When you think of Angelina Jolie, a few words that come to mind are actress, humanitarian, and mother of six. Aside from her divorce drama with Brad Pitt, headlines about the 41-year-old Maleficent star’s personal life are so minimal that it’s easy to forget her wild past. You know, like the times she kissed her brother at the Oscars and wore a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck.
An excerpt from the upcoming book Leading Lady, about former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing, details how Jolie’s wild reputation back in the day almost cost her one of her biggest roles. In 1999, the studio was hunting for the lead in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and was considering the young actress for the part. Jolie was 24 at the time; despite being on the verge of her first Oscar, she was not yet a huge star. However, she was well known enough that her personal life, interesting relationships, and rumored drug use were all tabloid fodder.
“She definitely had some baggage and something of a dark reputation,” said director Simon West, per the Hollywood Reporter. “Funnily enough, that was one of my selling points: This troubled and dangerous aspect in her reputation actually helped the character.”
Lansing wasn’t sold, and both Jolie’s father, Jon Voight, and family friend Jane Fonda called to warn her that the actress was extremely fragile. So she sent West to meet with Jolie on the set of a film she was shooting, Original Sin.
“She said: ‘Look, I want to do it, but I know what my reputation is, and I’ll do anything you want to prove that I’m worthy. I’ll be reliable, and I’ll turn up, and I’ll work hard,’” recalled West. “She said, ‘I don’t care if the studio wants to drug test me every day.’”
Paramount did just that. After Lansing met with Jolie and gave the green light (“She was beyond beautiful. … She was smart, she was strong” is how Lansing described the young actress), negotiations and drug tests commenced.
“We were sufficiently worried that we obliged her to undergo random drug tests — and not just urine tests but also blood tests,” said John Goldwyn, who was president of the studio at the time.
Jolie passed, but Paramount still wanted to keep an eye on their Lara Croft. “We would put a team around her for two purposes,” said a member of the production crew. “One really was practical: to get her into great shape for the movie, not only in terms of appearance but to do what she had to do onscreen. Then there was this notion that we had to give her spiritual and psychological support.”
The studio brought in Bobby Klein, a former photographer and therapist.
“There were issues with the studio and producers being very nervous about Angelina,” West said. “There was a discussion with the group: ‘We’re looking for someone to oversee or keep an eye on her because we’re all making the film.’ That guy Bobby Klein came up as somebody who had worked in that world of psychotherapy or drug management or whatever. He was brought in to supervise Angelina.”
Things didn’t go so well. With filming underway in England, Klein was reportedly a nightmare and eventually left the production after sexual harassment allegations. Once he was gone, Lansing describes Jolie as a dream.
“In the dailies, she was riveting,” recalled Lansing. “She took what might have been a cardboard character and added a layer of mystery and emotion and humanity.”
Lansing wasn’t the only one who thought Jolie was riveting. The film went on to earn $275 million worldwide, and Jolie’s career really took off. It’s safe to say the risk was worth the reward.
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