Before Alicia Vikander strapped on boots to play video game icon Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie played the athletic role over two films: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003). But Jolie didn’t become the weapon-wielding Croft without fighting a few behind-the-scenes battles of her own.
When Jolie landed the role of the action heroine in the 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the 24-year-old star, then dating Billy Bob Thornton, had a wild-child reputation. In a previously published excerpt in The Hollywood Reporter from a biography of film executive Sherry Lansing — who ran the studio that released Tomb Raider — filmmakers say that Jolie’s “baggage” is part of what landed her the role.
“This troubled and dangerous aspect in her reputation actually helped the character,” director Simon West said in the excerpt from Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker.
Jolie, who had just won an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, was willing to prove she was up to the job — no matter what was asked of her.
“[Jolie] said: ‘Look, I want to do it, but I know what my reputation is, and I’ll do anything you want to prove that I’m worthy.’” West recalled, according to The Hollywood Reporter‘s excerpt. “She said, ‘I don’t care if the studio wants to drug test me every day.’”
According to the book, Jolie underwent both urine and blood tests and passed, and the filmmakers hired professionals to help look after her physical and mental well-being during the shoot.
Jolie was a success, and the role ultimately helped establish her A-list status in Hollywood. The film earned $275 million worldwide in its opening, ensuring a sequel.
“In the dailies, she was riveting,” Lansing said. “She took what might have been a cardboard character and added a layer of mystery and emotion and humanity.”
The actress has the film to thank for falling in love with Cambodia, the country where they filmed on location. She returned two years after completing Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to adopt her first child, Maddox. 17 years later, Jolie has introduced the rest of her brood to the South Asian country nestled between Vietnam and Thailand through her Netflix project First They Killed My Father, which was nominated for a Golden Globe.
The new Tomb Raider opens Friday.