I can’t fucking see. I can’t fucking dance and I can’t fucking sing. What the fuck am I doing here?
—ANGELINA JOLIE ON THE SET OF THE ROLLING STONES
VIDEO “ANYBODY SEEN MY BABY?”
In the half-light and on a good day, curly-haired Franklin Meyer likes to think he bears a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan. But when the craggy-faced New Yorker has an ever-present cigarillo clamped between his yellowing teeth, think more Warren Oates from Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Frank has a lived-in face, though his blue eyes, which have seen more than their fair share of debauchery and decadence, still twinkle. Now sixty-four, he is old-school New York, fondly remembering the days when downtown Manhattan was bad, mad, and dangerous to know. A friend of Andy Warhol’s—“as much as anyone ever was a friend of his”—he learned filmmaking from that first master of the “reality” genre. As a young actor, Meyer appeared in one of Warhol’s Factory epics alongside drag queen Candy Darling. When he asked the great man for direction, Warhol replied: “Do whatever you feel like doing.”
So he did. For the next twenty-five years he worked as a cabinetmaker before discovering, somewhat late in life, that dealing drugs was easier on the hands and knees. He took over from an “inept” pothead at the legendary Hotel Chelsea, home to actors, artists, and musicians, including Mr. Dylan himself. Meyer offered what he proudly called a “full-service, one-stop shop” for everything from heroin to ecstasy, quaaludes to cocaine. His ninth-floor apartment was, he insists, never a “shooting gallery” but a modern-day salon where conversations ranged far and wide as the somewhat rich and relatively famous sniffed, snorted, and smoked.
Like the desk of the late TV talk-show host Johnny Carson, Meyer’s dealing desk was higher than the rest of the room so that he could look down on his seated clients. It also hid the shotgun as well as the 9mm and 32mm handguns that he loved to handle, admiring the mechanism of the weapons just as he loved to tinker with his collection of antique watches. He insists he never used the guns in anger. It was all part of the daily theater played out for his well-heeled or artsy clientele.
At some point during his new career as a dealer he took a line, so to speak, from Warhol’s playbook and decided to film the goings-on behind the locked door of apartment 921. He called his attempt at cinéma vérité Hand Job Files, after the time he and another cameraman, a well-known New York director, were filming a lesbian S&M dominatrix being whipped and the second cameraman got a touch carried away. Over the months and then years, he filmed forty-odd hours of footage ranging from the banal to the plain weird: designer Marc Jacobs, in coat and scarf, chasing a line, or a beautiful, half-naked girl freebasing. Others were filmed but not doing drugs, including a black rapper talking about his brother’s breaking into the home of his fiancée’s parents; a client’s girlfriend performing desultory oral sex; director Abel Ferrara growling around the apartment; and the irrepressible singer Chaka Khan being Chaka. While he has yet to find a suitable distributor, he proudly shows visitors, including the author, his uncut documentary.
Central to the casting for his reality TV show was the sometimes blonde, sometimes dark-haired figure of Angelina Jolie. She first appeared at his door in February 1997, when she was filming Hell’s Kitchen in New York while also working with John Frankenheimer in Los Angeles on the biopic of George Wallace. Directed by Tony Cinciripini, Hell’s Kitchen was a down and dirty story of revenge, drugs, and sleazy sex; Angie played a vengeful girlfriend wanting blood atonement for the death of her brother. When she first arrived at Meyer’s apartment, she was accompanied by her screen lover, fellow actor Johnny Whitworth, who played Patty, a young punk who accidentally shot her brother and later had rough, drug-fueled sex with Angie’s addict mother, played by Rosanna Arquette.
Like her movie character, Angie was bleary-eyed, and her left hand was bandaged after an accident on set. Even though it was the first time Angie had met her new dealer, she was so careless of her image that she allowed Meyer to take her picture for his collection. Then she scored sixty dollars’ worth of cocaine and heroin.
For the next three years “Frank from the Chelsea” was her dealer, supplying her from time to time with her drugs of choice, heroin and cocaine. The odd couple soon became friends, shopping, dining out, and even visiting his elderly father, Howard. Angie and Frank, whose mother, Sylvette Engel, was a talented artist, even talked of buying land and forming an artists’ colony in upstate New York. Angie wanted to learn to paint and sculpt. Her true passion, though, was for making masks and casts, on several occasions using plaster of paris to make molds of her own breasts. She was as intrigued by the beauty of women who had suffered partial or full mastectomies as she was by the use of hot candle wax and nipple clamps during lesbian S&M sessions. “It has to come from a real place,” she told the camera.
The star of Hand Job Files was as witty as she was uninhibited. During a filmed chat about childhood pets, she joked that Frank’s girlfriend, Danielle, should sue Warner Brothers, the makers of Bugs Bunny cartoons, after Danielle revealed that when she fed lettuce to her pet rabbit it died. (Actually, Bugs Bunny’s staple diet was carrots, but it got a laugh.) Angie confessed that when she was growing up she was equally unlucky with her own pets, recounting the countless small tragedies under her stewardship.
As happy as she was to chat endlessly on camera, her visits to Frank’s salon were not merely social. She was there to score. Frank, though, is reticent about Angie’s drug use, seeing her more as a friend than an addict. “She never bought or did a lot,” he recalls. “She was not a serious career drug addict. I never remember her spending much more than a hundred dollars at a time.” Still, he cautions: “Whether you smoke, shoot, or snort heroin, in the end you end up at the same place. It’s the same game no matter how you do it.”
