How Angelina Jolie Has Changed So Much--and Yet Not as Much as It Might Seem

Movie star and mother of six celebrates her 41st birthday--a look at how she's evolved over the past two decades while staying true to herself

By Natalie Finn Jun 04, 2016 11:00 AMTags
Angelina Jolie, BirthdayGetty Images

Angelina Jolie: Oscar-winning actress, director, wife, mother, humanitarian, activist. The list goes on, and she would presumably want Mom bumped to the top no matter how long the list gets.

The movie star, who celebrates her 41st birthday today, has been in our orbit for going on three decades and, at first glance, you might think that Jolie is completely unrecognizable, inside and out, from the days of goth red carpets and being so in love you want to just kill the guy.

To be sure, the mother of six has streamlined her style choices and settled on what suits her to a tee. But the fire that palpably burned within, and that made Jolie such an intriguing, magnetic celebrity, is still there, along with her tattoos. It's just…

Busy keeping other things warm.


Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's Kids Through the Years

That energy, once devoted to experimentation and what always seems in the moment to be an interminable search for passion and purpose, has been redirected toward her husband, children and passion projects, be they on or off camera.

Jolie admitted to The Guardian last year after turning 40 that "being in the everyday" and "staying still" weren't easy for her.

"Because I've always been very… I'm a bit on fire, inside," she said.

Jolie has credited Pitt with helping her slow down "to kind of get it right, to relax into the strength of my family and the love."

Because really, while people may mature over the years, they don't change that much. They do, however, in a best case scenario, find a way to utilize their personalities in a way that leads to the best life possible.

Can we say mission accomplished for Jolie?


Even after starring in the heartbreaking TV movie Gia and getting rave reviews (and a Golden Globe) for her efforts, she didn't fancy herself some big star. In fact, she may have been more self-doubting and worried about her future than ever before.

"So I'd be working and doing interviews, and then going home by myself and not knowing if I'd ever be in a relationship or be really good in my marriage or be a good mother one day or if I'd ever be ... I don't know, complete as a woman. It was a really sad time," she recalled to Rolling Stone in 1999, when she was 24.

Jim Smeal/WireImage

She added, remembering how she and first ex-husband Jonny Lee Miller were also breaking up around that time, "I just wasn't whole as a person, I guess, and now I know that you never are completely, and it doesn't matter."

Jolie was just months away from winning her first Oscar, for Girl, Interrupted, when she gave that interview, but she was still widely considered at the time to be this intense, dark, ragingly sexy but strange actress. And yet she proved refreshingly eloquent and introspective as well—a glimpse of the person who would go on to write about her own double mastectomy and oophorectomy.

Explaining the tiny window tattoo on the small of her back to RS she said, "It's because wherever I am, I always find myself looking out the window, wanting to be somewhere else."

Girls With Tattoos

Fast-forward 12 years to 2011, when she talked about passing that curiosity onto her kids in a healthy way.

"We travel and I'm the first person to say, 'get the school work done as quickly as possible because let's go out and explore," she told The Independent in London.

Mrs. Brad Pitt also carries the same approach to marriage as she did back when she was only once-divorced, from Miller, when she told RS, "I commit very much to things that are probably very sentimental to most people. Like committing very much to marriage and having that bond, that means a great deal to me."

Only to be surpassed by her bond with her children, a commitment she described to Vanity Fair in 2008 as "bigger" than marriage.

Steve Granitz/Wireimage

But first, in 2000, she memorably decided to commit to Billy Bob Thornton for three weird years, their union deemed in 2001, also by Rolling Stone, "America's Most Dangerous Marriage" (but what do you know, only Jolie made the cover). The mag reported that they slept under the framed words "TO THE END OF TIME" written in Jolie's blood and otherwise shined proverbial luminol on a host of surreal goings-on at the couple's abode.

Sharing the spotlight with Thornton, Jolie didn't come off nearly as self-assured as she did in her considerably less dark 1999 profile (the article clearly had a "look how weird this is" theme about it) but she was full of insight, as always.

"He calms me, because I never feel crazy around him, and I always felt crazy," Jolie said then. "Because we're both crazy…But because he's also a really good person and he makes me feel like I'm a good person…The great thing I've discovered is that you don't suddenly stabilize and settle down. You do it your own way."

Well, that was the damn truth. She and Thornton divorced in 2003—but it took some time to shake the stigma from their marriage that she was more or less nuts, particularly after their 2000 interview with Us Weekly in which Jolie said they were considering installing a padded room "for those moments in the middle of the night when you want to kill each other because you're so in love," and her admission to the Boston Globe that they wore vials of each other's blood around their necks.

Steve Granitz/

Also a time-capsule moment that took some time to shake: Jolie's love fests with her brother, James Haven, at the 2000 Academy Awards. "I'm in shock—and I am so in love with my brother right now," she gushed while accepting her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. "He just held me and said he loved me and I know he's so happy for me."

