“We’ve all had those moments when we can transform something in our lives depending on whether we go this way or that … when something helps us grow. I feel very lucky that this place came into my life all those years ago. . “
Angelina Jolie is considering her first visit to Cambodia in 2000, when she was filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on site at the Ta Prohm temple in Angkor. That filming was supposed to be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the country where she adopted her eldest son Maddox, founded a foundation and bought a home whose protected acres offered a safe haven in the difficult moments of her life. “For me, going there was the awakening of many things in the world that I didn’t know about, such as what it meant to be refugeesand I felt very honored when years later I managed to become the mother of a Cambodian son and get the citizenship of that country, “she says.” I feel at peace when I’m in Southeast Asia. ”
Her last trip to Cambodia, to the inauguration of the latest phase of the Guerlain x UNESCO Women for Bees program, is the reason why we are talking on Zoom today, Jolie is casually dressed in a black sleeveless shirt, loose hair and a fresh face. The interview has already been postponed several times, but not without good reason: Jolie postponed her return to LA from Cambodia to fly to Yemen, where she met with displaced families to raise awareness of the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the ongoing civil war. Now back in the U.S., she hasn’t wasted time picking up the threads of multiple projects she’s working on, including the Guerlain initiative, which aims to equip women in selected UNESCO biospheres with beekeeping knowledge.
Conceived as a way to address threats to the global bee population, whose pollinating powers are key to food security and ecosystem management, the ambitious plan also promotes women’s education and entrepreneurship – a goal Jolie has long been close to her heart. “As I traveled the world, I saw that women are often very vulnerable and always very capable,” she says.
Now in its second phase (last year’s pilot was held in France, with further phases planned for Rwanda, Ethiopia, the Chinese province of Yunnan and the Amazon region), the program is based on the concept of sharing expertise – because “when you train a woman, she trains others.” Jolie. “We all have different strengths, but I think something is innate to a woman in nurturing and community. These are qualities that come to us very naturally – it’s like motherhood, isn’t it?” she adds, smiling sympathetically at me. (It’s 7pm London time, and my one-year-old daughter is mumbling loudly in the background.) “The way our bodies react when we hear a baby crying … I think we just have something in us when it comes to thinking about others, not about to ourselves, and it really helps in this kind of work. ”
With six of her children to take care of – Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh and twins Knox and Vivienne – does Jolie feel that her instinct to return has become stronger than ever? “My children have an impact on every aspect of who I am,” she says firmly. “The moment you become a parent, your life is not yours. You don’t know what ‘you’ is, it’s not about your life anymore, so you want to represent them, you want to be that model for them; your best self.” If he ever finds himself questioning his decisions or his identity, he turns to his children for persuasion. “When I doubt and don’t know who I am, I sit with them and feel they know me more than anyone knows me,” she says. “And then I see myself, and I see them as good people, interesting people, all very strong individuals, and I don’t think I can be bad, I couldn’t make a mess.”
Jolie was open about past struggles with her mental health, including a recent illness from what she described as post-traumatic stress disorder (an experience she relied on in her portrayal of Thene, who is afflicted with a mental condition, in last year’s Marvel blockbuster The Eternals). Since filing for divorce from Brad Pitt in September 2016, she has gone through a complex and protracted legal battle during which she cited domestic violence against Pitt, who was acquitted of all offenses but admitted to having an alcohol problem. She now retains sole custody of her five minor children (Maddox is over 18 and therefore exempt from consideration), after successfully arguing that the judge who previously granted Pitt shared custody cannot be considered impartial. No wonder, after such a turnaround, Jolie tells me she’s still ‘figuring out’ how to lead her life. “We all fight because no one is the perfect person, so we just put ourselves in chess and ask if we’re coming from the right place?” she thinks. “And there is no end to that growth.”
Certainly Jolie cannot be separated from her strong sense of purpose. Far from disappearing from public view after her divorce from Pitt, she continued to use her star power to advocate for charity, joining Instagram in 2021 to raise awareness of the horrors facing women and girls living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistanand in April travels to Ukraine to visit orphans in Lviv.
Still, she is aware of the need not to burden her sons and daughters, especially in our era of social media and 24-hour news. “They are more connected than any generation has ever been, and with that comes information overload about the world we live in – some scary things, and they’re exposed to everyone,” she says. “They encourage them to do something about it, which is wonderful because it gives them freedom of choice, but they should also not feel that pressure.” While she wants her children to grow up with a sense of civic responsibility, she suggests that “the biggest challenge for this generation, just try to help them seek joy and find peace … they need stupidity and rebellion! ”
If there is one legacy he hopes to pass on, it is an understanding of community power. Projects such as Women for Bees are successful because they are less involved in charity and more in building support networks – hence Jolie’s desire for her sons and daughters to see themselves as part of a global family. “You help them connect and learn about cultures and people around the world, and in that way they will appreciate them,” she says. “If it’s the right thing to do, it should be natural.” And with that, Angelina Jolie – movie star, mentor, mother – goes on her next engagement, changing the world one by one.
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