Most of the time she preferred to smoke, finding comfort in the lonely ritual of “chasing the dragon.” This elusive pursuit of the ultimate high involved heating her heroin on a piece of aluminum foil and carefully ensuring that the liquid did not coalesce into an unmanageable mass before inhaling the smoke through a second, rolled-up piece of aluminum foil.
Her behavior caused sufficient alarm on set for the wife of a producer, who was also her driver, to call a close friend of her mother’s and outline what was going on. Marcheline’s reaction was instructive. Passive as ever, she proposed doing nothing, arguing that Angelina was a twenty-one-year-old adult who was responsible for her own behavior. “But she’s your daughter,” said her friend, horrified at Marche’s willingness to accommodate her daughter’s self-destruction. In the end Marcheline agreed to go to New York and confront Angie. Over lunch she held her daughter’s hand and, in her wispy, ethereal way, tentatively asked, “Now, Angie, tell me the truth. Are you doing drugs?” Angie looked her in the eye and said, “No, Mommy, I am not,” and then proceeded to eat a whole hamburger and fries to show her mother that her appetite was healthy. The encounter was very Marcheline, who always wanted to be her daughter’s best friend rather than her mother.
As ever, her father learned about her drug use some time later and from sources other than his ex-wife. He got on a plane and tracked Angie down. As he later told TV host Pat O’Brien, he could see what he called “real psychic pain” etched on her face, a torment she seemed to relieve with drugs. “You can’t help me! You can’t help my pain!” she screamed at her father, pleading with him to let her deal with her situation on her own and asking him to give her the night to recover. Reluctantly, he bowed to her will, leaving her to her own devices. It was a decision he later came to regret. However well-meaning, his one-man intervention had little chance of success without the full support of the rest of the family and the involvement of a qualified expert on drugs.
As dramatic and emotionally draining as this encounter was, it gave only a partial portrait of the complex relationship between father and daughter. Like her father, Angie was and is a savior by nature, wanting to save everyone she can. Just as her father was trying to save her from herself, so did she want to save him from himself. A twenty-one-minute telephone conversation with him filmed by Franklin Meyer is revealing. At times she sounds like his mother, admonishing him for spending too much time punishing himself rather than enjoying his money and his life. “I want you to teach me things,” she told him, adding, “Making yourself happy makes us happy.” At the same time, as she began to appreciate the business she was in, she could see more clearly how he had squandered his talent. He took roles way beneath his ability and stature, while rejecting parts that might enhance his career. One example around this time was the Tom Cruise–produced movie Without Limits, about the famous 1970s Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine and his legendary coach, Bill Bowerman. Both Angie and James thought Jon was perfect for the part of Bowerman, but he turned it down. The role went to Donald Sutherland, who received accolades for his performance.
She took a similarly maternal interest in her brother’s career. In spite of subsequent events, they had never been especially close. As a kid, James was the typical elder brother, telling his sister to “scram” on the rare occasions she wanted to play with him. They had different interests and outlooks on the world, typified by the fact that James loved being behind the camera, Angie in front. When he was at college he would not speak to or see his sister for months on end. He seemed destined for a career as a director, especially as he showed genuine talent, at USC winning the George Lucas prize. Friends recall that when he was making his student movies, which starred his sister, he affected the guise of a French New Wave director, wearing a beret and a striped shirt. During one film in which Angie appeared half naked, he announced portentously that it was a “closed set.”
When James graduated, however, he was so painfully shy that he couldn’t bring himself to attend interviews, even when he was on a short list of one. It was a surprise when he suddenly switched gears, deciding, somewhat belatedly, to follow his sister into acting. Unlike Angie, he had never had an acting lesson or shown any interest in that branch of the business, yet his father dutifully introduced him to all the casting agents in town so that they would remember his face. Angie pitched in, too, helping him snag his first screen role, as a bartender in Hell’s Kitchen. She reported back to her father that she was thrilled to see how much her rather diffident brother had grown in confidence during the shoot.
It was James who took her to the emergency room of the local hospital when she cut her hand. As she later recalled: “James was just great. I saw how he would be as a dad or a husband. He was so cool under pressure, held my other hand, and got me a lollipop and kept making jokes.” Whatever concerns Marche and Jon had about their daughter’s drug use might well have been soothed by the fact that her brother was on hand to keep an eye on her. But it was not quite as simple as that; Angie was very private about her drug use.
Moreover, she was bouncing back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. The Hell’s Kitchen shoot in New York was organized around her commuting schedule to Los Angeles, where she played Cornelia in George Wallace. It was a meaty role, the ballsy character of Cornelia straight out of the Barbara Voight school of life. A crack shot, record-holding fisherwoman, onetime rodeo performer, and professional water-skier, she was a woman who loved adventure, driving the 100-mph pace car at the opening of the Indianapolis 500 and riding in a National Guard Phantom jet. “I wanted to be the first woman on the moon,” Cornelia Wallace once recalled. “I was never wild, but I was daresome. I’d try most anything one time.”
