And Baby Makes Two

07/24/2003 AT 10:20 AM EDT

As a teenager Angelina Jolie studied embalming. Just a year ago she was wearing a necklace containing a drop of her husband's blood. So it's surprising that inside her trailer on the set of Taking Lives, the crime thriller she's filming in Montreal, the decor is much more grad student than goth. The New York Times, The Economist, various United Nations reports and a book about Nietzsche are strewn about. Still, the brain food will have to wait while Jolie admires the newest painting by her nearly-2-year-old son Maddox, who's playing on the floor. "Mad's just discovered black," she says. "Also red and orange." Another talent? "He can do his hair in a Mohawk if I put gel in his hand," says Jolie. The tyke's most impressive feat, however, is the spell he has cast on his mom. "For me, becoming a parent changed everything," she says. "My priorities straightened out. My life is all different."

Alert the understatement authorities. In the past year the 28-year-old Jolie has undergone a dramatic turnabout, transforming herself from the tattooed, kinda scary, crazy-in-love wife of Billy Bob Thornton to a (still tattooed) single mom and U.N. activist. Having privately weathered all the tabloid headlines, Jolie is now back in the spotlight with Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, the sequel to '01's nearly $300 million-grossing flick. And once again she is living up to her reputation as perhaps Hollywood's most provocative actress, an image that only deepened after two personal dramas: the sudden collapse of her white-hot marriage to Thornton, 47, and a falling-out with her father, actor Jon Voight, who publicly questioned her well-being last year and again last month. Now Jolie wants to set the record straight. "I'm okay," says the 2000 Oscar winner. "Actually I'm better than ever. I feel I'm finally living the life I should be living, and I haven't had that feeling before."

Thanks in large part to Maddox, a Cambodian orphan whom she adopted when he was 7 months old. Jolie had already been considering adoption when, in November 2001, she went on a U.N. trip to Cambodia, a place she had adored while filming the first Tomb Raider. "Somebody told me that if you're going to adopt an orphan, you should adopt from a country you love, because that's the only history you're going to share with them," she says. "I went into an orphanage and decided I'd not go for the cutest child but just go to the one that connected to me." Maddox, who Jolie says is from "a very poor village," was the last child she saw. "He was asleep, and he woke up and smiled," she recalls. "As soon as I saw him smile, I felt like this kid wasn't uncomfortable with me. He seemed okay in my arms."

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