From aspiring funeral director to renowned actress, director, and humanitarian, Angelina Jolie’s surprising rise to her current fame and success was full of obstacles and twists that many may not have guessed by looking at the Hollywood superstar today. Known for her acting work in early action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and her later directorial works, including the BAFTA award winning movie First They Killed My Father (2017), Jolie’s talents for storytelling and the craft of filmmaking surpass the limits of the silver screen.
Born into a family of stars themselves, Jolie didn’t shy away from a career in acting as a young child. Both her parents and godparents have been prominent actors in Hollywood and international film industries, and Jolie has stated that while all these influences may have led her to an acting career, it was watching her mother’s films on TV that truly captivated her.
After an early estrangement from her father, Jolie’s mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, moved Jolie and her sibling out to Los Angeles, California, where the young aspiring actress could finally see her dreams realized.
However, life seemed to have other plans for Jolie. After enrolling in Beverly Hills High School, with the peak of aristocrat-reminiscent Los Angeles culture, Jolie’s mother realized it was not the place for a young Angelina Jolie, who often felt left out and bullied due to her more modest upbringing.
Sensing a change was needed, Jolie’s mom enrolled her in the nearby alternative school, Monroe High School, where her daughter began to transform into what Jolie later deemed “a punk outsider”. She dropped her acting classes and began exploring a career path in funeral directing. After graduating high school, however, Jolie’s passion for acting was re-ignited, and she committed to the Hollywood lifestyle, beginning to act in small videos in the early 1990s.
As her acting career began to flourish and her role in Lara Croft took Jolie mainstream, the breakthrough actress started seeking out something more: a family. After visiting Cambodia during the filming of Lara Croft, Jolie adopted a seven-month-old baby boy from an orphanage.
As her acting career continued to grow, Jolie played alongside actor Brad Pitt in the theatrical success Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The action comedy flick did well with audiences, but, more importantly, also led to the twelve-year-long relationship between Pitt and Jolie that was plastered over entertainment media sites for more than a decade. From 2006 to their finalized divorce in 2019, the two Hollywood stars adopted two more children internationally and had three biological kids.
But even having a child was no simple affair for Jolie. Due to the media frenzy in 2006 around her and Pitt’s relationship and family, the couple knew they had to be creative in managing a private birth. Rather than choosing to have their first daughter, Shiloh, in Los Angeles, the Hollywood couple traveled to Namibia and sold the photos of their newborn privately, choosing the profits of this sale to go to the UNICEF charity fund instead of to greedy paparazzi. Through this creative, yet selfless endeavor, the couple raised millions for charity through the pockets of media corporations.
Jolie didn’t stop there in her quest for humanitarian aid. Perhaps taking notes from the fearless heroine Lara Croft, in the early 2000s she would fly out to forgotten war zones, bringing media attention and funding aid to these countries and using her fame for good. Jolie also trained to obtain a pilot’s license in order to transport aid workers and supplies in these decimated areas. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Jolie also became a vocal activist for women’s rights, immigrant and foreign child protection, education rights, and conservation efforts. Through her extensive work in funding international missions and programs, as well as her directorial work on documentaries and stories highlighting the issues dear to her. Angelina Jolie’s legacy is not only in her Hollywood accolades, but in her mission to improve the human condition.
While Angelina Jolie’s path to Hollywood success wasn’t a typical one, it can be argued that these obstacles and challenges gave the actress the perspective and heart to take on problems outside of film studio as well. Even through her own hardships and struggle, Jolie has always been the first to graciously offer her hand to someone else in need
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