During her research into Cornelia’s character, Angie discovered that she was also a classical pianist, saxophonist, and organist, and wrote and performed folk songs with the likes of the “king of country,” Roy Acuff. Angie made the mistake of mentioning Cornelia’s singing career to director John Frankenheimer, who suggested that Angie, who cheerfully declares that she cannot carry a tune in a bucket, strum the guitar and sing Acuff’s signature song, “The Wabash Cannonball,” at an election rally. Angie was being way too modest. Like her father, who sang on Broadway in The Sound of Music, Angie has a pleasing singing voice.
As colorful and accomplished as she was, Cornelia was forever captured in the public imagination the moment on May 15, 1972, when Governor Wallace was shot five times by would-be assassin Arthur Bremen during the presidential campaign and she threw herself on her husband’s body. She was pictured cradling her husband’s head, his blood soaking her yellow suit jacket, using her own body to shield him from further attack. As Angie tried to uncover the soul of Cornelia Wallace, she carefully studied the Time cover photograph of that moment, an image that spoke to her of not only Cornelia’s courage, but also her love and her loyalty. “She loved him and cared for him,” observed Angie. “She could have been shot herself.” Cornelia is much more matter-of-fact about the famous magazine cover: “Fortunately, I’d just been to the hairdresser. Women think of things like that.”
Wallace, played by Gary Sinise, was left paralyzed from the waist down, his injury giving added poignancy to the film’s opening scene, in which Cornelia and Governor Wallace enjoy a breakfast cuddle on top of their hotel bed before hitting the campaign trail. The three-hour TV biopic charted Wallace’s transformation from a racist governor and political opportunist who stood in front of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in 1963, temporarily blocking the entrance of two black students and proclaiming “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” to a man who, after he was shot, deliberately brought a large number of African-Americans into his administration. In a dramatic and true scene, he arrived in his wheelchair at a black church in Montgomery where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, and begged the congregation for forgiveness for his past misdeeds. “I have learned what suffering means. I know I contributed to that pain [of the black community], and I can only ask for your forgiveness,” he told them.
The allegorical nature of Wallace’s transformation—his Faustian pact to win power and his downfall and subsequent contrition—was what drew Frankenheimer, a lifelong liberal and a friend of Bobby Kennedy’s, to the film in the first place. When the cameras stopped rolling, the veteran director of nearly fifty TV and feature films declared that it was his best movie ever. While neither the ailing subject nor Cornelia agreed with his judgment—“They depicted me incorrectly,” she complained—the critics were largely on the director’s side, and the TV movie went on to be nominated for nine Emmy Awards.
The experience of being involved in a historically provocative drama—such was Wallace’s continuing influence that Frankenheimer was not able to film in Alabama—had a powerful impact on Angie. “For the first time I saw the grand scale of what you can attempt and what you can achieve,” she remarked, sentiments that echoed those of her father thirty years before when he starred in the hugely controversial Midnight Cowboy.
She had enjoyed, too, a grand, if unrequited, passion during filming. Angie, like other actors, admits that she falls in love with her costars, and she fell hard for her screen husband, Gary Sinise. That she was still married, and that Sinise, twenty years her senior, was married with three young children, mattered not. She was besotted. For once her mother, who listened to her daily reports from the set, pleaded with her not to pursue him. The infatuation soon passed, Sinise oblivious to his potential romantic jeopardy.
As ever, her father was out of the loop. While his dream was to “share the screen with [his] kids,” Angie was ambivalent about working with her father, wondering if she would be able to take direction from him. Their edgy, rather wary relationship was symbolized by the fact that when they recorded a joint interview in June 1997, shortly after filming for George Wallace wrapped, he was in a Toronto studio, while she was in New York completing Hell’s Kitchen.
When Voight mentioned Angie’s husband, Jonny Lee Miller, and their friends Jude Law and Ewan McGregor, the nascent competition that characterized all of Angie’s relationships bubbled to the surface. She complained that she expended a lot of energy just keeping her clothes on and steering clear of girlfriend roles, but felt that her husband had been “blessed with some great projects that don’t need to be fixed.” Not that her husband necessarily would have agreed. While she was working in the California sunshine on one of John Frankenheimer’s finest films, he was lying in a freezing muddy field in Scotland surrounded by disembodied corpses. In Regeneration, based on Pat Barker’s novel, he played a British officer rendered mute by the horrors he witnessed during the Somme offensive in World War I, where thousands of soldiers were slaughtered in a matter of minutes. Although the corpses were artificial, the bitter cold, the clinging mud, and the stagnant water were all too authentic. Miller could have been forgiven for thinking that the lady doth protest too much.
In May, Miller joined twenty other up-and-coming British thespians at the Cannes Film Festival to celebrate the “extraordinary renaissance” of the U.K. film industry. Miller was very much a part of that dynamism. He and a group of like-minded colleagues, including his pals Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Sean Pertwee, and Sadie Frost, had taken control of their own destiny and formed a production company, Natural Nylon. That summer they were in serious talks to promote a raft of projects that included The Hellfire Club, about a group of eighteenth-century libertines, and Psychoville, a satirical thriller. It didn’t hurt their cause that Afterglow, starring Miller and Julie Christie, was released that month to rave reviews. “Serious and comic, frivolous and substantial, giddy and lyrical all at the same time,” wrote critic Emanuel Levy.
Levy’s silky sentence could have served as a partial description of the brief and somewhat unusual marriage of Angie and Jonny. The word “ironic” would have been apt as well: For example, while Angie was seeing her dealer in New York, her husband was playing in a charity soccer match in Glasgow to raise money for a drug rehabilitation program.
