January 31, 1998

Supermodels aren’t supposed to be this tough, or die this young

Gia Carangi was a supermodel before the moniker was coined, a woman set startlingly apart by the fact that she didn’t obsess about her appearance, an inspiration of sorts among young models who weren’t perky and blond.

Her death from AIDS at age 26 in the early ’80s made her an icon in the same pop cultural tradition as Marilyn Monroe, though you’d never know it now by the way people strain to remember her. There’s really no mystery as to what drove her from cover girl status to a heroin-addicted state and a painful, lonely demise.
As tonight’s film Gia points out, a home life of abandonment and unfulfilled promises left a psychological scar. An early scene in Gia (8 p.m., HBO) shows the model, played here by the fast-rising Angelina Jolie, yanking out a switchblade and scrawling her name on the front desk of a modeling agency.

She was ticked that the receptionist treated her like a piece of meat, which was something Carangi, for all her troubles, never was. Her tirades when treated with disrespect were legendary, and much of that had to do with her own insecurity. “Hers was the classic case of needing love but not knowing what it meant to have it,” says Michael Cristofer, who directed and co-wrote Gia. “People ask whether we should care about someone who seemingly had it all and threw it away. But that’s not the case if you look closer at her life. She really had a troubled soul. “It was that troubled soul, Cristofer says, that kept Carangi “under the publicity radar,” partly because the modeling industry didn’t want to deal with one of its own descending into drugs. Although she was one of the most photographed women of the ’70s, Carangi’s name fell from view right around the time she died.

“That alone was reason enough to do this film,” Cristofer says. Documentary-style interviews with actors playing the people who supposedly knew her, including photographers, lovers and her mother, lend insight about her psyche. But Gia, which also stars Faye Dunaway as the head of a modeling agency and Mercedes Ruehl as Carangi’s mother, gets most of its dramatic life from Jolie’s often arresting performance. She portrays Carangi with a mixture of girlish wonder and dark tics, giving her the right texture of anger during her rise and understated emotion for her fall.

Jolie, who bagged Golden Globe and CableAce honors for her performance in Wallace, claims to have had severe reservations about playing a model who self-destructs, because it played havoc with her own demons. The daughter of Oscar winner Jon Voight, Jolie experienced her share of self-hate and drugs, of getting into a cutthroat business at a young age, of nearly throwing everything out the window. “I could have easily been Gia,” she says.

Blessed with a model’s face and sportive attitude, Jolie appears to possess a similar intense need to live on the extreme outposts of life. “The differences between Gia and myself are that I was loved, that I had a place to go when I [messed] up,” she says. “She was unloved, and pushed people away because she was scared. Drugs were the refuge. Since I can identify with all of that, I knew taking a role like this would screw me up big time or straighten me out. It did the latter, thank God. “

Like Carangi, Jolie grew up fast. She entered acting school at 12 and was living with a boyfriend by her 16th birthday. By 17 she was doing heavy drugs. (She’s been clean for a number of years, she says.) Like Carangi, she is a free thinker. Seven tattoos decorate her body. One is the Japanese symbol for death, though she quickly says her reasons for getting it weren’t morbid. “It’s just a personal reminder that we don’t have tomorrow,” says Jolie, “that you should live every day as though it’s the last. “

Jolie was also hyped about the love scenes with Dallas actress Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays Linda, a makeup artist who was Carangi’s true love. Carangi considered herself a lesbian, although the film opens with her bedding a boyfriend from her hometown, Philadelphia. “I don’t see why love scenes between two women should bother anyone,” says Jolie, who is married to Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting). “Sexuality shouldn’t be limited, either. I enjoyed doing the love scenes. Hopefully Elizabeth did, too. “

She did, sort of. “It was work,” Mitchell admits. “I guess some people will find the scenes shocking. But we were all pretty comfortable with how things were on the set. I think it was executed quite tastefully. It’s a great film because of the way it’s told,” Mitchell continues. “Gia didn’t hold anything back. My character sort of fell under her spell, at least until she became a liability. But even after she pulled out of a relationship, she still cared for her. I guess Gia had that kind of effect on people. Come to think of it, so does Angie. “

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Gia | Angelina Jolie