The Brangelina Split’s French Connection: How Angelina Jolie Works the Press

The Jolie-Pitts’ time in France provides a fascinating glimpse into how Angelina Jolie has mastered the art of manipulating the tabloids.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

NICE, France – France giveth—and France taketh away—at least if you’re Angelina Jolie.

Forget Jennifer Aniston. Nothing defined “Brangelina” more than their love affair with France, especially the south of France, during their 12-year partnership. And no one was more skilled at shaping and marketing every nuance of their epic life on the Cote d’Azur than Jolie herself, long renowned as so media-savvy that she never needed a publicist.

But now, as dueling allegations of his pot smoking and “anger problem” and her “lies”—leaked by “sources” from both sides—threaten to break the internet?

“C’est fini,” said a longtime neighbor of the Jolie-Pitts in Correns, the tiny village in the Var about 90 minutes from Nice, home to the Jolie-Pitts’ 1000-acre, 25-bedroom Chateau Miraval where they produced a hugely successful rosé wine. “It was such a beautiful family while it lasted.”

The mayor and the director of tourism in Correns sounded markedly less sentimental, however. It was as if they had, as the French say, already turned the page.

“It really doesn’t interest me at all,” Mayor Michael Latz, who dined with the Jolie-Pitts at Miraval more than once during the couple’s heyday in Correns, told The Daily Beast Tuesday night. “I don’t keep up with them.”

“It’s too bad but it’s really their problem,” echoed Jean-Claude Sadion, the local director of tourism.

The Jolie-Pitt French connection began when they enrolled their eldest son Maddox in the Lycee Francais in Manhattan in 2007. Soon after they explored French lessons at the Institut de Francais in Villefranche-sur-Mer outside Nice (the director raved about Angelina’s accent) and moved into Chateau Miraval as renters before buying the $50 million estate, which is now for sale, a few years later.

Their twins, 8-year-old Vivienne and Knox Jolie-Pitt, were famously born in Nice in July 2008.

How poignant, then, that the marriage would end less than a year after the Jolie-Pitts starred in By the Sea, a poorly-received film written and directed by Angelina about an unhappily married couple at a coastal resort in the south of France—amid allegations put forth by Page Six that Brad Pitt had an affair with a co-star, the French actress Marion Cotillard.

TMZ reported Tuesday that Angelina was filing for divorce because Brad smoked too much pot, drank too much booze, had an anger problem, and was not a good father. The New York Post followed with the revelation that Brad was having an affair with his current co-star, Marion Cotillard, on the set of their new movie, Allied. Pitt’s camp countered by telling TMZ Jolie was spreading “lies” and he was a great father.

French actor Richard Bohringer unwittingly gave credence to accusations that Pitt may have a problem with alcohol when he told Le Parisien in March that Pitt “pounded down whiskey” on the set of By the Sea.

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Was it strange that a couple who so shrewdly personified love, togetherness, and family for so long would not issue the usual joint statement about how they were sad the marriage had ended but would remain friends and focus on co-parenting their children?

Not for those of us familiar with how aggressively Angelina has manipulated the media in the past, even to the point where The New York Times wrote an entire article in 2008 about how she was so “scary smart” that she didn’t need a publicist and negotiated the $14 million sale of photos of her newborn twins to People magazine by herself.

“Make no mistake, Angie struck first and she’s probably doing it this way because she’s mad,” said a veteran international paparazzo who follows the Jolie-Pitts all over the world, tracking flight manifestos and paying off local limo drivers and hotel concierges. “She’s leaked the stories, she’s the one who made sure she got in front of the story. That’s her MO, it’s been that way for years.”

It’s been that way since April 2005, in fact, when the first photos of Brad, Angelina, and her adopted toddler son Maddox were somehow snapped on a remote beach in Kenya just one month after Jennifer Aniston filed for divorce. It was not long after Brad and Angelina finished work on Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where they first met.

“Angie doesn’t do anything by accident,” said the paparazzo, who began following her pre-Brad when she was filming 2004’s Taking Lives with Ethan Hawke. “She decides what the narrative is going to be and she makes it happen. Lots of times she alerts the paps beforehand when she wants something photographed.”

But can she finesse her divorce and paint Pitt as the bad guy as successfully as she once made the Brangelina brand more golden than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at their peak?

