“It’s just been the hardest time, and we’re just kind of coming up for air,” she told Vanity Fair from her new home in Los Angeles. “[This house] is a big jump forward for us, and we’re all trying to do our best to heal our family.”
When she made the decision to adopt, Jolie visited an orphanage in the provincial town of Battambang, having promised herself only to visit one. But as she walked through the orphanage meeting the children, she did not find the spark she was hoping to feel. “I didn’t feel a connection with any of them,” she explained.
“They then said, ‘There’s one more baby.’ ” That’s when she saw Maddow lying in a box suspended from the ceiling. “I cried and cried,” she said.
Jolie fell in love with the country while filming there for her breakout role in 2001’s Tomb Raider, but it was Loung Ung, the author of First They Killed My Father, who ultimately convinced her to adopt a Cambodian child.
“I asked her as a Cambodian orphan if she would be offended for somebody like me, an outsider, [to do that], or if that would be a nice thing,” Jolie remembered asking the author while they traveled through the country together.
Ung’s suppport was crucial in her decision making. “Angie was maternal to everybody around her, not just children, but adults included. I wanted her to adopt me,” Ung told Vanity Fair. “I was orphaned when I was eight years old, and so I think, when you’ve gone through experiences like that, there’s always a part of you that craves to have full parent figures in your life.”
Had Ung responded differently, Jolie said, “It might have changed my decision. It might have made it very hard for me.” The two remain close friends, with Jolie recently adapting her memoir into a Cambodian-made film.
The actress also gave new insight into her health problems over the years, stemming back to her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after learning she carried the BRCA1 gene. Two years later, while working on By the Sea with Pitt, her doctor called and expressed concern about blood work that showed she might have cancer.
“Ten minutes later, the room’s spinning, and you just think, How . . . ?” she explained. After more tests, and without telling the kids, Jolie learned a few days later that she did not have cancer. “I dropped to my knees,” she said, before making an appointment to have her ovaries removed. “I went into the actual surgery happy as they come. I was skipping. Because at that point it was just preventative,” she said. After the operation, Jolie immediately went into menopause.
Her health concerns persisted into last year, when she developed both hypertension and Bell’s palsy, which resulted in damage to her facial nerves and caused one side of her face to droop. “Sometimes women in families put themselves last, until it manifests itself in their own health,” she explained, crediting acupuncture for what has been a full recovery.
As for other changes, like drier skin and extra grays, the actress joked, “I can’t tell if it’s menopause or if it’s just been the year I’ve had.” While she no longer considers herself a sex symbol, Jolie said, “I actually feel more of a woman because I feel like I’m being smart about my choices, and I’m putting my family first, and I’m in charge of my life and my health. I think that’s what makes a woman complete.”
Moving forward, Jolie revealed she has no interest in working on another film right now and wants to focus on her kids: Maddox, Pax, 13, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, 10, and twins Vivienne and Knox, 8. “I’m just wanting to make the proper breakfast and keep the house. That’s my passion. At the request of my kids, I’m taking cooking classes,” she said. “As I go to sleep at night, I think, Did I do a great job as a mom or was that an average day?”
She’s also reconnected with her formerly estranged father, Jon Voight. “He’s been very good at understanding they needed their grandfather at this time,” she said. “I had to do a therapy meeting last night and he was just around. He knows kind of the rule — don’t make them play with you. Just be a cool grandpa who’s creative, and hang out and tell stories and read a book in the library.”
EXCLUSIVE: Inside Angelina Jolie and Daughter Shiloh’s Wildly Sweet Trip to Namibia
For her most recent adventure, Jolie and the kids went to Africa, where she checked in with a project connected to the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, an organization she co-founded with British former foreign secretary William Hague.
“I never woke up and thought, I really want to live a bold life. I just can’t do the other. It’s the same as I can’t make a casserole. I cannot sit still,” she said of her travels.
“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. And I’m getting better at all three. But now I need to get my boots on and go hang, take a trip,” she explained.
She summed up the spirit of her family by recalling a joke she made to Knox along the lines of “Pretend to be normal.” “He said, ‘Who wants to be normal? We’re not normal. Let’s never be normal.’ Thank you—yes! We’re not normal. Let’s embrace being not normal!”