Angelina Jolie's first public statement on her divorce from Brad Pitt occurred not on
, nor in the pages of a glossy magazine. Rather she expressed her feelings sat barefoot and cross-legged in a tent in Cambodia, where her interviewer wasn't Jimmy Fallon, but a journalist from the BBC World Service.
Avoiding traditional means of celebrity press is nothing new for the actress (this was a woman who avoided the Jay Lenos of the world for politically-fuelled sit-downs with Charlie Rose and Jon Stewart in her prime), but it was yet another indication of the Hollywood-averse Angelina Jolie of today.
Amidst promotion for her latest directorial effort, a film chronicling the Cambodian genocide, Jolie has never been further removed from the Hollywood that made her an international superstar.
And, as a result of a surprisingly dirty divorce from Brad Pitt and amid stories that she has been seeking out a PR reinvention behind-the-scenes, she appears to be in dire straits when it comes to her movie stardom... even if she has publicly indicated that her acting days are long behind her.
A report last week from New York Post gossip column Page Six indicated that Jolie is well aware of how her divorce has dented her public image. The star is reportedly reaching out to PR agencies for possible representation - the first time in Jolie's long career that she has sought help from a publicist (a brief, unsuccessful 2006 try-out notwithstanding).
So far, according to the tabloid, nobody has been willing to take her on. Their reported point of view: Jolie is suddenly toxic as a Hollywood commodity, having lost the PR war with Pitt in their 2016 divorce.
Whether she went too hard too quickly (Pitt is "terrified that the public will learn the truth," Jolie's lawyer ambiguously wrote in her client's divorce papers), or whether even a child abuse investigation was no match for Pitt's years of earned goodwill as a movie star, Jolie was quickly painted as the untrustworthy party in the couple's divorce proceedings.
While Pitt received a hero's welcome at this year's Golden Globes (his surprise appearance introducing Moonlight (which he helped produce) launching a spirited array of whoops from his peers) Jolie appears adrift in her very own industry. Compared to Pitt's friendship circle of the very pinnacle of Hollywood's elite, among them George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Cate Blanchett, along with A-list directors like Soderbergh, Fincher and Tarantino, Jolie's social circle is remarkably celebrity-free. Rather she surrounds herself with political figures, notably House of Lords peer Baroness Arminka Helic, and political aide Chloe Dalton.
There's something admirable about Jolie's reluctance to engage in Hollywood schmoozing (she famously told Marie Claire in 2011 that she has very few friends: "I stay at home a lot. I'm just not very social. I talk to Brad, but... I don't have a lot of friends I talk to. He is really the only person I talk to"), but it may have created animosity towards her within the industry.
Jolie fired her long-time manager Geyer Kosinski in 2013, who is reported to have "blocked her from the Hollywood community" and turned down projects for his client that ultimately catapulted rival actresses to awards glory and significant wealth, among them Sandra Bullock in Gravity. (Kosinski was invited back into the Jolie fold at the end of 2016.)
She was also a regular personal target of Hollywood super-producer Scott Rudin: "She's a camp event and a celebrity and that's all," he raged in emails leaked during the 2014 Sony hack. "I'm not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat."
Like many of the scandals to befall her, however, she cannily managed to recover. Her tabloid-conjured involvement in the divorce of Pitt and Jennifer Aniston in 2005 saw her publicly labelled a "homewrecker", but she successfully managed to curtail potential career destruction into public image reinvention. With Pitt by her side, Jolie morphed from the tabloid world's favourite blood-crazed bisexual temptress into a compassionate Earth Mother, guided by a relentlessly savvy awareness of how tabloid media and 21st century thirst for celebrity gossip could both build her profile, and (potentially) save the world.
"Ms. Jolie expertly walks a line between known entity and complete mystery, cultivates relationships with friendly reporters and even sets up her own photo shoots for the paparazzi," reported the New York Times in 2008 in an exposé on her finely-tuned public image. "Most skilfully, she dictates terms to celebrity magazines involving their coverage of her and her family, editors say, creating an awkward situation for publications that try to abide by strict journalistic standards."
Among those terms (laid out to
in 2008) were, in exchange for baby photos, their abandonment of the celebrity portmanteau 'Brangelina' (which the couple hated), blanket positive coverage, and an emphasis on the pair's charity work. Pitt and Jolie had, a few years prior, followed up the release of
(the film in which they met) with tours of AIDS orphanages in Ethiopia, visits to Darfur, and offering aid in the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan.
A cynic will tell you that it helped divert attention away from the Aniston divorce saga that same year. A more likely scenario would be that two relentlessly stalked stars exploited their maximum tabloid attention to give camera-time to real-world crises.
But while her charity work has increased over the years, the star working alongside William Hague to campaign against sexual violencein war-torn nations and being appointed visiting professor at the London School of Economics, her acting has become less of a factor. Not that she seems all that bothered.
"I like acting. It's not the most important thing in my life," she told Vanity Fair in 2010. "Acting helped me as I was growing up. It helped me learn about myself, helped me travel, helped me understand life, express myself, all those wonderful things. So I'm very, very grateful, it's a fun job. It's a luxury... But I don't think I'll do it much longer."
As much as the Page Six report seemed to indicate Jolie's continued thirst for Hollywood stardom, she's mostly kept to her word. Jolie has acted on-screen twice since 2010: in the live-action Disney adaptation Maleficent, and in the marital flop By the Sea, which she also directed.
Rather she has been more of a behind-the-camera presence on film sets, directing the Bosnian love story In the Land of Milk and Honey, the World War Two epic Unbroken, and this year's First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. The only acting role she currently has in development is a long-mooted Maleficent sequel.
With all of that in mind, there appears to be two narratives at work here: Jolie as the incredibly self-aware movie star slavishly devoted to her public image and terrified of a potential backlash, or Jolie the serious humanitarian: a woman who shifted priorities and decided to focus on more fulfilling things in life than Oscar bait and Lara Croft. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
But whatever Jolie's actual priorities, her lack of acting work likely won't impact her continued fame. Angelina Jolie's appeal has long transcended the traditional rules of superstardom, starting with the fact that much of her filmography reads like an A to Z of completely forgettable duds. Rather Jolie's recognition is often a product of the noise surrounding her, be it knives and vials of blood, or baby carriages and mosquito nets.
It's harmed her acting career to an extent (there's a reason most of her best performances, particularly Gia, Playing by Heart and Girl, Interrupted, occurred before she became a star), but it's been a gift to her work as a humanitarian, where her mere image is enough to illuminate real-world trauma that would typically never reach the front pages.
And that seems to be the way she likes it. Whether it's because of a movie, a divorce, or an appearance at the UN, we'll all keep talking, with Jolie fastidiously determining whatever it is being said.