While the peripatetic life of an actor meant that they spent much of their union apart, on the infrequent occasions when they were together, few would have realized that they were thinking of formally separating. In a pattern she would follow for some years, Angie and her husband, at least in public, were passionate to the point of flagrant exhibitionism. When they went out with their friends to a restaurant in Los Angeles, they would make out in front of them and the other customers. “Quite frankly I found it tiresome going out with her when she spent all her time sucking her lover’s face off,” recalled one girlfriend. When they visited the homes of their friends, Angie would often ask to borrow the host’s bedroom for twenty minutes so that she and Jonny could have a “quickie.” “She was an exhibitionist; she liked the effect her sexuality had on people, how it discomfited them,” noted one of the witnesses to her sexy performances.
With Timothy Hutton lurking quietly in the background, Jenny Shimizu was often the third wheel in Angie and Jonny’s relationship. As Angie once admitted: “I probably would have married Jenny if I hadn’t already married Jonny. I’m quite free with my sexuality.” That summer her girlfriend became part of TV history when, in May 1997, she was one of a host of celebrities, including Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton, and Oprah Winfrey, who appeared on an Ellen special in which the show’s star, Ellen DeGeneres, acknowledged that she was a lesbian. Although that appearance enhanced Jenny’s celebrity, others were not so fortunate. Angie’s former babysitter, actor Laura Dern, played Ellen’s love interest in the celebrity-packed show and found herself struggling to find work for a year or so afterward.
During this period Jenny was staying with a girlfriend in the Hollywood Hills. One night Jenny invited Angie and her husband over for a kind of double date. As Jonny and Jenny’s girlfriend chatted inside, Angie and Jenny stripped and slid into the open-air swimming pool. “It seems like hours we caressed each other under the surface, again and again,” Jenny later breathlessly told a British tabloid. “It was one of our horniest nights ever. The fact that Jonny or my other lover [whom she later described as a “no-nonsense knockout”] could have caught us at any moment just made it more thrilling.”
I’m alone; I’m dying; I’m gay; I’m not going to be able to see you for weeks,” Angie told her husband in July 1997 as she closed the curtains on her hotel windows in downtown Los Angeles and began to absorb the essence of tragic cover girl Gia Carangi, a notorious heroin addict who, in the mid-1980s, became the first celebrity model to die of AIDS, at the age of just twenty-six.
With this dramatic sentence, Angie effectively closed the door on her year-old marriage. Jonny returned to his old life in London, but the couple perversely remained the best of friends. There was further collateral damage. Her carelessness with her pets continued. The couple had already dispatched Vlad the iguana to reptile heaven through the good offices of the local vet. Now it was the turn of their pet snake, Harry Dean Stanton. When they couldn’t find anyone to kill the mice that Harry needed, another visit to the vet ensued. As this was the second time Angie had sentenced a pet to death, the vet agreed to find Harry another home—as long as Angie promised never to get another animal. “I realized that being with me was not the best thing for a pet,” she wryly observed.
It was perhaps as well that she left behind everything that touched her life as she embarked on a potentially dangerous and challenging emotional journey. As an actor who “became” her characters, she realized early on that in Gia she was absorbing an uncomfortable second skin, a body double whom she feared she might one day become. Angie observed: “Gia has enough similarities to me that I figured this would either be a purge of all my demons or it was gonna really mess with me.”
It was a scary prospect, and understandably she was hesitant about taking on such a physically and emotionally demanding leading role. She had already enrolled in a part-time film studies course at NYU, and it was only Geyer Kosinski’s wheedling intervention that convinced her to consider the role in the first place. Part of the bargain was a walk-on role for her brother. When she met first-time director Michael Cristofer, who had already seen two hundred actresses audition, he, too, shared her doubts about her strength and willingness to embrace the demanding part. “Although she’s extremely striking, it was not easy to see how beautiful she was. Her presentation of herself was pretty rough. I think having to parade around and call herself beautiful was an issue for her,” he recalled.
While there had been some talk about casting supermodel Cindy Crawford, who was known as “Baby Gia” early in her career, it was Angie who clearly captured the essence of the doomed model, whose brief life was a postmodern fairy tale—there was no happy ending. “Angelina is probably as adventurous a person as Gia in many ways, even if she didn’t act on all those impulses,” observed Cristofer, who added that she shared Gia’s “pervasive innocence and vulnerability.” A five-hour meeting between Cristofer and his potential leading lady cleared up any remaining doubts in her mind. He took her carefully through the script, explaining that while it described the drug-fueled modeling world, Gia’s aggressive lesbianism, and her fragile love affair with makeup artist Linda, played by Elizabeth Mitchell, the heart of the story was the desperate search by a tortured soul to find love after Gia’s mother, played by Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl, abandoned her when she was only eleven.
Gia’s profound sense of rejection; her bond with her mentor and surrogate mother, model agency head Wilhelmina Cooper, played by Faye Dunaway; her love affair with Linda; and her mother’s tentative attempts at reconciliation formed the emotional spine in the brief life of a young woman who, less than two years after starting modeling, was on the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, and featured in a major fashion campaign for Versace (his own funeral took place in Milan during filming in July 1997). All too soon came the fall, a downward spiral of pills, cocaine, and mainlining heroin. Shortly before her death, the model known as “Sister Morphine” was reduced to living on the streets and selling jeans to buy food.