Then they really messed with the world the when they shared a full-on lip-lock on the red carpet.

But it all sort of makes sense now. A month after the Oscars she checked herself into UCLA Medical Center's Neuropsychiatric Institute for three days and, not long after, she married Thornton on May 5, 2000. Then the revelation came years later that the infamous kiss with James supposedly occurred on the very day that their mother, Marcheline Bertrand, started cancer treatment. (Bertrand passed away in 2007 after battling breast and ovarian cancer.)

She was desperately seeking stability and on the verge of a breakdown, and her relationship with her brother was a safe haven. And, in a different way, Thornton provided that too, though they seemed to get their kicks from shocking people.

Still, despite the very human explanation for all that over-the-top behavior, Jolie was pretty much just labeled a bad girl.

Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

That reputation didn't even diminish after she was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2001 (she pinpoints the beginning of her travels as the moment her entire worldview shifted) or when she adopted Maddox from Cambodia in 2002, three months before she and Thornton separated.

"I think you make mistakes, and you learn from them, and if you become a better person from those lessons learned, then that's good," Jolie told ABC News in 2003.

"I was just being a young girl who was experimental, bold and a bit nutty," she mused to USA Today about that time years later when she was promoting her Bosnian war-set romance In the Land of Blood  and Honey. "I was absolutely self-destructive. I think a lot of young people in this business lose their way. You don't know what is of value. You don't know where you are. And you know something's wrong, because it isn't life as it actually is. It's like living in some warped reality."

Angelina Jolie's Best Roles

Despite her movie star status and obvious commitment to various humanitarian causes, her past escapades continued to consume a large part of her life story—until the first day of the rest of her life came along.

"There are certainly moments when you're up in the middle of the night [with] your kid and you wish there was that person sharing parenthood with you," Jolie would presciently tell Cosmopolitan in 2004. "You wonder what that must be like, how beautiful that must be."

20th Century Fox

Her reputation as the woman people lust after in the bedroom but want to avoid in real life only intensified when she finally met the love of her life, however, considering Brad Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston at the time – and a W spread featuring Jolie and Pitt acting out scenes of domestic bliss right after his breakup forever pitted the fandom against one or the other.

But though it took nearly a decade for the world to get over that, Jolie pressed on with her mission in life—which was to live the hell out of it.

Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie: Romance Recap

In June 2005, with Pitt by her side, she adopted Zahara in Ethiopia. Daughter Shiloh was born in Namibia in May 2006; Jolie adopted Pax in Vietnam in March 2007 (his last name was soon legally changed to Jolie-Pitt); and twins Knox and Vivienne, born in Nice, France, rounded out the family fold in July 2008.

"I knew once I committed to Maddox, I would never be self-destructive again. Now I have five more," she told USA Today. "So I have to behave."

Jolie further committed to hearth and home on Aug. 23, 2014, when she and Pitt secretly tied the knot at their chateau in France after a two-year engagement.

And her humanitarian efforts that have so consumed her when she's not making movies most certainly did not come out of nowhere.

Do-Gooder Gallery

RS noted in 1999 that Jolie was presumably the most famous bombshell of her day to be carrying newspaper clippings about prison conditions around in her purse.

She told ABC News after becoming a mom to Maddox, "I've always wanted to adopt. I've always, uh, I don't know whether I was a little kid and I heard about what an orphan was, but I've always felt that I'd find my family across the world."

That she did. And checking in with Jolie every few years has proved a study in how a person who's lived her entire adult life in the spotlight has managed to keep her wits—and wit—about her, all while remaining just as intense as she's ever been. Nowadays she just happens to know exactly where to channel her intensity.

Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Twentieth Century Fox/AP Images

As she said 17 years ago: "People do always think that because I have tattoos, I'm bad, or that there's something very dark about me, or that I think about death. And I'm probably the least morbid person. I've kind of discovered that if I think about death much more than some people have, it's probably because I love life more than those people."

Then, 13 years ago: "I've been crazy in my life, and I've been wild in my life, I've never been a bad person. I've never intentionally hurt other people just to hurt them. And I'm trying to do a lot of good things with my life."

And 10 years ago: "My life's a lot more peaceful than it used to be. So I'm happy to have that private time but I'm also happy to be up there with Brad and a bunch of screaming kids, and that's fun…I have to be a lot braver today than I had to when I was 20."

Then, six years ago: "My family is both my strength and my weakness. I love them deeply and if anything happened to them it would break me. I could have the worst day in the world with people saying the most horrible things about me but I go home and my kids love me and I feel like the most important person in the world."

And four years ago: "You know, I still have that side of me that is, it's just… it's in its place now. It belongs, it, you know—it belongs to Brad. Or it belongs to our adventures."

And last year: "You know, we're all figuring it out as we go."

Angelina Jolie's Best Looks