In the bitter cold outside the Arlington on Saturday night, a mob of reporters, onlookers, film festival attendees and random bystanders verged on hysteria. It was 7:40 p.m. and Angelina Jolie was nowhere to be seen. Even the reporter standing in line next to me was becoming doubtful. “I think she might blow us off. She isn’t too talkative with the whole pregnancy thing,” he said nervously. The only action on the red carpet so far had been an inexplicable Christopher Lloyd, who, when asked about his career, responded, “I’m just waiting for the phone to ring.”

Suddenly, at 7:45 p.m., a panicked roar and the flutter of flashbulbs rose up from the crowd. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie floated down the press line, graciously receiving their fans, among other gawkers. Jolie, in a long sequined skirt concealing her alleged baby bump, made her way down to local press, stopping just in time for one enterprising reporter to shout, “How does it feel to be a professional pilot?” “It feels all right,” she smiled. Jolie was promptly ushered inside to receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Performance of the Year award for her portrayal of Mariane Pearl, the wife of brutally slain journalist Daniel Pearl, in “A Mighty Heart.” Clint Eastwood, currently directing the actress in “The Changeling,” presented the award.

Jolie chatted about her performances in between clips from her wide-ranging, often perplexing career, from the brilliantly psychotic Lisa in “Girl, Interrupted,” to an artificially enhanced superhero in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” “I was actually very offended by it,” Jolie said about the video game, before she agreed to accept the part. Jolie appeared amused by clips from her early films. After talking about “Hackers,” she mentioned,
“As Brad [Pitt] knows, I don’t really know how to turn on a computer.”

Aside from a few amusing comments, Jolie appeared a bit shy, possibly even subdued. Perhaps this had to do with her Oscar snub for the very performance for which she was being honored, which went unmentioned by the interviewer. Instead, he eagerly asked about her childhood dream of running a funeral home, to which she responded, “Do we really have to talk about this now? It feels like I’m in therapy.” Jolie responded more positively to questions about her acting methods, which seem to revolve around compassion. “Anyone you play – find something about them that you care about,” she advised.

If anything, Jolie came off as a tamer, more motherly version of the formerly unpredictable, tattooed actress who once posed in a magazine with a panther and a whip. While promoting the recent animated film “A Shark Tale,” Jolie said the biggest challenge was when “they had me sit on a giant inflatable Shamu with Will Smith and Jack Black.” But it was rather refreshing, if not timely, to have a night devoted to Jolie’s acting, as opposed to her maternal or humanitarian achievements. “When you start young, you don’t know what you’re going to contribute,” Jolie confessed. As evidenced by her honored performance, Jolie has already contributed a considerable amount. But she is wary of taking herself too seriously. “I give my awards to my brother,” she said, and then caught herself. “But I’ll keep this one.”