Watching Angelina Jolie stride through a restaurant is to be given a lesson in how to avoid attracting attention in public. She looks ahead impassively, her back is straight and she walks at speed so that she will have moved on before any diners, who think they might just have spotted the world's biggest female movie star, have time to do a double take.
Unlike the other diners in The Grill on the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood, I know she is coming, so although I am seated at the back of the restaurant I notice her as soon as she enters. She is dressed entirely in black—black shirt, black trousers, black shoes—her long brown hair falling over her shoulders, a Louis Vuitton bag clutched at her side. Suddenly she is standing next to me and I am scrambling awkwardly out of my seat to introduce myself. "Hi," she says, putting out her hand for me to shake, her face lighting up into a broad smile that almost knocks me off my feet. "I'm Angie."
We squeeze into a booth facing each other and a waiter asks if she'd like something to drink. I arrived 10 minutes earlier and am already halfway through an Arnold Palmer—iced tea mixed with lemonade—a staple of California lunches. She orders a mint tea, flashing another smile.
She explains that she chose the location because she is using an office at the studio to put the finishing touches to her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, a love story she also wrote, which is set in the Bosnian war. It's a low budget affair with a little-known cast and today is her final day of post-production. "This is the crazy day," she says, looking at the menu. "We're down to the wire. Today at 4 o'clock we make the call and it's all over. We're locked and there's no changing it."
Lunch has taken a while to pin down. In addition to making films, Jolie, 36, has six children and a raft of humanitarian commitments with the United Nations as an ambassador with its High Commission for Refugees. Over the years her U.N. role has involved visits to camps in countries such as Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Ecuador.
She doesn't have an agent or publicist so our meeting was arranged after several weeks of e-mail and telephone correspondence with a mysterious Frenchman called David. "I've got good news and bad news," he said one day. "The good news is she definitely wants to do it. The bad news is you have to go to Malta." Her partner, actor Brad Pitt, had been filming in Europe and she and the children were there with him.
We decided it would be better to wait until she had returned to Los Angeles, which is why we are now in a restaurant at Universal, home to Steven Spielberg's production offices, several soundstages and the sets of numerous television shows. Inside The Grill, framed prints of classic Universal releases such as The Birds and The Creature from the Black Lagoon hang on the walls. I had taken in the surroundings while waiting for Jolie to arrive but now she is here it is difficult to look at anything else. In person, her beauty is amplified; her eyes sparkle mischievously when she laughs, her celebrated lips frame a set of blinding white teeth. She rarely does interviews and is guarded at first—particularly when I broach subjects that she is reluctant to discuss. For instance, she doesn't want to tell me too much about her new film because she doesn't want to pre-empt the press campaign which is being lined up ahead of its release. But as she deflects these questions, there is a knowing smile and a shrug that is almost apologetic, as if to say, "Sorry, it's all part of the game".
The waiter has returned with her tea, and when it is poured Jolie adds some honey to her cup. We look at the menus again. "There's a pasta in here somewhere," she says when the waiter asks if we're ready to order. "I'll have that with chicken." I choose grilled salmon with heirloom tomatoes.
She tells me she has brought her daughters with her for this trip. She explains that she and Pitt tend to travel everywhere with them and the family is never in the same place for long. "We take turns working so one of us can be home with the kids." They are apart when we meet, though. "It's been hard—I've been [in Los Angeles] for a week and it's very unusual to separate for this long. I brought the girls so we're having a special girl trip. All the boys are hanging out with Brad ... he's filming a zombie movie [World War Z]."
The Jolie Pitt family is a miniature League of Nations. Their eldest son Maddox, who is almost 10, was adopted in 2002 from his native Cambodia. Zahara, aged six, was born in Ethiopia, while Shiloh, the couple's first biological child, was born five years ago in Namibia. Pax, whom they adopted four years ago, was born in Vietnam and three years ago, Jolie gave birth in France to twins Knox and Vivienne. "They are all learning about each other's cultures as well as being proud of their own," she says. "So it's not like just the boys get to do the Asian thing. They all have their flags over their beds and their individual pride. We owe Vietnam a visit, because Pax is due. Z wants to get back to Africa, and Shiloh too. So everyone takes their turns in their country."
She has been to Cambodia this year, to shoot an advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton with Annie Leibovitz. An impoverished country might seem like an odd place for a luxury fashion house to shoot an ad campaign but the final decision was made by Jolie herself. "To actually do it there, to highlight the beauty of the country, was something I was very happy to do because it is a place people should travel to," she says. Indeed, she and Pitt have a house there—"it's a little place on stilts". Her fee from the campaign will go towards charitable projects in the country, she says, building on work she began with a foundation the family established in Maddox's name. "It's focused on protecting mountains from deforestation, poaching and clearing landmines. We put it together for Mad so when he's older he'll hopefully take it over."