By COREY LEVITAN
Angelina Jolie kicked off her right stiletto shoe. Her black-stockinged toes rubbed their way up the outside of my right jeans leg, then toward the inside, her immense almond eyes lasering into mine to gauge reaction.
No, you didn’t click on a softcore fan fiction site by mistake. THIS REALLY HAPPENED.
It was 1999, and I was alone with Angelina Jolie inside a hotel suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Of course, she wasn’t ANGELINA JOLIE yet. Just 24, the actress was riding the success of HBO’s Gia and doing press interviews for Girl, Interrupted. She would go on to win an Oscar for that role. But right now, the project she focused on was me.
I was covering Hollywood for the New York Post, which secured me a one-on-one interview with the rising starlet. Jolie’s publicist led me into the suite, where her client motioned for me to sit facing her at a dining table. The interview began rationally enough, with my asking what she had in common with her latest movie character.
“She’s me without a lot of the other sides of me,” Jolie replied.
Girl, Interrupted—based on author Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical 1993 book—was about a ward of female mental patients who seemed relatively grounded compared to Jolie’s character, an unstable sociopath.
I asked Jolie if her response meant that she was, in fact, insane. Just then, out of nowhere, the footsie commenced as she answered. (I mean, duh, of course it was out of nowhere. What, was Angelina Jolie going to ask about my hometown, my hopes and dreams, my ex-girlfriends, and then pull out her bare foot and make like a cricket on my thighs?)
“I remember being very upset that I wasn’t (insane),” Jolie said while rubbing—gently at first, then with less restraint. “I think there’s a romance to going insane.”
Did I mention that THIS REALLY HAPPENED?
She smiled, waiting for my reaction. Would I ignore the elephant on my Levi’s? Would I ask her to stop? Would I remove my right Nike and engage in a footsie return?
Every heterosexual guy I tell this story to knows the answer to what he would have done in my situation. In fact, I’m sure many play it out the very next time they’re home alone. But this was a professional challenge for me. I had just started with the Post and didn’t want to eff it up.
At the time, the newspaper’s gossip section was savaging Jolie with stories about slashing her wrists, her estranged dad (Jon Voight) and a disgusting vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood that I could see dangling from her neck. So it’s possible she was trying to control the tone of the interview using the most powerful tool at her disposal. Then again, maybe she was just entertaining herself. Or maybe, before hooking up forever with Brad Pitt, she wanted a taste of some short Jewish journalist ass. Here is what my brain was yelling at me in the moment . . .
1. Go for it, you pussy! She wants you!
2. No matter how it may seem, banging Angelina Jolie is not an option. Yes, you are single but she has a boyfriend whose blood she is wearing. Her publicist is right outside in the hallway, waiting to burst in with the next interviewer 12 minutes from now—although we both know you’d only need a third of that time. And someone like her can have anyone she wants, so why would she want someone like you?
Of course, when Angelina Jolie is rubbing her way up to your groin with her right foot, your brain’s logic center isn’t where the blood is flowing. And thinking about her “going insane” answer made me return again and again to option #1.
This was not my first experience with unsolicited footsie, by the way. That occurred under a high-school cafeteria table courtesy of a chunky brunette named Jen. I like to kid myself that the reason I ignored it was because Jen bared a slight resemblance to the lunch lady who had just served our mac and cheese. But the truth is much uglier: I had no balls. I was so frazzled, my only reaction was profuse sweating combined with pretending not to notice.
Ten years later, this scene from a bad ‘80s coming-of-age movie was unfolding again, like karma offering me a second chance. Only now, a real-life movie goddess—in fact, the most desirable one in the world—was my co-star!
Since by now you realize that banging Angelina Jolie is something that would have appeared in an earlier paragraph, it’s probably no surprise to you that I failed yet again on the footsie follow-through—and in a bigger way than anybody in the history of footsie can claim. I stared mostly down at my notes, and only occasionally up at the famous face surveying mine, as more ball-less flopsweat transpired. After about 5 minutes, the footsie foot returned to its shoe and we both went through the motions of completing the interview. Her publicist entered and we all shook hands goodbye.
There are several layers of regret here for me. Had I made a pass, what’s the absolute worst thing that could have happened? I’ve run this through hundreds of times in my mind and the answer is getting arrested for sexual assault. Let’s say that vengeance against the Post was the motivation for this stunt. (I doubt it was, but let’s just say it.) Even that scenario might have helped my career.
Sure, a humiliated Post would have fired me. But perhaps I could have milked the national exposure—including a guaranteed mention on Jolie’s Wikipedia page—into something like a talk show where I hit on all my female guests. Morons who achieve less still get on Celebrity Apprentice.
Of course, do I need to spell out the best thing that could have happened?
But my biggest regret was not even mentioning the footsie in my published story. As a journalist, it was my duty to ask what she was doing and why, then write about it. Unfortunately, I was so new to celebrity reporting, I was terrified to give my editor anything other than exactly what he asked for: the most informative interview possible about a rising starlet. Besides, what if Jolie decided to pretend I had made the whole thing up? How could I possibly exonerate myself?
Only years later did I realize the scope of my blunder; how much further my star could have risen at the Post had I not been a coward and how unfounded my fears probably were. You don’t do something to a reporter you don’t know and then expect him not to write about it. Jolie, still playing up her bad-girl image at the time, probably expected to read all about our footsie session the next time her publicist handed her a bunch of clips.
Well, sorry you had to wait 15 years, Angelina, but here you go.