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Jolie's star shines bright on screen and around world

ANGELINA Jolie is reminiscing about her visit to Scotland for World War Z, the zombie apocalypse movie starring her partner, Brad Pitt.

rOLE: Jolie brings to life one of Disney's best-known villains.
rOLE: Jolie brings to life one of Disney's best-known villains.

You will recall the summer three years gone when George Square was turned into downtown Philadelphia, and thousands of locals were pressed into service as the undead. Crazy days, even by Glasgow standards.

The star of Maleficent, the new Disney movie about the wicked fairy who sends Sleeping Beauty to the land of nod, then reminds me that it was not her first cinematic rodeo in Caledonia.

"My first memory of Scotland was when I came for the premiere of Trainspotting, with my first husband."

A wee bit different then, I suggest.

"It was a wee bit different," she laughs. "But just as much fun."

To say Jolie, now 38, has moved on from the premiere of Trainspotting almost 20 years ago is like saying Maleficent, directed by Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg (Avatar) is a tad spectacular. In 1996, and for some time after, Jolie's image was that of cinema's ultimate rock chick. She became an Oscar-winning winning actress (Girl, Interrupted), but she was also the woman whose idea of costume jewellery was wearing a necklace containing a drop of blood from her second husband, Billy Bob Thornton. In a case of equal opportunities devotion, Thornton sported one too.

The Jolie of today, in contrast, is not just an actor, writer and producer but a mother of six, a special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and a film director, with her second picture, Unbroken, about the war hero Louis Zamperini, out later this year. Last year, she made global headlines after disclosing that she had a double mastectomy as a preventive strike against the cancer that claimed her mother at the age of 56.

It is little wonder, then, that Maleficent is Jolie's first major role in four years. The idea of creating a backstory for Disney's most popular villain ignited her imagination.

"It was like uncovering a great mystery. We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty and we all know Maleficent and what happened at the christening because we've all grown up with that. But what we've never known is, what happened before?"

It is not unknown in the film business for there to be a disconnect between how an actor looks on screen and in the flesh, particularly if they have recently stepped off a transatlantic red-eye. But sitting here in a London hotel the daughter of actors Marcheline Bertrand and Jon Voight is the real, movie star, deal. If there was a good (looks) fairy at her christening, she gave Jolie a full wave of the wand. Growing up, says the star of Mr and Mrs Smith and Changeling, her biggest influence was her mother.

"She never wanted for herself and she was very conscious of giving. She was one of those kind of people. Kindness was her gift." Her mother was part Native American, a fact that led to the young Jolie paying a visit to the principal's office at school for arguing about Christopher Columbus. (That must have been some meeting. Jolie, one imagines, can hold her own in an argument. During the junket for Maleficent one journalist asked if her humanitarian work sat easily with battle scenes in the movie. She reminded him that this was a film about imaginary fairy creatures. It was a rebuttal delivered with a smile, but the point was made.)

After her mother, she credits travel as the biggest influence on her life. It started with a trip to Cambodia to film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Learning more about the history of that country, and adopting a child from there, led to wanting to know more about other parts of the world. "I started to question how much I didn't know, how much I wasn't taught in school."

She opted to work with refugees because they are "the most vulnerable people in the world". It was this work, in particular meeting victims of rape, that led to her founding the Prevent Sexual Violence Initiative with William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary. The two will co-host a global summit in London next month.

A press junket for a movie this month, a global summit the next: it is all part of the warp and weft of Jolie's life. Far from agonising about bridging the two worlds, she makes her celebrity work for good causes. In 2008, for example, the money paid for photos of the couple's twins - a cool $14 million, it has been estimated - went to charity. Such is her profile, she can draw attention to a subject, rape as an instrument of war being the latest, that might otherwise be overlooked.

It strikes an outsider, though, that the contrast between the two worlds must seem bizarre at times. Might there come a day when she leaves the celebrity circus and devotes herself entirely to good causes? Yes, she says, but then wavers, wondering if she has the "confidence" yet to do it and make a real difference. "I will do more and more naturally but whether I would actually change professions or do something more substantial and more official, I don't know."

She is aware of how her life might be seen from the outside, but the reality is different, she says.

"When I'm on set, especially when I'm directing, I'm Angie and I'm working, I'm a mom and a friend. I think people like to, in the press, make it seem like I live in a certain kind of world and walk a certain way, but that's not the life I've made for myself. The people I surround myself with and the work I do, I'm able to live a…" She pauses.

"It's not a regular life, I understand that. It's an unusual life but I know how regular I am."

On Maleficent, work and family life combined with a part for her five-year-old daughter, Vivienne, and two more of her children can be glimpsed in the christening scene. As with their sojourn in Scotland, the Pitt-Jolie clan travel together as much as possible. "We don't just live in one world," she says. "We don't keep them from things we've been blessed to have but we also make sure that they are aware of the world around them, and can be equally comfortable without when we travel to other places."

A lot has changed, then, from those Trainspotting days, but Jolie looks back on her younger self with fondness. "I like her," she says. "I'm okay with her. You have to be all sides of yourself to grow into the person that you are."

As for being a role model, she adds: "I'm proud of the choices I've made and who I am at this stage in my life. I know when I go to sleep at night that I've done things for the right reasons and I've been the best mother and person I could be. If that translates in some way to being in any way a role model I'm happy and I want to be a good role model. But I make choices first [based on] what I genuinely believe is right."

Maleficent is in cinemas now.

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