Friday, June 04, 2010

Career Lessons From Angelina Jolie

Posterized [episode 4]

Angelina Jolie turns 35 today. Her supernova career holds many lessons for talented young actors (and we civilians, too). While an unforgettable presence, the key ingredient, is not exactly duplicable even for those with above average skills, other elements are. If a young actor can muster up even half of her watchability, they'll have a robust career. Just a quick perusal of her filmography brings certain lessons to light.

Cyborg 2 (1993) | Hackers (1995) | Foxfire (1996)

Rule #1 Take anything you can get (at first).
Ms. Jolie, unlike many children of Oscar winning movie stars before her, didn't exactly aim high at first. She'd do youth movies, genre movies, straight to video movies, music videos, short films, television, cyborg movies. You can lose a lot of opportunities if you're too picky, too soon. Those posters up top are just a few from her teenage and early 20s period.

Gia (1998) | Playing God (1997) | Playing By Heart (1998)

Rule #2 Never phone it in
Or: Always make an impression. There's nothing more disheartening than watching an actor do something they feel they're above or can't take seriously (see Halle Berry in any superhero flick). Whatever your skill set, use it. Angelina knew she had sex appeal and boy did she flaunt it. There was no holding back. Even in an ensemble like Playing by Heart, where she couldn't flaunt it as spectacularly as she did in Gia, she was 100% committed to making an impression.

Pushing Tin (1998), Bone Collector (1999), Girl, Interruppted (1999)

Rule #3 Raise Your Game
If you're lucky enough to get those early gigs, you have to get pickier once people know you can do the job. Take the secondary lead opposite bigger stars (Heh. That Pushing Tin poster is now hilarious. Blanchett and Jolie less saleable than Cusack and Thornton? My how things change) and don't forget rule #2 while engaged in #3. Witness the grand theft movie that was Angelina in Girl Interrupted (1999). Angelina wasn't even on the poster (at first).

Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), Tomb Raider (2001), Original Sin (2001)

Rule #4 Embrace Your Strengths
Many actors would have shifted over to prestige fare once they'd won their Oscar, but why go for a job you're not as well suited for just because it's more "respectable." Angelina knew that the intense appeal of her physicality was at least the equal of her acting gift. Action movies and erotic thrillers it was then.

Life or... (2002) | The Cradle of Life (2003) | Beyond Borders (2003)

Taking Lives (2004) | Sky Captain... (2004) | Alexander (2004)

Rule #5 Experiment and Network
Once you're famous (or steadily employed since mega fame happens to precious few) and know your strengths, continue to mix it up a little and work with all kinds of different people on all kinds of different projects. Take a job that's smaller than what you'd normally go for and practice rule #2 (see Sky Captain or Alexander) or just try different genres and stretch a little. Not everything will work, but you have to try. You can always lean back into your strengths.

Mr & Mrs. Smith (2005) | The Good Shepherd (2006) | A Mighty Heart (2007)

Wanted (2008) | Changeling (2008) | Salt (2010)

Rule #6 Remember All Previous Rules But Play Harder to Get
Notice how Angelina just keeps flipping between Action / Drama but we don't see her as often? Sometimes we literally don't see her but her fame is maintained (voicework: Kung Fu Panda and Shark Tale). By doing all three of these things she gets to keep her superstardom, her mystery, and Real Actress cred all intact.

Disclaimer: Though these rules can be equally helpful to careers outside of the movies, #6 is not advised until you're very successful. If you hope to keep your job, you do have to show up.

<--- Angelina illustration by Kyle T Webster

How many of Angelina's performances have you seen?
Do you think you'll try these rules at your own job? I suppose we should talk about the posters, too. The marketing departments seem to consider her lips her #1 attribute and her full body is only employed for the action flicks.


JoFo said...

I'm amazed how many I've actually seen. I think I'm becoming a minorty that fervently beleives she's a great actress. For me she was the best of the nominees for Changeling. The scene where the police come into her work and she's unsure if it will be good or bad news is really great work.

Trevor said...

I never thought that Halle acted like she was about the material in the "X-Men" films. And hate "Catwoman" all you want to, I seriously believe that she gave it her all, no matter how misguided and awful the final product was. I don't think I've ever seen a phoned-in performance from her. Some bad ones, some incredible ones, but never phoned-in.

pomme said...

My ex-boyfriend was a fan so i saw all her movies before her meeting with Brad Pitt.
She's not my fav actress but i like her in the Eastwood Movie !

JD said...

she turns 35??!! i thought she was in her 40s

cal roth said...


And she stole Samantha's oscar!

Agustin said...

yeah, she's been on the spotlight for so long, it seem she should be in her 40s
and a mother of 6 at 35!
that sure makes her old

Anonymous said...