In her earlier work, notably Hackers and Foxfire, Angie had demonstrated that she could play the feral punk chick with a switchblade and a wild attitude to match. With Gia she also had to show vulnerability, convincing audiences that behind the artificial swagger was an insecure little girl desperately looking for love. This was her challenge, as her fellow Foxfire actor Michelle Brookhurst observed: “In our film there was a level of fearlessness about her; she was emotionally untouchable. But where is the vulnerability in Angie as Gia? To make her sympathetic we have got to understand why we root for her.”
In exploring the mother-daughter relationship she was tackling new territory. Now that she was joined at the hip with her own mother, how far did the imprinting experience of abandonment when she was in the cradle, those first memories of looking out at the sky—an open window on her back was one of her first tattoos—inform her screen performance, even at the edge of her creative consciousness? Her screen mother, Mercedes Ruehl, perceptively touched on Gia’s psychic scar, telling writer Alanna Nash: “Drugs are a manifestation of the problem, but the real problem is the wound. In the screenplay we have a mother with a narcissistic wound and a daughter who is narcissistically wounded herself, from a kind of heartbreaking neglect. They’re both having to get through the day with massive tricks of denial.”
The overriding theme of Gia’s life was an emptiness in her soul forged by fears of abandonment, subject matter that was closer to Angie’s own life than she perhaps realized. Ironically, she touched on her empathy for Gia’s experience of parental loss, understanding the model’s feelings by comparison with her own life. “If I didn’t have her, if she left [when I was] eleven,” Angie said to the Toronto Sun about Marcheline, “I would have been looking for that my whole life, that kind of love and comfort.” Family friends believe that though she never acknowledged it publicly, Angie did realize that she was, obliquely, confronting her own relationship with her mother.
As she began to explore the “dark places” in Gia’s—and hence her own—psyche, the first thing she did was watch Gia’s infamous 20/20 interview, in which she affected an English accent and dreamily explained that she no longer took drugs. Initially Angie “hated” her new screen persona, but her feelings turned to warmth, even love, as she read Gia’s private journals and jottings and talked to those who knew her. One scene encapsulated her explosively vulnerable character: Gia stalking out of a modeling shoot dressed in full Japanese regalia and climbing on the back of a Harley motorbike, ridden by stuntman and actor Chuck Zito, to zoom off into Manhattan in search of drugs.
Even though Zito appeared only briefly in the movie, he, like many others, was captivated by Angie. After filming finished, Zito, founder and onetime president of the New York chapter of Hells Angels, promised to take her for a ride on the back of his Harley. He was as good as his word, the besotted ex-con making a special trip to California to take the actress, twenty-odd years his junior, for a long, slow, comfortable ride on what is known as the “love ride.” In her naïveté she had thought she was going for a ride on the back of his Harley; he thought he was traveling three thousand miles for rather more. An acrimonious argument ensued, and Zito returned to New York.
Angie’s impulsive acceptance of Zito’s invitation was very much in Gia’s mercurial character. However outrageous her behavior, everyone ended up liking her—even a photographer she pulled a knife on. Like Angie, Gia was the “other girl”; with her dark hair, volcanic temper, and stormy eyes, she was very different from the “clean” girls, the fresh-scrubbed, all-American blondes who were then the norm in the modeling industry.
In the end Angie admitted that Gia was the kind of girl she would have liked to date and go to bed with. Describing Gia as a “perfect match” for her, Angie noted: “We represent the same role in life . . . outspoken, a bit tough, funny and out there, crazy, very opinionated and also soft and vulnerable.” At one point in the movie, Wilhelmina, reviewing Gia’s modeling pictures, says: “Tough, vulnerable, old, young, decadent, innocent, male, female.” She could have been speaking of Angie.
Before the $8 million shoot finished in August 1997, Angie agreed to Cristofer’s request to appear in his next movie, Original Sin, based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel Waltz into Darkness. She also, reluctantly, indulged her mother. During filming she had turned down the chance to perform as a nightclub stripper in the latest Rolling Stones video, “Anybody Seen My Baby?” It was only endless pleading by Marcheline, who utterly idolized the band and knew all their lyrics by heart, that brought about an unwilling change of heart. “Please, darling; please do it for me,” Marche begged.
When Angie arrived at the video shoot in Manhattan later in August, she was in a foul mood. As part of her stripper “look” she had been asked to wear colored contact lenses, but when she put them in everything was a blur. As the show had to go on, she stumbled into the fake concert hall, looking for the stage. “I can’t fucking see,” she announced to anyone in earshot. “I can’t fucking dance and I can’t fucking sing. What the fuck am I doing here?” Watching this vision in a gold corset and stockings swearing like a trucker were the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger, just five years younger than her father, was instantly smitten.
As the cameras rolled, Angie danced onstage, all the while ogled by Jagger and the rest of the Stones. Tiring of the charade, Angie pulled off her blonde wig to reveal her bald head—shaved during the filming of Gia—and stalked out of the club into the Manhattan traffic, promptly followed by Mick Jagger. Afterward Angie observed that, for a girl with two left feet, she had been inspired by the spirit of Gia to strut her stuff onstage. “I just went for it,” she said. “I think Gia would have loved it.”
