Video game heroine Lara Croft returns to the big screen to raid more tombs in this weekend’s aptly titled Tomb Raider, which features Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander as the badass adventurer. While Vikander’s casting has lately been the focus of criticism — thanks to sexist appraisals of her body by online fans — the film, helmed by Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (The Wave), has otherwise been relatively free of controversy. Which definitely sets it apart from its predecessor.
Back in 2001, it was Angelina Jolie sporting short-shorts and tight shirts to embody the (traditionally buxom) Lara Croft in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, an outing that grossed $131 million domestically and thus spawned the 2003 sequel, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life. That initial effort was an A-list project for Universal Pictures, and the 24-year-old Jolie wasn’t necessarily a lock for the role, given that her then-wild reputation was cause for concern for the studio. As director Simon West recently told Entertainment Weekly, actresses such as Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ashley Judd, and Jennifer Lopez were considered for Croft, though it was Jolie’s bad-girl persona — which included wearing a vial of then-husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck — that actually most attracted him to her:
“[She] had a great, dark reputation about her. She lived quite an alternative lifestyle and didn’t hold back her words. She spoke her mind, and she had a notorious reputation. It was quite hard for me to get her through the approval process at the studio, because I wanted an actress who was going to bring something to the part, and she brought this great Angelina Jolie mythology with her as this dark, crazy, wicked woman with a very particular and interesting personality,” he said. “I wanted that mythology of Angelina Jolie to fuse with Lara Croft.”
To help mitigate such concerns, the studio — according to Paramount chief Sherry Lansing’s 2017 biography, Leading Lady — demanded that Jolie undergo regular, random blood tests. The actress willingly agreed and passed them with flying colors. However, she was soon asked to go even further to make sure that she was the ideal candidate to play Lara Croft — namely, by padding her bra. Per E! News, Jolie told Reuters in 2001: “I’ll make it real simple. I’m a 36-C. In the game, she’s a DD. In the movie, she’s a D. We split the difference. … She has smaller breasts, but she’s still Lara Croft. So there!”
Problems didn’t end there. To keep tabs on Jolie, West brought in former photographer and therapist Bobby Klein, who immediately alienated people on the set with his New Age ideas. As producer Lloyd Levin later told the Hollywood Reporter, “[The expert] wanted her to have milk baths and started talking about yoga and meditation and wanted to be the point person in charge of Angelina’s training. It was just this bulls***. It seemed like spiritual hokum.”
To make matters even worse, Klein was then accused of sexually harassing West’s assistant and promptly removed from the project. From there, the production moved ahead smoothly until, at the end of the shoot, Jolie suffered a partial ligament tear in one of her ankles, thanks to a mishap on a relatively minor stunt, causing her to use a cane when she returned to work.
Such turmoil didn’t stop Lara Croft: Tomb Raider from becoming a financial success and helping catapult Jolie to even greater superstardom. Plus, it led to a reconciliation between its headliner and her long-estranged father, Jon Voight, who plays Lara’s dad in the movie — a detente that, despite a few more ups and downs, is now holding strong.
The new Tomb Raider is now in theaters.