When we first see Angelina Jolie back in character for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, she’s more misunderstood than ever. The classic Disney villainess, reimagined as a complex heroine in 2014’s Maleficent, is still perceived by most as a menacing villain, even after her heroics in the first movie. For Jolie, it was a story that resonated.

“There have been times in my life where I have felt misunderstood, like Maleficent, and not accepted. Early in my career, I did feel small and like an outcast,” the star said at the film’s world premiere in Hollywood on Monday night. “The public associated me [with] self-destructive behavior, and not as a serious actor. People thought of me only in that way, which was hard.”

Michelle Pfeiffer joins the new film as Queen Ingrith, Prince Phillip’s (Harris Dickinson) cunning and commanding mother, who attempts to end the relationship between Maleficent and her goddaughter, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning). Pfeiffer said she also relates to a character who is misunderstood.

“Growing up as a young girl, I think people perceived me as someone who was lost,“ she said. “I was a girl from Orange County, and couldn’t have been more removed from the entertainment business. I worked at a Vons supermarket as a checker for a while. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, until I started to pursue acting professionally. I remember walking into my first acting class up here, in Hollywood. I was 20, and I remember feeling immediately at home, like I belong here. I hadn’t always felt that. I found my passion for acting, and my love for it hasn’t gone away. It gave me direction.”

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil picks up several years after the events of the first film, with Aurora now engaged to marry Phillip, and Maleficent reluctant to let her go. “The real, truest love pulls out your best qualities in yourself, and that’s what children do,” Jolie said. “Being a mother brought out something in me that completely transformed me, similar to Maleficent.” She was joined on the red carpet by five of her six children: Pax, 15; Zahara, 14; Shiloh, 13; and 11-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox. (Her eldest, 18-year-old Maddox, is attending college at South Korea’s Yonsei University.) “I felt a responsibility to be a better person,“ Jolie continued. “Maleficent is trying her best. I think where she fails is that she doesn’t believe in herself. She questions herself if she’s good enough to be a mother. I had questions when I was first became a mother, and whether I was fit or not. That struck a chord with me.“

Since Maleficent’s release, in 2014, Jolie’s only other live-action feature-film role was in By the Sea, which she directed and starred in alongside her husband at the time, Brad Pitt. Since the couple’s breakup, in 2016, Jolie has stepped away from the screen, and found herself in a different place when it came time to play Maleficent again.

“The last few years haven’t been the easiest, since when I first played her,” she said. “I’ve been through different things in my life, and I was happy to play Maleficent again. She made me feel strong again. You have to go through everything—the ups and downs—because it leads to something bigger and greater, and makes you stronger.”

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