Mick Jagger clearly did. He might not have found his baby in the video, but he knew that he wanted to find out more about the sexy woman standing half naked before him. Much more. It was the beginning of a two-year quest that was as decadent and depraved as any event in the Stones’ storied sexual lexicon—a magnificent if frustrating obsession as Jagger, at the time fifty-four and still married to Jerry Hall, then pregnant with the fourth of their children, pursued this erotic vision around the world.
Central to this unfolding romantic drama was Angie’s mother, who now lived vicariously through her daughter. Angie was everything her quiet, reserved, passive earth mother could never be: wild, adventurous, sexy, a rock-and-roll chick. Enter into this mix Mick Jagger. Marche had adored him from afar since she was a teenager. As unhealthy as it was, it was perhaps understandable why she encouraged Angie’s relationship with the rock-and-roll roué. For the next two years, unbeknownst to her daughter, she played cupid, encouraging Mick Jagger and advising him on how best to pursue his suit with Angie, eager for them to marry one day. She had controlled so much of Angie’s life—her clothes, her boyfriends, her career—that choosing a husband for her was the logical next step. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but from this time onward Marcheline frequently counseled that it would be for the best if Angie and her husband, Jonny Lee Miller, formally divorced.
Certainly it was not long before Marcheline was planning her daughter’s wedding in France. She decided that Jon Voight was not going to be invited and that afterward she would live in an annex of her daughter’s home with Jagger. “Marche loved Mick for Angie,” recalls Lauren Taines. “She felt that he could teach her about fame and how to handle it. She wanted them to marry.”
Marche was blind to any contradictions in pushing her daughter, then using heroin, into the arms of a married man of, to put it kindly, dubious repute, after complaining bitterly for years about her own philandering ex-husband. When Lauren posed this thorny question about her double standards, Marche was quiet for a long moment. “He’s my idol,” she said simply.
Marche’s fantasy actually seemed within reach. Certainly Jagger’s phone messages indicated that he was willing to give up everything for the object of his desire. He courted Angie assiduously, reduced to a “sniveling wretch” in the face of her seductive disregard. For once it was a case of the biter bit, as the man whose romantic Rolodex included Brigitte Bardot, Carla Bruni, Anita Pallenberg, Carly Simon, and Bianca Jagger left Angie endless telephone messages, pleading, beseeching, begging her to speak to him and then meet him. “Angelina, why aren’t you calling me? Where are you? Please phone me,” Mick, one of the world’s great lotharios, implored.
Unfortunately, he left the messages on the wrong phone. During the video shoot he had asked Angie for her number. Such was her indifference that she gave him her mother’s home number. When Marcheline first heard this voice on her answering machine, she was amazed that the man she worshipped was so infatuated with her daughter. She saved his messages and played them to friends. “It was literally astonishing,” recalls Lauren Taines. “Here was Mick Jagger virtually sobbing down the phone.”
When Mick finally managed to speak to Angie, he invited her to join him for the weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, while the band took a break from the Bridges to Babylon tour. Though she spent time with him, she refused to have sex, claiming that she was having her period. “She was messing with his head,” recalls Lauren Taines.
Jagger’s timing was all wrong. Not only was Angie coming out of the most emotionally draining movie of her fledgling career, but Mrs. Miller was juggling a ménage of her own. Angie recalled: “I was feeling emptier than ever. I was scared of going out like Gia.”
She returned to New York to resume her studies at NYU—and to leach the ghost of Gia out of her psyche. It was her Greta Garbo moment. “I’ve chosen to be quite alone,” she told writer James Endrst. “I knew it was going to take me a while to say goodbye to Gia, to put myself back together. I kind of died and I’m still feeling a bit of that pain Gia did.” She even considered giving up acting, feeling that she had been eaten alive by Gia Carangi.
“Her commitment to a role does saturate her being,” says Gia director Michael Cristofer, now a close friend. “I think she knows when she takes on a role it’s going to permeate her self and how she lives and who she is.”
Angie was plunged into one of her bleakest cycles of despair and gloom as she tried to say goodbye to the new love of her life. In perhaps the most melodramatic of her flirtations with suicide, she decided to hire a hit man to do the deed, paying him in a bizarre installment plan so that no one would notice the money going out of her bank accounts or feel guilty for causing her death. Angie says she was introduced to her killer by the friend of a friend. (While her gun-toting drug dealer Frank Meyer, who was in regular contact, would probably have been the go-to guy to arrange contact with the underworld, she never mentioned her scheme to him.)
In fact, her assassin turned out to be a character straight out of the “tart with the heart of gold” playbook. The would-be killer apparently told her to think about her plan for a month and then, if nothing changed in her life, to come back to him. “It’s so weird and so complicated and . . . so like a fucking movie,” she told Rolling Stone magazine. Quite.
Salvation of sorts came when she learned that she had been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for George Wallace. “Suddenly it seemed like people understood me. I thought my life was completely meaningless and that I would never be able to communicate anything and that there was nobody who understood . . . and then I realized I wasn’t alone,” Angie says of that time. “Somehow life changed.”
Although her mother believed she was “overdramatizing,” her frequent thoughts of suicide were entirely consistent with her “undifferentiated feeling state,” her inability to connect with herself. As Dr. Franziska De George observes: “The ultimate dissociation is suicide. What better way to get rid of your feelings completely than by killing yourself? It’s not so much a wish to die as it is a wish not to endure feeling tortured anymore, to feel so desperately lost.”
