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'Angie overdoes the bad girl act'

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT /10/2001
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After years in the wilderness, Jon Voight has put his career back on track - but his top priority is his children, he tells Michael Shelden

TWENTY years ago, Jon Voight was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. With his infectious grin, bright blue eyes and wavy blond hair, he lit up the screen in Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance and The Odessa File. In 1979, when he and co-star Jane Fonda won Academy Awards for Coming Home, his career as a leading man seemed unstoppable.

Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie
Voight with daughter Angelina Jolie: 'My marriage break-up left scars on my kids I'm working hard to be there for them now'

But then, with stunning abruptness, Voight fled the spotlight and spent almost all of the Eighties in relative seclusion, making only five films. When he finally staged his comeback in 1996 - playing Tom Cruise's double-crossing boss in Mission: Impossible - many people were shocked to see that he was not only alive and well, but could still command the screen with star power.

Now, at 62, Voight is once again a hot property. Over the past four years, he has made more than a dozen films, giving a convincing performance as President Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor, playing alongside Matt Damon in The Rainmaker and opposite Will Smith in Enemy of the State and the forthcoming Ali.

Oh, yes, and he's also the father of Hollywood's oddest new star, Angelina Jolie. One of two children from Voight's marriage in the Seventies to French-Canadian model Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina, star of Tomb Raider, is known for her many tattoos, her marriage to actor Billy Bob Thornton and her obsession with mortuary science and knives. (As she once said, "You're young, you're drunk, you're in bed, you have knives. Shit happens.")

An amazingly indulgent father, Voight has nothing but praise for his daughter. "She and Jamie [his son, James Voight, a young actor and aspiring director] are the great loves of my life. I adore both of them. And, well, if Angie chooses to play the bad girl, that's for her to decide. You have to make your own journey in life. Personally, I think she overdoes it. She's really not like that at all. She's a very sweet person, very loving, very bright."


Voight is reluctant to dampen any of her enthusiasms. She recently claimed that she is part Iroquois Indian and campaigned for the tribe to allow her to join them in their "sweat lodge". Voight is quick to say that Angelina is "not seriously Iroquois" and that this is just a little fancy he and Marcheline developed to enhance his ex-wife's exotic background. Still, he insists, "We always liked the idea of her as an Iroquois, and I love that my kids have picked up on that."

In his younger days, Voight was a rather strange character himself. Jane Fonda called him "a good, troubled man", and he admits that her words accurately describe his character during that self-imposed exile in the Eighties.

"I wasn't sure where I was headed then. I guess you could say I was lost, at least as far as my career was concerned. I was in retreat from a success that I didn't understand and wasn't comfortable with."

But you wouldn't guess that from his appearance today. Tall and still very handsome, he strides through the lobby of my hotel in Los Angeles with all the confidence of a big film star. Heads turn as he makes his way to the restaurant where we've agreed to meet. People whisper his name to their friends and a bowing waiter rushes to seat him.

Dressed casually in a sports jacket and a white shirt, open at the neck, he looks much younger than 62. He's excited by the revival of his career and talks with boyish enthusiasm about his part as Muhammad Ali's pal, Howard Cosell, in the new film with Will Smith.

"You know, I actually met Ali in his prime. I saw him at JFK airport in New York in 1969 and went up to say hello. It was right after Midnight Cowboy and a waitress came up to ask for my autograph, while Ali and I were talking. He looked at me and said, 'Hey, man, you're somebody. Which somebody are you?'

"Well, we hit it off, and he insisted that we stand together at the entrance to the flight lounge and greet people. He had a kid's love of fame and wanted to bask in it with somebody else who was famous."

At the time, Voight shared Ali's infatuation with celebrity. He had grown up just outside New York City in a middle-class family and was fascinated by the theatre. His parents encouraged his Broadway ambitions, and his family was one in which great expectations were the norm. One brother went on to become a respected scientist, while another - Wes Voight - became a popular songwriter under the name Chip Taylor, penning the Sixties hit Wild Thing.

As for Jon, he launched his acting career when he was barely out of his teens, winning a part as the messenger boy in the original stage production of The Sound of Music. "I had to audition for Richard Rodgers himself and was frightened out of my mind. After I finished singing, I ran for the door, thinking I'd blown it. But he liked what he saw and I played on Broadway for 10 months."

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