Those of us here who witnessed “Brangelina” at its zenith—particularly during the biggest, most lucrative media circus of the 21st century when Angelina gave birth to twins at the Fondation Lenval hospital on the Nice seafront—felt a sense of déjà vu at how the news of the divorce broke so unexpectedly Tuesday.

Everyone from George Clooney, ambushed by a cameraman at the United Nations, to an editor of one of world’s biggest celebrity weeklies speaking privately basically said the same thing: “We didn’t know and we never saw it coming.”

Sure, the divorce filing was more spectacular than when it turned out the Jolie-Pitts had married in secret at Miraval in August 2014 and in a secret civil ceremony in California even before that—but it was in keeping with the stealth, self-generated scoops Angelina has engineered since her earliest days with Pitt.

Her skills—and pretty much everyone who covered the couple gave her most of the credit—were never more clear than back in May 2008 when reporters began chasing the Jolie-Pitts all over the Cote d’Azur as they dominated the Cannes Film Festival and then left the world breathless as it awaited the birth of their twins.

Jolie’s ability to evade, surprise, and stymie the media that summer—as if she and Pitt were co-starring in their own real-life spy movie—led one photographer from London to dub her “Angelina Bourne.”

Back then, betting on which hospital Jolie would choose for the birth of her babies was as charged as a craps table in Monte Carlo. Hordes of media combed facilities from Monaco to Nice hoping to be the first to figure out where Jolie would be. But all were caught unaware when she stealthily landed onto the roof of the Lenval hospital after dark in a helicopter and holed up serenely in a seafront suite several days before anyone knew she was there.

She stayed at the hospital for three weeks before giving birth, and competition to be the first to report the event was fierce, especially among Fleet Street media who bribed whomever they could among the hospital staff.

The long press vigil outside Fondation Lenval was unlike anything Nice had ever seen.

“It’s Fort Alamo!” trumpeted the local newspaper, Nice-Matin, which began running stories about the hospital “under siege” and sneering at the foreign media, especially Americans.

The temperature outside was hotter than normal—and so were the tempers of the paparazzi. Conspiracy theories started to fly. Some were sure Angelina checked out of the hospital and was back at Miraval, awaiting an August due date.

Others were convinced the babies had been born on June 29, the day Angelina arrived at the hospital and the news was being “suppressed.”

As always, the paps watched each other as much as they did the hospital, where Brad Pitt often visited with some of the couple's children, often carrying both Shiloh and Zahara in his arms.

“I’ve had it,” one photographer fumed over the phone to me one night after he had chased a boat containing what he hoped was Brad Pitt from Monaco to St. Tropez. “We saw Bono but no Brad. I’m sick of this story.”

They were furious when news of the birth of Vivienne and Knox finally broke on July 12—and it turned out the Jolie-Pitts had arranged in advance to tip off only one journalist: a local reporter from the Nice-Matin. It didn’t help when the reporter decided to really rub it in by headlining his story “le jour le plus scoop.”

Angelina and Brad even managed to whisk their newborns home to Miraval by skipping the helicopter and using a decoy black car and one of the chateau’s SUVs. But by then the $14 million deal to buy the photos was done; the pictures were shot behind the secluded gates of Miraval and most of the international media went home.

The Jolie-Pitts have continued to dazzle on the red carpet at Cannes since Angelina made her debut there in 2007 on Pitt’s arm. During the festival they always stayed at the best bungalow, the Villa Elena, at the Hotel du Cap, and liked to eat dinner at Tetou, a chic restaurant on the beach at Golfe-Juan.

But a British tabloid writer who covered the couple extensively during their time in France said she was always haunted by something she noticed during Angelina’s long hospital stay in Nice before her babies were born.

“Nobody ever visited her except Brad, her kids, and her brother,” she said. “It’s like she had no girlfriends. Jennifer [Aniston] had girlfriends. Who’s going to be her support system now? It seemed like Brad was her whole life.”

Maybe, except that French media and US Weekly began reporting in May about Jolie’s “close relationship” with a member of the British House of Lords, Arminka Helic. Jolie, who met Helic in 2012 when Helic was an aide to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, considers her a “mentor,” according to Us.

As for the Cotillard rumor, nobody knows for sure.

“All I can tell you,” said a male photographer who’s made millions photographing both Brad and Angelina for more than a decade, “is that he’s an active guy.”