Angie finally gave vent to the furies within when she tried to learn to play the drums. In early September, during one of her frequent visits to Hollywood, she contacted one of the world’s best drummers, Joey Covington, formerly of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, and asked him to give her lessons. They ended up practicing at the Doheny Drive home of legendary composer Henry Mancini, of “Moon River” fame and a record seventy-two Grammy nominations, where his son Chris had a jamming studio. At first Angie was timid, then Covington said to her, “Okay, give me the names of the ten people you hate.” Among the names were those of her father and her agent, Geyer Kosinski. Covington wrote the names on gaffer tape and attached them to different drums. Then Angie really let rip, the physical effort cathartic and exhausting. During one session she pulled a switchblade from her back pocket, explaining that she was a cutter. “I have low self-confidence and suicidal tendencies,” she said with a directness that was as refreshing as it was unnerving. Several months later, Covington attempted suicide but was discovered by his partner. He subsequently discussed this episode with Angie, who wanted to know every nuance of the experience. It was clear that she had given considerable thought to the subject. Covington told her: “It was not fun, not fun at all. My advice is, don’t do it.”
After the six sessions, which continued off and on during the fall of 1997, Chris Mancini photographed her holding the drumsticks high above her head in exhilaration. “I sincerely believe the drums helped save her life,” says Joey Covington. “They gave her a focus and a sense of achievement.”
It is worth pointing out that for all the talk of suicide and self-harm, Angie was a thoughtful and nurturing young woman. During her drum sessions she befriended guitarist Bobby Ciarcia, who had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she listened sympathetically as he talked about his constrained life. She even went—without any prompting from her parents—to a charity ball in aid of the illness.
Back in New York, a $1,500 electronic drum kit, on which she could practice using headphones without disturbing the neighbors, had pride of place—along with her knife and sword collection—in her new apartment on the fourteenth floor of the fabled Ansonia building on the Upper West Side. Angie blended right in with the sophistication and decadence of the baroque edifice. Over the course of its colorful history, live seals had cavorted in the fountain in the entrance lobby; chickens, cows, and a live bear had been housed on the roof; and a swingers’ club, called Plato’s Retreat, had only recently been evicted from its basement enclave.
There was an ulterior motive behind her drum lessons. She was quietly seeing Tim Hutton, who also had an apartment in New York, and wanted to join jam sessions with his garage band. “She quickly learned the basics of drumming so she could impress Tim and his friends,” observed a girlfriend. She was not quite so passionate about his other hobby: renovating and restoring derelict apartments in New York and then selling them for a handsome profit.
Unlike Tim Hutton, who worked on only a film or two a year, Angie was constantly on the go, commuting between New York and Los Angeles. In between drumming lessons, she went parachuting over the California desert (presumably to match her husband in his daredevil antics) and bike riding. She simply didn’t have the time for her husband, Mick Jagger—or suicide.
Still the Rolling Stones singer persisted. Knowing that Angie was nominally married but dating, he cooked up a plan to snare her. Jagger’s film production company, Jagged Films, approached Jonny Lee Miller about a film they were casting, Enigma, about World War II code breakers. While Miller was an excellent actor, eminently suited for the period British drama, Jagger had an ulterior motive. He assumed that as Miller and Angie were still good friends even though they were leading separate lives, she would visit him on the set. That would give him the opportunity to spend more time with her. Or so he thought.
In the meantime, Miller called Angie and innocently told her that he was being considered for a part in a Jagged Films production. Angie listened but never breathed a word to her husband about why she suspected he was being courted. When confronted, Jagger confirmed her suspicions. Angie was furious at his underhanded behavior, screaming that she never wanted to see or speak to him again. As convoluted casting-couch maneuvers go, it was in a class of its own.
Jagger paid a high emotional price, falling into a deep depression as a result of Angie’s silence. He was now the recipient of the Bertrand freeze. “He was completely heartbroken by her,” notes Lauren Taines. The freeze lasted for months, Angie given further pause about any future dalliance when Jerry Hall gave birth to her fourth child with Mick, Gabriel, in December 1997. Angie’s heart thawed only after Stones drummer Charlie Watts called her and pleaded with her to call Jagger, as he was in utter despair. Reluctantly, she agreed to resume their relationship, and the love-struck rocker invited her to join him on tour in Brazil in April 1998.
The freeze in her relations with Jagger coincided with a further thaw between Angie and her husband. In October 1997, with rumors of a formal separation swirling, Angie stated the obvious—that she loved her husband but was no good at being married. “I wasn’t even a good friend because I was just absent and . . . I’d go for drives and disappear or go film something and be in hotels forever and not do anything, not have friends, not visit, not hang out. I couldn’t calm down and just live life.”
For a few brief weeks before Christmas and over New Year’s they tried to revive their marriage. They spent time in New York before Miller headed to the Czech Republic to make Plunkett & Macleane, a period drama about two highwaymen, with his friend from Trainspotting Robert Carlyle, then reunited in Scotland for the wedding of Carlyle and makeup artist Anastasia Shirley at the remote but utterly luxurious Skibo Castle on December 28. The candlelit midnight union was an irresistibly romantic affair, what with the skirl of pipes, the swirl of kilts, and a seemingly endless supply of the finest malt. It was the final hurrah for Jonny and Angie, who decided to go their separate ways. Days later, Angie explained to writer Chris Hutchins: “Right now I’m not living as a married woman. Now we’re both busy growing up.”
