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A Beautiful Cause for Angelina Jolie

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page C01

In a perfect world, a gorgeous Hollywood actress donates time and money for her humanitarian work, is honored for said work and uses her celebrity to raise consciousness and hope. This being an imperfect world, the presence of Angelina Jolie at any event turns collected sophisticates (especially men) into lovesick adolescents.

Such is the life of a benevolent sex goddess.

Karl Rove is bussed by Rima Sabah, as her husband, Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Sabah, looks on. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

Jolie, along with former secretary of state Colin Powell, was honored last night at the Kuwait Embassy for her work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The black-tie dinner, hosted by Ambassador Salem Sabah and his wife, Rima, raised more than $1 million to help Iraqi women and children return to their country. The 100 guests, including White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, Mayor Tony Williams and emcee Paula Zahn, nibbled on lobster, listened to Marvin Hamlisch and sneaked furtive glances at Jolie.

"She'll do in a pinch," teased Ken Duberstein.

The face that launched a thousand fantasies was demure, hair pulled back, with Jolie in a conservative black jacket, shell and fishtail shirt. She was gracious, self-effacing and knowledgeable. And beautiful, in that extravagant way that eclipses everything else.

"I feel like a little kid," she said before accepting her award. "I'm just in awe how everyone's speaking from the heart and how everyone really cares."

The 29-year-old actress was in Washington this week as goodwill ambassador for the UNHCR on a two-day trip that included an appearance at the National Press Club, a lobbying trip to the Hill, the launch of a legal center for refugee children, an interview on "Nightline" and last night's dinner. Her every move was shadowed by reporters and photographers.

"She is serious about what she does," Powell said. "They couldn't have a better goodwill ambassador."

Or a hotter one, celebrity-wise. (Okay, she was just voted "Sexiest Woman in Hollywood," if you keep track of that sort of thing. Anyway, she's hot.) During the hour that Jolie spoke at the press club, camera shutters constantly clicked while she answered questions about international affairs and refugee policies.

"I'm always so nervous answering these questions because I feel I come from a place from my heart and my gut," she told the audience. In the hands of someone pompous, the whole "star reaching out" persona is off-putting. But Jolie is careful not to speak beyond her experience, or preach and deflects the spotlight to the reason she is there.

"She really cares about the plight of refugees," said Rima Sabah, who chaired the benefit. "She really wants to help. Every word comes from the heart."

So in terms of drawing attention to the cause, the good news is Jolie gathers headlines wherever she goes. The bad news is Jolie gathers headlines wherever she goes. The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 24 for "Girl, Interrupted." The "Tomb Raider" movies. The marriage to Billy Bob Thornton. The rift with father Jon Voight. The lips. The tattoos. The "did she or didn't she?" rumors about Brad Pitt.

Her expressed interest in refugees initially was greeted with raised eyebrows. Her first exposure to the subject came in 2001 while filming in Cambodia (she adopted her 3-year-old son, Maddox, from there).

"It was very clear to me there was a lot about this world that I didn't know," she said. "I felt really ashamed and ignorant. . . . It just changed my life."

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