Awards chatter podcast: Angelina Jolie (@FTKMFNetflix) https://t.co/IwOBmjpoK1 pic.twitter.com/Ymidw9PDvn— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) December 7, 2017
THR Awards Chatter
One of the most famous, accomplished, beautiful and enigmatic women in the world opens up about her love-hate relationship with acting (and how her choice of roles has been impacted by her rollercoaster of a personal life), her gravitation toward directing (her fourth directorial effort, a Khmer-language drama, is Cambodia's entry in this season's best foreign-language film Oscar race) and why being a mom — of six — and a humanitarian means more to her than anything else.
Credits: Hosted by Scott Feinberg, recorded and produced by Matthew Whitehurst.
"I'm ridiculously Hollywood. I was born in Hollywood, Cedars-Sinai. My parents were both trained to be actors. My father is still in actor. My mother gave up her career to raise children.
Do you think having folks who were actors make you more or less interested in going down that route yourself.
"It's a funny thing. Looking back, I think it would have been nice to..I never had who suggested I could be anything else. So there's many, many positives. The one odd negative is that a lot of people in this town think that being an actor is the greatest thing in in the world and the greatest thing to be. And so you're pushed to be that before you are able to consider other ways of life. And that somehow is that natural thing that everybody should want. I think the positive side is that being artists, my mother having been trained, and she worked with Lee Strasberg, is that she was very attuned to emotion. I think artistic parents tend to be very creative, and have conversations with their children on a certain emotional level that maybe not everybody does in that same way, because their job is to study human behavior and communicate. So I think that made her an interesting mother.
Is the reason that you go by Angelina Jolie instead of Angelina Jolie Voight because you as young person wanted to distance yourself from the whole Hollywood? What was that about?
"No, I was entering Hollywood. I do think it was wanting to do it. I didn't feel that close to my father. I felt more my mother's daughter when I was a child. And so that was one part of it. The 2nd part of it is that I did want to have my own identity and I didn't want to walk into a room as Jon's daughter. I wanted to see if I could get the job on my own, and not be hired for a name.
So you mentioned Lee Strasberg and your first technical credit in movies was when you were 7 in a thing with your Dad, Looking to Get Out
That's right. Soon you forget. My brother was supposed to do it, at the last minute he wouldn't and so then I ended up doing it.
But it seem like when it became more of a conscious decision this was something you wanted to explore, I read as early as11 you enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theater and later did other things with theater -- a theater ensemble in LA with some impressive folks, and you also co-founded a theater group with Tom Bower. Was there ever a time when you thought your future as an actress would be in theater as opposed to screen acting?
I don't know. I don't think I ever thought I was that good in theater. I think it's a very particular talent to be on stage and to communicate to the back of the theater. I always felt that I was more internal. And funny enough, I had to recently when I did Maleficent, I went back to my theater roots to get more comfortable again trying to hit that back in the theater and find that voice and a more theatrical performance. Theater for me is such an extraordinary challenge and something I just didn't ever believe in myself as being good enough in fact to do.
I read a lot of the profiles and things written earlier in you career and it seems like people would always come back to this idea and I don't know if you would subscribe to it but that you were a "wild child."
That I guess your boyfriend was living with you at 14, you moved out at 16. Do you think you were rebelling against anything as a kid? Or was that overstated.
(laughs) "I love that the entire world knows that I lived with somebody at 14 and that somehow it's relevant. It sounds weirder than it was. I think. I always made very strong choices. I was very strong willed. I didn't blend in very well. All of those things. I think I still am a bit like that. I don't know. I see that same wild in my children, in that sense of wanting to kind of break barriers, and I see them finding something very strong and needing to go on their own way and maybe sometimes that its against what society's norms are. And I think that's wonderful. I think that's the thing that eventually makes for change. And so but of course it needs to be directed. You know, when you're young, it can get you in a lot of trouble and it can be self-destructive, and it can be just chaotic. When it finds purpose, it can be fantastic. And it can be something that then guides you in your life. So a sense of wild or a sense of unconventional is I think something I've always embraced and try to continue to embrace.
And in terms of channeling it as you say into something positive it sounds like one of these that suggested that when you broke up with that boyfriend I guess at 16 that was when you decided that you were going to focus on acting? For some reason..