Significantly, she chose her father, rather than her mother, brother, or husband, to accompany her to the Fifty-fifth Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hills Hilton in January 1998. Although she felt as if she were crashing a party where she didn’t belong—she even considered covering up her growing array of tattoos—this was very much her home turf. Angie had walked by the five-star hotel every day on her way to and from school.
When she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in George Wallace, that was a cue to party till dawn, her father wondering whether she really should be drinking tequila shots at five in the morning. She was joined in her late-night drinking by Leonardo DiCaprio, who had been nominated for Best Actor for his role in the unsinkable movie, Titanic. Their date was arranged by those unlikely Hollywood cupids, their agents, Geyer Kosinski and DiCaprio’s reps Rick and Julie Yorn. Even though they left the party together, the Titanic star did not float Angie’s boat; the actress told friends afterward that even though they shared a shower together in his hotel suite there was little sexual rapport. The most memorable event was Angie mislaying the pair of diamond earrings she had borrowed for the evening. Thankfully they were insured, Angie leaving her mother to fill in the insurance claim form.
When Angie finally got home and listened to her answering machine, among the many messages of congratulations there was one from her now-estranged husband and another from her lover, Timothy Hutton. Her response was jaded; she told friends that if she hadn’t won, neither would have bothered to call. Her mother’s answering machine was also working overtime. Photographer Robert Kim, who took her first head shots and advised Angie to take up modeling full-time, called Marche and said: “It’s a good job your daughter didn’t listen to us and never went to Paris!”
Now the world was listening to Angie. Days after the Golden Globe celebrations—George Wallace won the award for Best Miniseries or Television Film—she was center stage at the premiere of Gia, held at the Directors Guild in Hollywood. This time all her family was on parade, including her parents; her brother; her godmother, Jacqueline Bisset; and her husband. They heard HBO Pictures president John Matoian tell the celebrity audience: “If we hadn’t found Angelina Jolie, we wouldn’t be here tonight.” Afterward her father said of her performance: “I’d like to act with her and I’d love to direct her. She’s the real thing.” Just as when she watched her first movie, Cyborg 2, she went home feeling sick, but she nonetheless embarked on a round of interviews to promote the movie.
She was frequently asked about the lesbian love scenes, her own drug use, and her modeling career. Her responses ranged from her trademark unflinching honesty to confusing evasion. She told The Cable Guide that she “loved” the sex scenes with costar Elizabeth Mitchell. “She hadn’t done a love scene before and she hadn’t been with a woman before. I was looking forward to kissing her and touching her and watching her discover that and hopefully, enjoy it. I think she did. I become more romantic with women. I love women.”
She took a rather more equivocal approach when quizzed about her own use of drugs. “I hate heroin because I have been fascinated by it,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I’m not immune but I won’t do it now, at all, because luckily I’ve found something that replaces that high, which is my work.” She emphasized to The New York Times: “Knowing what I know now, I would not do heroin now.” This was news to her dealer Frank Meyer, who confirms that he was supplying her with heroin throughout the filming of Gia and beyond.
Equally surprised was fashion photographer Sean McCall, who had picked her out as a future swimwear supermodel, when she told The New York Times and others that she had “failed miserably” in her attempts to be a model, recalling how she felt “terrible” when she was put into a swimsuit and measured all over, like a piece of meat. As Sean McCall recalls: “It’s baffling that she would say that. We never measured her or even considered it. She was certainly no failure; as a model she was on the brink of great success. She could have out–Kate Mossed Kate Moss if she had stuck with it.”
The dramatic license she took with her own life imbued her with the brio to take on an outsize character like Gia Carangi. Critics loved her outstanding performance, the doyenne of the film world, Pauline Kael, paying Jolie just about the biggest compliment she had to give: “This girl could play both the Brando and Maria Schneider roles in Last Tango in Paris! Where in the world did she come from?” Others were equally complimentary. The Daily News’s Will Cooper wrote: “Hers is the real art behind this artifice and her fire is what makes HBO’s Gia burn so brightly.” Varietydescribed her performance as “a mesmerizing tour de force,” while Lee Winfrey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Gia’s hometown paper, wrote: “If you like to see the birth of a star, watch Gia.”
It was not only Angie who received plaudits; her screen mother, Mercedes Ruehl, was also singled out for expressing the complex relationship with her daughter. “Even more than Jolie, Ruehl puts character into the role of the self-destructing Gia, helping us to understand where the daughter’s insecurities and fits of childish pique come from,” observed Newsday. “Ruehl also manages to convey guilt over Gia’s demise, even as she denies it.”
Friends and acquaintances who had lost touch with the young Angelina Jolie were equally impressed by her performance, mainly because it reminded them of the girl they once knew. School friend Windsor Lai watched her on TV and said, rather innocently: “Oh my God, that girl acts just like a girl I knew in eighth grade.” Only later did he realize he was responding to the girl he’d once sketched. For makeup artist Rita Montanez, the Angie she knew and Gia were interchangeable. “It was almost like she wasn’t acting. But her dark side is a disguise that hides something else, the relationship inside the family. Nothing much makes sense about her.”
Meanwhile, her mother was busy mapping out Angie’s future. With Jonny Lee Miller out of the picture, she went to see her regular psychic to ask about the chances of Angie’s marrying Mick Jagger. The psychic was blunt, telling her that she would marry an older man, but it was not going to be Mick Jagger. Marcheline was devastated—and determined to prove her wrong.