"And she stole Samantha's oscar!"

WOW, in my opinion -even when I love Samantha Morton- i didn't think she deserved that particular nomination. Anyway, Toni Collette and Chloê Sevigny were better than Jolie in that year.

But Angelina Jolie is a great star and very compelling actress. Yes, she made some mistakes but also she was great in other films like Gia, A Mighty Heart (My third best choice in 2007 after Cotillard and Wei) and Playing with the Heart.

James T said...

That was a pretty smart piece but it kind of felt like something Weinstein would write. Alright, not exactly :p

What I mean is that you seem to give advice on how to be succesful more than an artist. I would prefer it if she did more serious movies than action ones. Everyone could use the practice. She'd be less popular but so what?

Volvagia said...

No, he ends it with a "balance it out" note. Christian Slater either willingly took, or had to take, pointless cameo roles in the mid-late 90s. Why? Just because he appeared in that bad 1991 Robin Hood movie? You see, all three segments of Hollywood have become lazy. "Indiewood" only pays you mind if you're good in straight faced boring "neo-neo realist" dramas. "F/X Wood" really only pays attention if you're vanilla enough to not distract from the explosions, robots and disasters. "Directors Wood" latches onto people and doesn't let go. (Depp and Burton, Carpenter and Russell, DeNiro and Scorsese, Guest and his troupe.) Depp had Burton. I wish, for careers sake, I could see Michael Lehmann's Ed Wood. (Who else would he cast? Depp wasn't really a solid actor at that point. (Ed Scissorhands is a great film with a very basic leading turn at it's centre.) It wouldn't be the same as Depp, but there'd still be a great performance in there.:))

Ian said...

Love my Angelina! She should have won the Emmy for "Gia," and she fully earned her Oscar for "Girl, Interrupted." Can't wait to see "Salt"!

Anonymous said...

I think she's an underrated actress who has given great performances in:

Playing By Heart
George Wallace
The Good Shepherd
A Mighty Heart
Girl Interrupted

Not to mention she's one of the few actresses today who are believable as action stars.

James T said...

Volvagia, yes but I disagree even with that. I would like her not to keep the balance but forget blockbusters.

Nathaniel's rules are excellent only if you want to be a certain kind of actress. Not that that kind is easy or not respectable but I wouldn't want all hot talented actresses to follow these rules.

Bobby John said...

Great piece Nathaniel. Although being perfectly honest (and that is coming from a huge Angelina fan) you should have noted that while her 2001-04 post-Oscar selections were versitale, they were poor at the same time. At one point she was close to experiencing Berry-like Oscar winner curse. Thankfully she managed to come back strong with great performances in A Mighty Heart and Changeling (at the same time proving wrong everyone who questioned her Oscar win) and with movies such as von Donnersmarck's The Tourist, Burton's Maleficent, Arfonsky's Serena and Scott's Gucci Biopic, it actually looks like she may be just about to hit a whole new career peak.

On a different note, I disagree with those who say she shouldn't do action. This genre has been dominated so greately by men and pretty but talentless chicks in the vein of Megan Fox that if anything, we need more of credible dramatic actresses taking a shot at it. Sure action movies not always turn out great, but same is with dramas. Jolie's been balacing her career really nicely and thanks to this, she managed to become the biggest female action star in history and put the final end to the decades-long belief in Hollywood that females can't headline an action movie. Only an actress with actual credibility was able to do it and draw the audience contrary to the popular belief that any pretty chick could. The example of Sigourney Weaver who almost did it too only confirms it.

Runs Like A Gay said...

I've only seen 7 of these films (even if you include the animated ones you namecheck).

I think that Team Angelina t-shirt is going to have to go straight to the bin.

Volvagia said...

James T. I'm sorry, but avoiding the action/blockbuster type movie these days is a sure route to at least short term cultural irrelevancy, which can lessen the chances of long term cultural relevancy. If you consciously avoid what people want to see once you're big, like Kiera Knightley (No Action Roles since Pirates 3), you're actually rejecting your fame, which doesn't help a career at all.

James T said...

You're right though I think you're exaggerating a bit.

But really, not being a "godess" whom everybody talks about is not that terrible.

Keira still gets parts all the time and I'm glad she makes the choices she does.

/3rtfu11 said...

Mrs. “one note” Jolie – has beaten the system. Angelina still carries mystique and screen presence – no matter how many magazine covers – adopted children, biological children, Brad Pitt, she’s able to still hold our general interest. I am no fan of hers but I do give her credit for remaining a genuine force. I don’t much care for her Oscar win – but in the grand scheme of things it does actually make sense – she’s the only star out of the other nominees.