I like how he's gotten involved. (laughs) I did not know I'd be discussing this today. Well, what's interesting was, to be very honest, my mother knew that when I was 14 I was going to start dating and she felt, knowing me, that she wanted it to be on my terms, in my room, under her roof, in a way that was safer and where I could feel in control. And it was actually a very smart choice because I didn't date again until I got married. So her extreme decision then actually made me much more, what happened was yes when we separated, some of my girl friends had dated many people. I'd lived with someone, I was ready to be alone. I was ready to work. And I focused on work and I moved out and I graduated early, and I got to work. And yes, didn't entertain a relationship until I met Jonny and got married.
At 17 just a year after that you had your first sizeable film role in 1993 the futuristic thriller Cyborg 2 the Last Shadow.
Believe it or not I was out of my mind excited that I got that. I jumped up and down the bed. My first big -- my Mom and I were out of our minds.
That was a very physical, sort of almost a precursor for some of the roles you would play later.
Yeah. I mean I did audition for a lot of normal roles, I just didn't get them. (laughs) I didn't really fit in to those things. And so I was very lucky that I came up at a time when female action heroes, female strong roles, female leaders were becoming OK and I was just very, very lucky that I hit that moment.
But when you saw the movie what was your reaction.
"I threw up.
Well listen, I am somebody who still, and I won't name which films, but I don't see a lot of my films because my idea of what they were or what I felt things, I tend to not like when I see the final film. So I think I worked on it and I had in my mind what the film was going to be. I never thought it was going to be a great film, (laughs) but I thought it was OK and I gave my all. And then I saw it and it was just. I mean now I think it's something I adore. Now it's something that's hysterical and I show, my kids can see a piece of it. It's so funny But then I felt like I'd embarrassed myself and I didn't know if this was something I could do for a living. And I didn't like being exposed in a way. Not what other people would think, I just really didn't like what I saw. I really didn't like me. It didn't feel like me. It felt I had betrayed something and I did something I didn't like. So I got really, really upset. And my brother was there with me and he helped me and made me feel like it was going to be OK. But I quickly went back to acting school. (laughs)
Because you were somehow lacking? That it was somehow your fault?
Sure. Well I mean yes, you always. Its your job to do the best you can. If something doesn't work you can't blame other people. You have to look at where you can be better, your part of it, if you're going to be an artist. So you try to solve things so next time you'll get it right. Next time, you'll watch for those things and fix it.
And as it turns out that seems to have been the case. Over the next few years people started to notice and respect your work. There was the hackers in Hackers, there was he drifter in Foxfire -- these are mid-90s -- and then the crime boss girlfriend in Playing God. In that same period as you referenced a second ago, you got married for the first time to your co-star in Hackers Jonny Lee Miller and in an interview at that time you said that you felt that your identity could get lost at that time as your identity changes when you are with somebody and that in a way it was the roles you picked afterwards that helped you reclaim your identity. Do you know what you were referring to?
I don't know. Was I weird about losing my identity or was I really just trying to figure out who I am like we all are. So yes, I think you want to figure out who you are. There's a lot that's not in my nature to be an actor,. I'm very happy that I was able to be one — I'm very lucky and very fortunate — I realized how much it was for my mother when she passed away, because I felt very differently about it as soon as she was gone. I think when I started acting, it was a good means, it was a job, and I wanted to help my mom with bills. It was a creative job, something that you get to explore different times in history, different people, different types of persons, different sides of yourself. Learn different skills — so it's a wonderful job to have as you grow and as you learn as a person. But you are also are not those people and you're young, you don't know exactly who you are. And yet you also get a microphone in front of your face, and you're 17, 18, people are asking you your opinions, and you haven't formed them yet. And you shouldn't form them yet, completely. So yes, I think I was trying to find which characters made sense to me, and also trying to stay true to myself. Not just take any job or do anything to work but to define something that made sense to me.
Things really wen into high gear when you had back-to-back TV films that won Golden Globes. George Wallace for TNT, you played Wallace's 2nd wife Cornelia, and then Gia for HBO as the ill-fated model and if these were the first parts where you were really able to dive into a character, do the kind of work that, sort of a precursor to the more complex characters you played later on. Did you feel that with one or both of those you were taking it to a different level?
"Yes. I was allowed to do a certain kind of work with directors and certain character work that wasn't demanded of me before and very, very lucky to have those roles and work with those other actors and those directors. So I was very happy. It was a nice time with Jonny, it was a nice time in my life and it was nice time to explore relationships and you learn a lot in these films.
Why after Gia did you take a break and go back to school, at this point for NYU. This was the first thought of directing probably right?
