Clad in head-to-toe black and rounded Fendi shades, Angelina Jolie appeared primed for lunch with a studio head or perhaps a business meeting with an agent. But on March 20, the star's companions were daughter Zahara and son Knox. And the setting was a cereal aisle at a West Hollywood Whole Foods. After briefly scanning the oatmeal selections, the Oscar winner opted for store brand, adding a box of 365 Organic and maple brown sugar-flavored Nature's Path to the Brussels sprouts and applesauce in her cart. After all, as she recently told Vanity Fair, her needs are simple: "I'm just wanting to make the proper breakfast and keep the house. That's my passion."
Meet Jolie's latest iteration. Once a blood-toting, knife-wielding actress with a reputation so wild she was forced to submit to daily drug tests while filming 2001's Tomb Raider, the 42-year-old three-time Golden Globe winner transformed herself into a devoted mom and dedicated philanthropist, collecting such titles as United Nations goodwill ambassador and co-chair of the Educational Partnership for Children in Conflict.
Now, in the wake of her messy split from Brad Pitt—with the boyish actor seemingly emerging the winner of their sudden demise—Jolie has unveiled a new persona: Dedicated stay-at-home mom. No longer is she worried about booking acting roles or even directing gigs. Instead, Jolie's chief focus is on crafting nutritious fare ("At the request of my kids, I'm taking cooking classes!" she told Vanity Fair), making their newly purchased 11,000-square-foot Los Feliz spread feel as inviting as possible ("I didn't even know I needed throw pillows,'" she unabashedly admitted to the mag, revealing home décor "was always Brad's thing,") and doing whatever else it takes for Maddox, 16, Pax, 14, Zahara, 13, Shiloh, 11, and 9-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne to thrive. "As a mother," she told People magazine last September, "you also have a responsibility first and foremost toward the kids. They are going through their formative years and everything else comes second to that."
For a while, following the demise of that golden couple once known as Brangelina, it appeared that it was Pitt's reputation that take a hit. After all, he was reported to be the instigator of that incident—the scuffle that occurred as the peripatetic family flew on a private jet from the South of France to L.A.—and the focus of the child services investigation that ensued.
But as he emerged at the 2017 Golden Globes to the sound of his Hollywood colleagues eagerly leaping to their feet it became instantly clear that no one was buying into the idea that Pitt was the villain of this story.
A mea culpa some four months later only further served to endear him to fans. In GQ's Summer 2017 issue, the clean-cut Springfield, Missouri native shouldered the blame for his current sorrows, calling the situation "self-inflicted" and laid bare his faults. He was boozing too much, he admitted ("I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka,") and, even worse, not living up to his potential as a father: "It's hit me smack in the face with our divorce: I gotta be more for them. I have to show them. And I haven't been great at it."
His honesty paved the way for Jolie—who'd taken heat for seemingly blocking Pitt from their kids—to put her supermom skills on display. Enter: The chance to tell-all in Vanity Fair's September 2017 issue. Framing herself as a sympathetic figure who'd taken to crying in the shower to hide her pain from her children—"They need to know everything's going to be all right even when you're not sure it is,"—she revealed that not only was she coping with the sudden split, but also hypertension and facial paralysis condition Bell's palsy. Notes the star, who opted for a preventive double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after learning she had the BRCA1 gene, "Sometimes women in families put themselves last, until it manifests itself in their own health."
After all, presiding over a brood of six left little time for self-care. There was laundry to handle—in a particularly open moment, she told the mag, she has to cajole Vivienne into washing the favorite of her 32 blankets: She actually said to me the other day, 'Mom, I can taste my blanket.' 'That, honey, is a sign that it really, really needs to be washed,'"—a menagerie of pets to tend to and water slides to erect in the pool outside their Beaux-Arts mansion. "I've been trying for nine months to be really good at just being a homemaker and picking up dog poop and cleaning dishes and reading bedtime stories," she explained. "And I'm getting better at all three."
Going it alone has been tough, she admitted, but she was determined to guide her brood through what she called their "hardest time." Said Jolie, "We're all trying to do our best to heal our family."
Redirecting her own narrative is a move Jolie has perfected throughout her two-plus decades in Hollywood. Sure, she once contemplated installing a padded room in the Beverly Hills manse she shared with then-husband Billy Bob Thornton "for those times in the middle of the night when you want to kill each other because you're so in love." And, yes, as Rolling Stone reported, she gifted him a canvas on which she'd written the words "To the end of time" in her own blood. And, okay, there was that time she got just a little too close to brother James Haven while accepting her 2000 Best Supporting Actress Oscar. But most of that could be attributed to the bravado of youth. "I was just being a young girl who was experimental, bold and a bit nutty," she reflected to USA Today in 2011. "I was absolutely self-destructive."
By the early aughts, she'd rebranded herself. Falling in love with Cambodia and first son Maddox ("I cried and cried," she's recalled of their first meeting at a Battambang orphanage) she created what would become the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, by focusing on the country's health, education and infrastructure needs. Soon outlets were bestowing the troubled goth girl with a new label: Saint Angelina.
In a 2008 New York Times piece, former Us Weekly and Star magazine editor Bonnie Fuller touted Jolie's transformational abilities, citing her "amazing knack, perhaps more than any other star, for knowing how to shape a public image." And never were her skills more in need than after she fell in love with Pitt on the 2004 set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. As tabloids painted her as the cruel temptress who snatched Pitt away from wife Jennifer Aniston, she moved her humanitarian efforts to the forefront. Flying to Pakistan in late 2005 to hand out food and blankets to the survivors of a catastrophic earthquake, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador decided to bring Pitt along. The result, publicist and author Michael Levine opined in the New York Times article, "They come out looking like serious people who have transformed a silly press obsession into a sincere attempt to help the needy."
And now those most in need are her own offspring. Despite reports she recently started seeing an older-looking real estate agent, a source insists the actress is not dating: "She's very focused on her kids and doesn't have a lot going on outside of that."
Including her career. Though she's picked up a few projects (she's signed on to star in the upcoming Maleficent 2), she told People she's only accepting jobs that makes sense for her entire family. "I haven't worked for over a year now because they needed me home," she explained. "Everything was just stopped. I'm really sitting and talking with them because everything affects them. Every location, every type of project, I'm going to have to adjust it to however much they can handle."
The break has afforded her more time to host sleepovers (during one recent night, she told In Style, Zahara and a pal pawed through her "boring" collection of red lipstick, black eyeliner and mascara, inspiring her to pick up a backup kit "in case anybody wants to play") and other more highbrow activities. In January, she toted all of her kids to Paris' famed Louvre art museum. That same month, Shiloh and Zahara joined her at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.
Such outings are crucial for developing her team of mini activists. "I tell my daughters, 'What sets you apart is what you are willing to do for others,'" she revealed during a sit down with former presidential nominee John Kerry for Elle's March issue. Anyone can put on a dress and makeup. It's your mind that will define you. Find out who you are, what you think, and what you stand for."
And should they need assistance, Mom is at the ready.