of questioning authority. But if someone delivers the goods like she did, then I'm happy to struggle with the personality." Jolie concedes she shares her character's outspoken nature: "Acting is not pretending or lying. It's finding a side of yourself that's like the character and ignoring your other sides. And there's a side of me that wonders what's wrong with being completely honest. I get angry when I see people thinking they're better than others. So, yeah, she's a lot like me in a certain way."