"It's hard to explain yourself when you're still a mystery to yourself. (laughs) Again I think I've always been in this struggle being an actor or being public. It never answered everything for me. It was never that I suddenly got to act and then why would I make choices, I made choices because I still wasn't me, I still wasn't feeling complete and whole as a person. After Gia I separated from Jonny and I separated amicably. We still are very close friends. But we were young and I was moving to New York, we were all just, there's life to be lived and we needed some space to do so and help each other grow.
So I moved to New York on my own, didn't know anybody, got an apartment, and started to go to NYU. Because I thought I had expressed what I could as an actor, and now I wanted to figure out who else I was.
You thought acting was over at that point.
"Yeah. I was ready to kind of have a different life. I'd grown up in Hollywood and New York — mainly Hollywood. I'd done what everybody said you should do — become an actor. This is what should make you happy, right? People tell you if you look good enough, if you have money, if you have success, if you're an actor, these are all the things that should make a person happy. I was miserable. I was completely unhappy.
This was after the Golden Globes...
"When I moved there they hadn't come out yet, I hadn't won anything, but yes. The years that would follow — that I would win awards and lose my privacy — were not necessarily happy years. I was grateful to be acknowledged as an artist, I was grateful to be working, I was grateful to be able to help my mom, but I was very, very lost because I didn't like that life, I didn't like having a public life, so it was weird. It was a strange time.
When did you first realize that privacy, anonymity was gone?
"It was after Gia. I had been going on the subway to school everyday and then I was being stared at on the subway. And then someone followed me home. So it wasn't as much, at the time there wasn't people carrying phones or paparazzi, it was more because when people see films, like that film in particular dealt with someone coming to terms with their own sexuality and also dealt with AIDS, so people that identified with this film were people dealing with some of those issues. And I'm quite an emotional person, very empathetic, and so for me, when someone follows me home and tells me things about their life, the ones who would follow would be people who had AIDS, people who were coming out of their parents for the first time and needed to talk to somebody, people who were young and lost. And it's impossible not to want to sit for hours and talk to everyone and feel a responsibility to do so, and let that into your soul in a way. So that part of it is the privacy I'm talking about that I lost. And you feel this different connection with the world and you feel you're a little more open and you have a responsibility. It was a different life so I stayed home a lot, I didn't know how to answer those questions, I didn't know how to help, and I wasn't strong enough to respond to other people and I didn't know how to be what I was expected to be. Either publicly, privately. I just really didn't know.
With all that being the case how did you end up not just being back in LA but back acting and in the film role that you won your Oscar for, Girl, Interrupted? It sounds like you were ready to pack it in and you had some of the best work of your life.
Well, thank you. When you are ready to walk away from everything you have a certain freedom. I didn't move to LA and do Girl, Interrupted, I moved when I met Billy Bob. And then I moved away again I moved to London, I moved back when I met Brad. So (laughs) I kept trying to leave. Again, I feel connected to this town for many reasons but I did want to also have a different life.
These roles come and you work on different things and you have different experiences. I was lucky Girl, Interrupted came, there was a part of me that was feeling quite mad, and quite unhinged and in fact I approached that role as somebody who wasn't crazy but somebody who was extremely sane in a world that didn't make sense to her and really, really searching for answers. And somebody to be honest with her. And I think that's what I was desperately wanting at that time, somebody to be really straight with me.
So yes, that film came but at the same time as that film, like my earlier life it coincided with a relationship. And so that time I don't remember as much about winning an award but finding a kindred spirit in Billy, somebody who's 20 years older than me, wise, extraordinary artist, been through a lot, really grounding, really kind, really funny, and just a brilliant, caring person. So loved the years we spent together and learned a lot from him.
So your artistic journey kind of always coincides with life and if you're lucky, your life remains more full than those characters on screen.
So after an Oscar, for a lot of people, it changes the kind of offers coming at them. There can be different considerations about what you're looking for. For you it seems like Gone in 60 Seconds would have been in the can, when you won.
But now you get offered Lara Croft Tomb Raider which in this case is an action for the first time since Cyborg 2 that you..
It was time to revisit..
I mean a $150M adaptation of the video game, how did you end up doing it. No knock on the movie.