Jolie shares a very unfortunate trait with other major actresses – her filmography is terrible. I suppose it has a lot to do with a lack of wonderful choices for actresses but also Angie just has bad taste in general.

JA said...

I prefer Action Angie to Serious Angie by a long shot. (And I like her as a serious actress mostly, so that's saying something.) I just adore her being cartoonish and huge and sexy and ridiculous.

Ziv said...

I've seen 8 of her films (plus Changeling is sitting in my "watch really soon" pile). I am never disappointed in her performance. Never. She was exquisite in A Might Heart. She gives everything even in crap like Wanted.

Deborah said...

Oops, I'm at work again, logging in and out of 5 different accounts. "Ziv" was me.

Anonymous said...

I thought Angie kicked ass in "Wanted." I don't mind her action films like that or "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." But balance that with character pieces like "A Mighty Heart" and "Changeling."

cal roth said...

I love bringing Samantha's name to every discussion!


But I Think Angelina is overrated because I can't love her performances people love. I'm not talking about Lara Croft or something like that. I am talking about Gia, or A Mighty Heart.She is not THAT strong as an actress.

henryphillip said...

angelina jolie is a fine actress and a beautiful woman but she has a pretty bad track record when it comes to being in movies that people actually go to see.

Aaron said...

I love Angelina. Even in her early 2000s roles which seem to have a bad rep (Life or Something Like It, Beyond Borders, Taking Lives, etc...) she still manages to have a compelling screen presence. It's not even that those movies are bad--just no one went to see them (it seems we always forget that Angie wasn't always such a bankable actress, pre-Brad).

I can't wait to see Salt. I always love her in action movies, considering that she's the only actress nowadays who can truly kill in that type of role.

...on a side-note, I'd love to see her take a crack at comedy. I think one of her best performances (don't laugh) is Mr. and Mrs. Smith....she had such a subtle sense of humor---sexy and strong---not to mention I nearly had a mini-seizure just seeing her and Brad share the screen together.

Anonymous said...

She hasn't made a good movie since Original Sin, which is so underrated.

Glenn said...

10 from those posters, apparently. That both surprises and yet doesn't. I've never been particularly big on Jolie outside of Girl Interrupted and A Mighty Heart. But, then again, I've never seen Gia or Playing by Heart and they're apparently two of her strongest.

Peggy Sue said...

I've seen/suffered many!

I also believe she earned her Oscar. I remember watching Gia, Playing by Heart and Girl, Interrupted almost in a row and feeling mesmerized by her beauty and talent. I think that had a lot to do with her win with such a strong competition.

Peggy Sue said...

I've seen/suffered many!

I also believe she earned her Oscar. I remember watching Gia, Playing by Heart and Girl, Interrupted almost in a row and feeling mesmerized by her beauty and talent. I think that had a lot to do with her win with such a strong competition.

Anonymous said...

Peggy Sue, you need to watch Changeling, A Mighty Heart, George Wallace, and The Good Shepherd. Great performances.

adri said...

Great piece, really interesting. Jolie has done a good job with her career, especially in these last few years. An actor never knows whether the film they take is going to be a hit or a dud, so I like the sections about giving your all, no matter what.

I can't believe I've only seen 6 of these. She sure packs a wallop of an impression. I love her action films. She's the heroine, not the sidekick, and she's tough and smart and beautiful.

Cluster Funk said...
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Anonymous said...

I love Angelina's serious work. My favs are George Wallace, GIA and Changling. Can't wait to see The Tourist with Johnny Depp. But I will also go see SALT because strong female leads in action movies should be supported.

Cluster Funk said...

@JamesT - But isn't that the point? Angie's *not* an artiste; she's a star. And too many actors fail to capitalize on — I'm talkin' to you, Lohan — or forsake — *cough* Sharon Stone *cough* — what makes them exciting or fascinating for the sake of perceived "importance."

Personally, I never quite bought Jolie as a rapscallion. Her latent talent and sex appeal were unquestionable, but she she didn't scream "BITCH!" like some starlets, which is endearing.
And yet, unlike (and forgive me for dredging up a clichéd counterpoint) Aniston, whose brittleness is always palpable beneath the surface, Jolie absolutely OWNS her gifts (tangible and in)...and makes no apologies for them!

There's a tenacity in EVERY performance of hers I've seen. If only every actor demonstrated a similar fire in his/her belly (and *that's* the takeaway).

Anonymous said...

Leo DiCaprio looks in his 40's and he has not kids. Except all those young models he is with.
But a male's age is never spoken about. (The Expendables)

Philip said...

So many people have made bad choices for film, I don't think that really matters all that much as long as you can do nice work for the most part.

