LOS ANGELES • Angelina Jolie was sitting barefoot on the porch of her luscious new home, explaining why she wants to save the world, when duty called. Her youngest son, Knox, nine, poked his little blond head around the screen door.
"Shiloh needs you," the boy said quietly, referring to his middle sister, who is 11.
"Shi?" Jolie called, before disappearing with a whoosh of her black caftan. Ten minutes later, she was back. Shiloh's beloved bearded dragon, Vlad, had fallen ill and was now, to her distress, convalescing at the vet's.
"That will be the rest of my day," Jolie said, settling into a cushioned patio chair, "learning all about the health issues of the bearded dragon."
The actress went on to lament the imbalance of a world where Californian pets get cushy care, while millions of people the world over lack access to proper medical treatment. It went unmentioned that she was saying this from her US$25-million (S$34-million), 0.8ha hilltop estate, in a gated pocket of the Los Feliz neighbourhood, a home she bought for herself and her six children in the spring, after her split from actor Brad Pitt.
Perhaps more than any other celebrity, Jolie, 42, has kept herself firmly planted in two vastly different worlds.
She is both the glamorous A-lister whose every move is tracked in headlines ("Angie and the kids left Target because it didn't serve hot dogs," read one recent news flash), and the humanitarian do-gooder who has made more than 60 trips to the field as part of her United Nations work.
And even though the public appetite for salacious details of her personal life has long eclipsed interest in the films she has directed, she doggedly brings tough, obscure stories to the screen. Three of the four movies she has made are set in wartime, including her latest, First They Killed My Father, based on the true story of Loung Ung, who as a young girl survived the Cambodian genocide and is now one of Jolie's close friends.
While the actress' earlier movies garnered tepid reviews, several critics have anointed First They Killed My Father her best yet. It is told entirely from the little girl's point of view, in Khmer, and received a standing ovation at the Telluride Film Festival, where it had its premiere. Netflix is to begin streaming it today.
It took me a few months to realise that I was really going to have to do it. That there was going to have to be another base regardless of everything.
ANGELINA JOLIE on struggling with the decision to buy a new place
Jolie said she could not have made the movie had she not first directed In The Land Of Blood And Honey (2011) about the Bosnian war, and Unbroken (2014), based on the true story of an American G.I. taken prisoner in World War II. She and Pitt starred together as a married couple locked in a different kind of conflict in her 2015 drama, By The Sea, which she also directed.
"It wasn't a conscious plan of, I was going to make war films; it's just what I was drawn to," she said.
She has an indelible connection to Cambodia. Before first visiting in 2000 to shoot Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, she had been a Hollywood wild child who, at the Oscars that year, dressed like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
The grace and humility she saw in the Cambodian people, along with the lasting effects of the genocide, threw Hollywood life into unflattering relief. She adopted Maddox, now 16, from an orphanage, divorced her second husband, actor Billy Bob Thornton, and threw herself into humanitarian and environmental work.
The children - Maddox, Pax, 13, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, Knox and his twin, Vivienne - had begun home school. They would be accompanying her to the Telluride and Toronto film festivals - Maddox has an executive producer credit on the film - and were making up for lost lesson time, working with tutors in various corners of the house, learning, among other things, Arabic, sign language and physics.
Asked if she ever felt like the coach of a small team, Jolie replied that, more often, she felt part of a fraternity. "They really help me so much. We're really such a unit," she said. "They're the best friends I've ever had. Nobody in my life has ever stood by me more."
That last sentence hung in the air, perhaps a subtle allusion to, or indictment of, Pitt. The dissolution of their 12-year romantic partnership came last September, after an incident aboard a private jet - purportedly involving him and Maddox - prompted her to file for divorce.
Shortly afterwards, Jolie and the kids moved out of Pitt's estate, living in a rental home for nine months as she struggled with the decision to buy a new place.
"It took me a few months to realise that I was really going to have to do it. That there was going to have to be another base regardless of everything," she said, her voice falling quiet and low, as it would each time the subject of the split arose. "That there was going to have to be a home. Another home."
The new Beaux-Arts house that was once the residence of legendary film-maker Cecil B. DeMille, has a library, rolling lawns, cascading fountains that burble into the pool and a view of the Griffith Observatory.
Jolie had an elaborate treehouse built - "more a parkour treehouse", she said - and the kids helped decorate and pick out the furniture for the whole house.
They have an agreement, she said, that not everyone can agree on everything, but you have to try to like it if you do not hate it. If you do hate it, you can overrule.
"It has a lot of moments," she said of the home, "It's happy. Happy and light, and we needed that."
She intimated that First They Killed My Father might have informed her decision to leave Pitt. The film centres on Ung's family members, some of whom survived, and Jolie said she thought a lot about what family meant during production and how they should help and take care of one another. The film is adapted from Ung's 2000 book of the same name.
"Loung had such horrors in her life but also had so much love, and that is why she's all right today," Jolie said. "That is something I need to remember."
Determined to make the film as Cambodian as possible, Jolie teamed up with Cambodian director Rithy Panh, who received an Oscar nomination for his 2014 documentary The Missing Picture, and enlisted thousands of Cambodians as extras. Jolie said Maddox was her right-hand man, working on the script, taking meeting notes and bantering with Panh in French.
Some scenes were shot on massacre sites, so the crew arranged for monks to pray and set out incense and offerings beforehand.
"She is very loved there," said Panh, who served as a producer on the film. He added that he was struck by Jolie's humility and how she intuitively communicated with the children on set, despite her shaky grasp of the Cambodian language.
As the interview wrapped, Jolie joked that she would next work on a comedy. "I will get funny at some point," she said, adding that she was working on Maleficent 2, a sequel to the 2014 Disney fractured fairy tale. "That was a little funny," she said wryly.