No, I get it. I think that's probably why I did do it. I think this idea that 'now you win an Oscar you're supposed to take yourself seriously in this way' and for me I just wanted life experiences. And to be honest, when they first called me about it I said 'No' because I'd seen the video game and thought it was a ridiculous idea. And then they came out and they said, 'You'll travel the world and train with the British military' and I thought, 'Who could possibly say no to that.' And thank God I did because I traveled the world and went to Cambodia and my life would then change. It was also a healthy choice because I do these things sometimes when I noticed.. Action movies for me haven't just been about jumping around, as much as I love to do that, but I tend to do them when I need to feel strong. So when my mother passed away, I did Wanted. 'Cause I thought, "I'm going to cry and cover my head with a sheet or I'm going to do an action movie.' When I had the twins, I had been in a nightgown for months, I decided I'd do Salt. So you go through things. I'm looking for one now, in fact, 'cause of this time in my life, I feel like I need to
Kick some ass?
I do. (laughs)
One other thing that was remarked upon at the time and you had some say about it is Lara in the first Lara Croft movie had some very frank conversations with her dead father played by none other than Mr. Jon Voight. You said "I wanted to say a lot of those things to my Dad, and he wanted to say them to me, and I wanted to hear them." Have you fond that cathartic as now an adult however many years after that first film that we talked about to work with your father?
Yeah, it was good. It was good to do. It was an early time for us, I was in a stronger place o be able to handle our relationship differently. So I reached out and felt it was an opportunity. And we had those weeks writing, and working and talking about our character and it was one of the first times that I can think of — and probably since, really — where we would do something as a team together. So it was what was said, but it was the doing of it that was a big deal. Yeah. So it was good that we did that. And Jon and I have gotten to know each other — through grandchildren now, we're finding a new relationship, and it's very, very nice. But we've had some difficulties, and it's good that through art is the way that we've been able to talk. We found it's the common language. We don't really talk politics well, we talk art very well."
So come back to what you were referring to a minute ago, among the far-flung locations you guys shot that movie was Cambodia and from the way I've heard you speak about your time there, it sounds like almost an awakening, an epiphany. What happened there for you that changed the way you looked at the world?
So much. I mean before I went, I was told we were going to shoot in Cambodia, I realized there's so little I knew. I started to do research, and when I discovered how much had happened in this country, I not only realized how much my education was lacking, but I also expected to meet a very broken people. We were the first big film back after the war and 'what was it going to be like?' And when I met Cambodian people and I walked the land, I felt their resilience, I felt their spirit. Imagine too of course growing up, yes, I traveled a little bit as you do growing up here. I traveled to London, to New York. You don't come in contact with this kind of country, coming from this kind of a war, on this level of poverty. And so I just really, really understood the bigger picture in life. I really understood that I had so much more I needed to learn. And I felt very ignorant and very angry with myself, and yet I was also excited to think, 'There are these extraordinary cultures and people, and I want to get to know them, and I want to learn from them, and maybe this is what I've been searching for my whole life. Maybe this is my journey.' I did not know at the time it was going to lead me to my family.
We'll swing back to that, but Lara Croft, the success of that leads not only to a sequel but to a much higher profile for you and just curious how you handled that and connect the dots from there through what must have been the peak point of insanity as far as the spotlight being on you with Mr & Mrs. Smith where for the first time you and Brad are working together and in the aftermath of that when you guys got together I cannot imagine that anyone has ever had to deal with more media scrutiny and observation than you guys did at that point. I was wondering if you remember what that moment in time was like for you?
I think you need to back up to the years before that. Because the reason why I was alright was because of the years that led to that and why I was able to withstand that. Because by that point, I was a very different person. And how Cambodia changed me, when I left Cambodia, I was much more conscious of the world. I started to learn more about what was happening. I became more involved and I learned about refugees and UNHCR and I wanted to educate myself further. And I spent 2 years traveling before I was a Goodwill Ambassador and since then I've become a special envoy and I've dedicate 16 years of my life now to this work because I have so much respect and gratitude. The education I've had through the extraordinary survivors I've met around the world has really changed my perspective. So when you see people that have suffered so much, when you see that if only they had a spotlight on them, you don't complain so much about your stupid little problems, right. You don't wake up and think, 'Oh, it's so difficult for me because of X,Y and Z.' You simply don't. You think, 'Alright, I have an opportunity to speak publicly, now I have something to say. Finally, I have something to say. And I have something that needs some attention and some focus and I now am starting to form a voice.' And so in those years I would find my voice and find my purpose. And above all, I found Maddox, and the choice when you choose to become a parent, you choose from that moment on, the center of your world is the child, right? So in one moment you're caught up in whatever it is you're worried about and the next minute is, as long as this person's OK, nothing else matters. And it's extremely freeing. It's the most wonderful thing that happens when you become a parent. And so, I changed completely with my work and becoming a mother. And that became the center of my life.