I'm still sad about her Oscar snub for A Mighty Heart. :(

And I'm probably going to watch Changeling soon.
I think she's really talented.

tokenblackgirl said...

I'm an unabashed Jolie stan who will see anything she's in. Even when she makes poor script choices (show me any actor who doesn't) she always commands the screen. She has a presence and strength about her that cannot be denied.

Philip, I too can't get over her snub for A Mighty Heart. She was exquisite in this and her lack of nomination still burns my butt to this day. I'm really looking forward to Salt.

Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy said...

Remarkably, I've seen all those posterized titles except Cyborg 2 ... and I don't even like her!

This was such a fun post, but tags like "Embrace Your Strengths" and "Experiment and Network" do read as an attempt to whitewash a number of indefensibly awful films on her CV. I mean, sure, Life Or Something Like It was certainly an experiment -- but a completely failed one. (Fortunately, the dearth of Angie-starring romcoms ever since suggests everyone involved learnt their lesson.)


Rich Aunt Pennybags said...

This was such a fun post, but tags like "Embrace Your Strengths" and "Experiment and Network" do read as an attempt to whitewash a number of indefensibly awful films on her CV. I mean, sure, Life Or Something Like It was certainly an experiment -- but a completely failed one. (Fortunately, the dearth of Angie-starring romcoms ever since suggests everyone involved learnt their lesson.)

Thanks for bringing that movie up, Guy. Maybe the other movies that Aaron brought up weren't bad in her post-Oscar/pre-Mr. and Mrs Smith stage, but I remember watching it just because it happened to be on HBO or one of those channels, and seeing if it was really offensive as some reviews had said it was, and finding out that it indeed was and wondering why Jolie would take the role since it seemed to be okay with the message that woman shouldn't become too successful or they'll end up old and alone. Plus, I always remember stories about some actors that most people would usually think of as good actors or maybe someone they can at least take seriously as an actor like Jolie running up the budget a lot because her character just had to have expensive designer suits even though there was no way her character could actually afford them. I can fanwank when fashion or lifestyle is part of the fantasy of the movie, but when "serious" actors like Jolie or Ed Norton do it, it takes them down a few pegs in my book.

I agree with /3rtfu11 though that she's really beaten the system, and while I do appreciate some of her work, I think mostly she's been very lucky and smart to bounce back the way she has from a lot of her missteps and actions that would have really hurt another star. Of course, the biggie is the never-ending triangle, which could have really hurt her, but instead worked out pretty well for her in the end not like it did for Jennifer Aniston who gets labeled with the word desperate or loser, at least at the places I visit, because she does still seem to bring it up every time she's promoting a new film in some way or another.

Further, Aniston also gets criticized a lot for her fake photo-ops, and of course the ones that use their kids in such ops get really hammered on too, but after Jolie split from BB-T, and coincidentally those great photos of her and Maddox came out, she didn't get as much criticism for those staged shots like say TomKat would if they pulled the same kind of stunt.

Finally, I do think that she was smart and lucky to do Mr. and Mrs. Smith because even though I'm not really sure how bad all of those films post-Oscar were, she definitely felt like she was suffering from the post-Oscar curse of doing bad movie after bad movie mostly doing it for the paycheck or hoping anything would stick. There's of course nothing wrong with wanting to become a bigger star, or branching out, but I guess she was like ScarJo is to me now in that there was a lot disappointment and frustration in their lost potential from Jolie's post-Oscar win to M&MS and from the LIT era to hopefully this year for ScarJo.

Blinking_Cursor said...

I've seen 16 of her movies. Before I saw Angie in Gia, I was kinda of indifferent (previously I had only seen her in the Tomb Raider movies). But to me, Gia was a career making performance and it was then that I became a fan. Ironically, I only saw Gia because the dvd was on sale and because of the good word of mouth that the film had got, which piqued my curiosity. The Gia dvd was in the rebate bin and was going for a measly $4, so I thought, "Eh, why not? It's only $4 so if it sucks, it won't be a lot of money wasted." Now, I consider this one of my more fortuitous dvd purchases.

As to the comments regarding Angie's arty vs. action flick movies, I think we gotta at least give her credit for being the only actress currently being able to carry an action flick at all. Sure, there are other actresses working in the genre, but their movies don't generate nearly the amount of buzz, anticipation, or revenue that Angie's action films do. It's Angie's commanding screen prescence that helps sell such movies.

RC said...

Interesting to see all those posters lined up side by side.

Really enjoyed this post! Great rules & consildation of a career.

What rule comes next? She's only 35!


RC - i'm sure she'll add some rules.
at least i hope so

Term papers said...

It's great to see fresh, creative ideas that have never been done before.Thanks for Nathaniel!