Angelina Jolie Talks About 'A Mighty Heart'

Maui Time | June 4, 2007
A Mighty Heart, like the other post-9/11 Hollywood movies (United 93 and World Trade Center), is a would-be documentary subject inflated with promotion in its incarnation as a narrative feature. The turgid emphasis on sentiment and emotion is intended to overpower the viewer into believing and agreeing with everything on the screen, lest he or she be thought of as callous or insensitive. All of the oh-so-sincere earnestness seems to say, you are either with us or you are a bad person. "Hokey" is a word that springs to the lips when I think of these films, but not hokey in a cool Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca way. No, these movies are meant to be perceived as "important" and "serious" because they ostensibly reveal "heroes" that we the audience should aspire to, but could never be, since we were not in the enviable position of the suffering person onscreen.

The "mighty heart" of the film's title refers more to the long suffering wife of the deceased Wall Street Journalist reporter Daniel Pearl than it does to the man himself. We know this because the climax of the piece arrives when the protagonist, a pregnant Mariane Pearl, goes into an extended primal scream session after hearing news of her husband’s long foreshadowed death. Never more has the Shakespeare quote from Hamlet, "the lady doth protest too much" applied so obviously to a crisis decision in a movie. Daniel Pearl and his wife were acutely aware of the dangers of his job. He was in Karachi trying to get interviews with known terrorists. That Mariane Pearl chose to improperly apply for the 9/11 victim's relief fund, even though her husband did not perish in that event, informs her unflinching sense of opportunism that carried over to writing a book and participating in making a film about her husband's death.

Somehow, all of this obvious motivation escaped director Michael Winterbottom, the film's producer Brad Pitt and his wife Angelina Jolie, because they bought into Mariane Pearl's money grab pity party hook, line and sinker. Never mind that the linear story isn't capable of maintaining a three-act structure merely because actress, star and supermom Angelina Jolie plays the rather homely-looking Mariane Pearl with every curly hair flawlessly in place. If only Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" played on the soundtrack, then we'd know for certain that her "hair was perfect."

CS: When did you get to Cannes and what have you done here?

AJ: We got here yesterday. We had a beautiful day with our kids and we've just been playing with our children since the moment we landed and we plan to go home as soon as we're done with this. We have an opportunity to try to enjoy it with our family and friends, and speak about something that we believe in. So, it's all good.

CS: You switch between action movies and dramas. Is that something that keeps you going?

AJ: I've been fortunate in that I've been able to have that balance as an actress to be able to do the wild, fun action movies and also be allowed to do the dramas. Hopefully, if I'm able to keep that balance, I'd love to always try to do both.

CS: How did you discover Mariane Pearl?

AJ: I read her book. I had admired her from afar. We do have a lot of differences, but also a lot in common and I care very much about her and her story. I believe very much in her voice and was very, very nervous to get it right. But I worked very hard to try. I had a chance to learn a lot and get closer and grow. Just the experience itself is something I’m so grateful for.

When we decided to do this, I was six months pregnant and sitting in Namibia not thinking about working at all. It came from a very organic place, as is where I think the best films do. I couldn't stop thinking about the story. I wanted to see Mariane again. I wanted to talk to her, wanted to get to know her as a woman. The film kind of came as very much a second thought. It was a challenge to do, and it was something that felt right. I think we all said, through the whole film, "If this doesn't fall together right, we drop it." Every single person had that feeling, and somehow it just kept going together okay.

CS: Did you get any feedback from Mariane Pearl about how you portrayed her?

AJ: I did finally speak to her days after she saw it, and she told me it was all right, in so many words. It was a thing that I had been nervous about all through the shooting, even in the days and nights before the first day of shooting I was very very nervous and didn't know if I could do it at all. So, for her to tell me that she felt it was done right -- I can't tell you how much that means to me.

CS: How did making this movie impact your feelings, about anti-western Islamic fundamentalism?

AJ: I highly doubt there is anybody who has more reason to hold hate inside than Mariane, and she doesn't. She is a very compassionate and thoughtful person who looks to dialogue to change things, to make things better. She looks to work at it to try and understand better, and not to just come to any quick conclusions about any one group. That is, I think, a lesson for all of us. The thing that struck me the most was she made a point to say that during that month [in which Daniel Pearl was held captive] ten other people had lost their lives to terrorism, and they were all Pakistani. I was stunned that somebody could focus on the loss that the other side was taking in a similar battle. And I think that is a very evolved way of thinking, and it is something that is often lost today. I think it is why we all wanted to do this film.

CS: What did you connect to in playing the role?

AJ: I think many people know this story, and tend to forget that Mariane was five and a half months pregnant at the time. So, through it all, and through all of her fighting and trying to stay calm and her working so hard to be really deeply involved in the case to find her husband, and losing sleep over it -- she was five and a half months pregnant. And when we were going over this story, I was about that. And when we were making plans to figure out how each scene would be this and she's fighting to do that, I remembered being six months pregnant and thinking I can't imagine, at this time, not having the father with me. And being concerned about his life, and trying to eat and trying to remember to get some sleep and trying to take a deep breath, and physically just moving around. As a woman, it made me just so much more connected to her and also carrying that little boy inside, and her love, there couldn't have been a greater gift at that time.

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