- News Corp Australia
- November 16, 2014
When Angelina Jolie first decided she wanted to tell the story of American Olympian-turned-World War II hero Louis Zamperini on screen, she knew she had to do it in Australia.
“The US shares this history with Australia,” says the actor-turned-director, sitting in an edit bay on the back-lot of Universal Studios in Los Angeles where she’s putting the finishing touches to Unbroken, the film based on Zamperini’s incredible life.
“We are connected in this particular moment in history, in such a strong way, so it was really special to be there. It felt right to be in Australia.”
It is fitting then that the world premiere of the 39-year-old passion project will be in Sydney tomorrow night, ahead of a wider release in January.
Jolie has spent more than two years of her life immersed in Zamperini’s epic story of resilience — he survived two years in a Japanese POW camp after he had endured a plane crash in the Pacific and 47 days aboard a life raft.
Jolie, who came to Zamperini’s story via Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller, remembers reading the book while she was in Cambodia with her husband Brad Pitt and the couple’s six kids.
“I was halfway through Laura’s book, and I remember I sat up and I woke up everybody around me,” she says, smiling.
“This story was what I wanted to dedicate years of my life to.”
Zamperini died in July of this year, just as Jolie was finishing the film.
“I took my laptop into his hospital room, and he was able to watch it,” she says. “I’m glad I was able to do that.”
The film is Jolie’s second directorial effort; she wrote and directed the 2011 film In the Land of Blood and Honey, which was set around the Bosnian conflict.
Though she remembers that experience as being a baptism by fire, the experience of filming Unbroken in Australia took things to a whole other level in terms of sheer scale and budget.
“I gave myself such a big challenge because it was such a jump. Unbroken was just beyond anything I’d done. Even when I got the job, I think none of us anticipated how difficult it was going to be,” she says, adding that the film’s crew had to recreate everything from a plane crashing into the ocean, to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to various POW camps.
“It was difficult for everybody in the best way. The Australian crew said to me that it was the hardest film they’d ever done because there were so many different worlds. But we all felt like we were doing it out of respect to the people who really lived through it, and we were doing service to them, so everybody had a great attitude, nobody complained. It was really nice.”
“You’re a part of it in such a complete way that you never feel as an actor — I certainly never did as an actor — and you make different choices. The films I act in probably aren’t films I’d ever want to direct,” she says, laughing. “It’s such a funny thing to realise; you know, certainly, I’d act in that, but I’d never want to direct that.”
She says her own experience as an actor gives her more scope to “protect” the performances of those she guides. On Unbroken, she was particularly impressed with rising Aussie star Jai Courtney who stars as an Australian fighter pilot in the film. Aussie actor Alex Russell also has a prominent role as Zamperini’s brother, Pete.
When we speak, she’s also prepping her next film By The Sea, which she’ll direct and star in, opposite her husband.
“I have yet to discover. We haven’t done it yet, but we shall see,” she laughs, “we shall see …”
For now, though, she’s looking forward to bringing the film “home” to Australia. Jolie says she now feels a great affiliation with our country, adding that the months the family spent in Australia had left an indelible mark on her children.
“The kids really did love it there. It’s such a wonderfully family-oriented country, so there was just so much for them to do. Shiloh and Pax, especially, are now serious surfers and skateboarders. They didn’t do that before and now they surf and skateboard all the time.”
“We had an Australian Christmas,” she says, excitedly. “We had rented a place and we were just hanging out. It was the first time we had a BBQ for Christmas. Brad got on the barbie and worked it pretty well, I thought!”
Unbroken opens in cinemas across the country on January 15