Rolling Stone

One Tough Mother
July 24, 2003   |   Written by Chris Heath

New mom Angelina Jolie lips off on Billy Bob, her father and feeling wild again.

In every life, things change. When Angelina Jolie last appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, during the release of the first Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie in 2001, she lived in a Los Angeles house — a dinosaur fountain prominent in its courtyard — with her new husband, Billy Bob Thornton, and their pet rat Harry.

They talked feverishly of how their wild, eternal love would outlast the forces against it and forever seemed on the verge of having sex with each other even as they spoke to you.

Above the bed in which they slept and alongside which Harry would scuttle in his cage were the words, written in Jolie’s blood, to the end of time. à Two years later — another Tomb Raider movie, another Rolling Stone cover – Jolie is a single mother who lives with her adopted Cambodian son, Maddox, alternating among homes in the English countryside, New York and a place under construction in the Cambodian jungle. Jolie mentions as an aside that she has not had sex for a year. Besides caring for Maddox and acting, she is deeply involved in her role as an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Things change.

The rat was the first to go. Harry was sneaked across the border to Canada, where Jolie was filming Life or Something Like It in 2001, and lived with her in her Vancouver hotel room. Until one day Harry couldn’t take it anymore. “He went insane,” Jolie says. “He just ate the curtains. Masses of the curtains. When anybody eats a curtain,” she concedes, “that’s a clear sign there’s a problem. I took him to doctors, and they said he was suffering from stress. They said I wasn’t paying enough attention to him.” For Harry and Jolie, it was the end of their shared road. “I didn’t have the patience to sort out a rat’s therapy,” she says, “so I asked them if they knew someone who needed a rat, and he was adopted.”

One day I am sitting in the lobby of the London hotel where Jolie is staying, when she sweeps in with her grinning son in her arms (Maddox will turn two on August 5th). They have been playing in the park. “We kind of explore the world together,” she tells me. Already, in Maddox’s short life, they have ridden camels in the Namibian desert and elephants in Cambodia and have swum in the seas off Greece.

For most of her life, Jolie, 28, had assumed that she would never be a mother. “Because I never felt very stable,” she says. In movies, whenever Jolie needed to cry, all she had to do was extend her hand and imagine a child taking hold of it. Then the tears would come. “I was always sure that I’d never know that feeling,” she says. “I was never sure I was going to live very long when I was younger.” Jolie did always know that if she were to have a child, it would be adopted. She says her mother remembers her first talking about it as a young girl. “It had a profound effect on me,” Jolie says.

Jolie had been to Cambodia twice before — the first time to film the original Tomb Raider and the second as part of her UNHCR work — when she returned in November 2001 with Billy Bob Thornton to find a baby to adopt. She had already gone through the process of being approved for adoption at home as an American parent. “With my reputation for every crazy thing in the world, it was very reassuring to have a woman analyze me and say I’m a fit parent,” she says. “I kind of needed that. At the end of the day they actually thought I’d be a very good disciplinarian.” In Cambodia she resolved to visit one orphanage and bring a baby home. He was the last baby she saw. He smiled in a way that made her feel he was comfortable with her. (Though Thornton was with her, she notes that “I’d wanted to adopt — it wasn’t his idea.”)

The child she would later name Maddox was three months old when they met. She spent an hour with him at her hotel, then he was taken away. There were medical tests to be done, approvals to be had, American visas to arrange. She didn’t see Maddox for another four months, when he was brought by a nurse to Namibia, where Jolie was making the movie Beyond Borders. (His American visa still hadn’t come through, and she had already decided that she was prepared to raise him outside America if necessary.)

“My life belongs to him,” Jolie says now. “That thing I used to have when something would go wrong, that place of self-destruction or addiction or craziness, when you have a child you can’t afford that and you just don’t. When your world falls apart or you’re feeling really depressed, you pick yourself up and smile so they don’t worry.”

Jolie tells me about their routines: how Madness’ “It Must Be Love” is their song (she calls him Mad or Madness). “We sleep next to each other, and he’s in his little white pajamas and his little hair sticking up all over the place, and this morning he just crawled right on top of me and put his face right in my face and woke me up, and he looked at me with the funniest little cheeky smile and then rolled over and started laughing. It’s just so . . . brilliant.”

Jolie says she will soon reapply to adopt as a single parent with one child. “I’ve never been tested, but as far as I know I’m capable of having children. But I feel like, right now, if I made a decision to have one [myself], there’d be one less child that I’d be bringing home from some country.” And now, when she acts and needs to find sadness, she has to use something else. Once, for a split second, she considered using the thought of something bad happening to Maddox and then realized she couldn’t do it. “No scene is worth that,” she says. As Jolie tells me this, she tears up. Her eyes are still wet as she explains how rarely she cries in life. “I’ve found crying pointless,” she says. “Maybe I was just around a lot of people that cried, and I just saw it accomplishing nothing. If there’s something wrong, I want to fix it. I want to know how to fight against it.”

Jolie pauses for a moment, considering either the answer or whether to share it, after I ask her when she last cried over something personal.

“When Billy and I lost our friendship,” she says. “But at the same time as it was really sad to see that change and disappear, it was also freeing to accept it and to come back to being on my own and being strong again. And it was time.”