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Hollywood and Asian royalty rubbed shoulders Feb. 18 at the Cambodian premiere of Angelina Jolie’s new directorial endeavor, First They Killed My Father. Adapted from Khmer Rouge survivor Loung Ung’s memoir, the movie tells the story of Ung’s dramatic childhood and features a cast of mostly nonprofessionals, reproducing the nightmare of life under Pol Pot.
Noticeably absent from the low-key affair — held in the Cambodian city of Angkor — were Hollywood A-listers, including Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, who, sources say, paid a whopping $25 million for the Khmer-language release, due out this fall, with an awards-qualifying rollout from a to-be-determined theatrical partner. Netflix executive Sarah Bowen stood in for her boss, joining the evening’s hosts, Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.
But Jolie isn’t expected to toil in obscurity much longer, despite reports that she is done with Hollywood. Once Hollywood’s best-paid female star, able to command $20 million in addition to profit participation for 2014’s Maleficent, the actress-director is plotting her return to high-profile fare in the wake of her massively publicized and acrimonious split from Brad Pitt, first announced Sept. 20 (the breakup was so ugly that it included child abuse accusations that Pitt eventually was cleared of).
Sources close to Jolie say she is mulling a number of acting offers including reprising her role as the vengeful fairy in Disney’s Maleficent 2 and is in active development on two large-scale Universal projects: an adaptation of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Catherine the Great and Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair and World War II espionage drama The Spy Who Loved (based on Clare Mulley’s 2013 book). All the while, she is quietly prepping what may be her next directing vehicle: an adaptation of Alessandro Baricco’s 2004 novel Without Blood, which chronicles the cruelties of an unnamed war. She also has signed on as a producer on Disney kid pic The One and Only Ivan.
Though Jolie made a strong showing as a director with her 2014 film Unbroken, which earned $116 million domestically, she is long overdue to move back in front of the camera. Her last work as an actress was voicing Tigress in last year’s Kung Fu Panda 3. All the while, she has turned down safe bets like Wanted 2 and a Salt sequel.
But there are signs that Jolie is no longer a negotiate-at-all-costs star to the studios. In August, Fox chairman Stacey Snider pulled the plug on the actress’ involvement with Murder on the Orient Express after months of to-and-fro over her script notes. “Stacey said, ‘Thanks, but we’re moving on,’ ” says a source.
As to talk that she might play the eponymous role in Universal’s remake of The Bride of Frankenstein — once such a high priority that the studio was willing to bear with her on 2015’s By the Sea (a debacle she directed and starred in opposite then-husband Pitt that cost as much as $25 million and earned a mere $500,000 domestically) — that now may be years down the road, as the studio is still searching for a writer.
Still, Jolie has more immediate options, including Sony’s Shoot Like a Girl, the true story of Mary Jennings Hegar, an American Air Force major and helicopter pilot who served three tours in Afghanistan before challenging the military’s combat policy, which excluded women. The film, initially penned by first-time screenwriter Frank Baldwin, is getting a new draft from Oscar nominee Jason Hall (American Sniper).
“It’s the kind of role she gravitates toward, because it’s a courageous woman,” says the film’s producer Ellen Goldsmith-Vein.
Whether Sony ultimately gravitates toward a big Jolie payday remains uncertain. As to other income, after earning a record $10 million from Louis Vuitton, Jolie has not committed to any major endorsements.
Her Cambodian odyssey may mark her last red-carpet for a while, and possibly the last one funded by Netflix. Arranging for travel, accommodation and the other requirements of the star, her family and her entourage, who flew in on a private jet, is estimated to have cost the company more than $1 million. Netflix was so willing to appease its star that Jolie’s 15-year-old son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, received an executive producer credit on the film.
Holding the premiere near the famed Angkor Wat temple complex was a logistical nightmare, which one source called “her Tropic Thunder moment.” The plan was hatched by Jolie and the two women who, multiple sources say, have become her closest confidantes, Lady Arminka Helic and Chloe Dalton, once aides to former British Foreign Secretary and Conservative party stalwart William Hague. Helic, a survivor of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, last year was named to the international relations committee of England’s House of Lords.
With an expertise in foreign policy, she and Dalton may seem ill-equipped to help Jolie navigate her Hollywood future, though she is also repped by UTA’s Rich Klubeck and attorney Robert Offer, as well as longtime manager Geyer Kosinski, who returned to Team Jolie after the Jolie-Pitt split, following a period of exile caused in part by advising her against taking the lead in Gravity, which later became a huge hit for Sandra Bullock.
Complicating matters further is industry backlash to her following what many deemed a smear campaign against Pitt. Despite the fact that his recent Paramount release, Allied, grossed only $40 million domestically, the latter will be basking in the Oscars spotlight with best picture nominee Moonlight, produced by his prolific Plan B Entertainment. The company also has a number of projects in the works, ironically, with Netflix including the military satire War Machine (Pitt stars) and director Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, both in postproduction.
As for the status of Africa, the one Jolie-Pitt collaboration in the works, if it moves forward at all, it likely will be without Jolie at the helm and co-starring opposite Pitt. Producer Jon Peters, who’s been developing the biopic about paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, recently told THR that he probably will not make the movie with her. The picture was a month away from production last year when it fell apart over budget issues.
“[It] should have cost $60 million, and grew to $130 million,” he said. “Angelina just wanted to do it really big.”
Big, unfortunately, may no longer be an option if Jolie fails to make a savvy move for her next project.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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