So when I was doing Mr. and Mrs,, Mad was 2 then, by the end of it he was 3, but by the time we finished filming, by the time it came out I had this amazing little boy, and nothing else mattered. So nothing would and still doesn't really get under my skin in any way like it used to. As long as he's healthy, they're healthy, it's OK.
It's amazing because I would just think, when you can't have a moment's peace or whatever out in the world it would piss me off.
No, it does, but at least by the time it became that bad I had some perspective on what really bad is. Like today, it's harder when your child wants to go to the park or do certain things and they have to deal with it. When my kids have to deal with paparazzi or my kids have to deal with people commenting on them or judging them or having anything, that really upsets me.
I was really impressed. I happened to be at the Jane documentary premiere at the Hollywood Bowl and you were across the aisle and I saw a few people, you know always going to try to "can I get a photo' or whatever and cause you were I think with all your kids and I thought it was amazing how calmly you handled this, I would not have the patience.
Listen, I don't have a perfect temperament. I lose, I lose my temper. I have my moments where I go really crazy. But I don't mind being public in the speaking to people and talking to people and chat. If I can make somebody, if somebody comes up to me with a story about their child and I can make a little kid happy, its so nice. How nice is that, you know? It can be a beautiful exchange to be a public person. People talk to me about a lot of things, Cancer to motherhood to mental health issues. That's a beautiful way to connect with the rest of the world. There's the other side of it that's different.
A 3rd side I wanted to ask you about is that it seems that what makes great actors great is being able to observe people behaving naturally. When that becomes harder to do because people don't leave you alone, do you feel that has made your job as an actor harder.
When I was young, yes, I used to do a lot of study. That's all I did when I lived my years in New York. I would just go for walks for hours and hours and just, always alone, always watching people. Studying things, studying behavior. I didn't become successful when I was 13. I did have many years of that. And I suppose I have enough close people around me, I study their behavior. Six little people's behavior constantly. Yeah, it's different when you're a public person. I feel more for young actors today who are starting. My generation, I did quite a few movies before I was public.
I guess the camera phone wasn't there.
It wasn't til much later. But young people today have success, they're going to get all of it immediately. And I'm not sure how they're going to handle that.
A Mighty Heart 2007, Michael Winterbottom's version of the memoir of Mariane Pearl, You got some of he best response to your work. I believe that was the 1st time you played somebody who is still alive. What's that like?
That was complicate because Mariane was a dear friend. So it's both an extreme honor but then you have the pressure of: this is your real friend and her real life. And I remember about 2 days before we started shooting, I was sitting in the kitchen and her little boy Adam came in and was asking me questions, and talking a little bit and he said a few things about his Dad and I just looked at this little boy and thought, 'That's my job. My job is to show this little boy how much his mother loves his father. And how much she tried. So that's a different kind of job. The responsibility to it, the commitment, the desire to get it right. Very, very different. And because I know her and love her, it was also a funny thing to be doing something, you feel like you're mimicking your girlfriend at a party. I was very, very nervous. But she was the most supportive. She made it very clear to me that I couldn't fail because my heart was in the right place.
The year after that, another one that people really responded to and in this Oscar nomination and this was Changeling. .this was with Clint. And I know that he is one of your biggest admirers and it seems from things you've said that I've read it was a pretty special one for you. And maybe further opened you up to the idea that as an actor could also direct. Is that fair to say?
I think even then I still didn't think I could be a director. It never crossed my mind. It happened very suddenly. But I did learn a lot from Clint and when I finally did direct i did think often of different things he did, and Winterbottom, many of he directors I worked with. And yes, I'm a huge fan of Clint.
Changeling came out in 2008, you made it in 2007, at the beginning of which you lost mother. Do you think that, it's an emotional performance, she hasn't lost her mother, she lost her kid but are you somebody who channels what you're going through into the work?
Absolutely. I did as I mentioned earlier, I tend to do that things where I do an action movie when I'm at a low in my life, so I did Wanted and got a certain kind of pain out. I was an emotional wreck and it was good to be able to have an outlet to be able to let so much pain come out and so many tears. And also I had this feeling that I couldn't face a first Christmas without my mother so I really wanted to be pregnant. So during Changeling, I got pregnant with the twins.
So how do we end up, 3 years after that with you directing something that you wrote... In the Land of Blood and Honey... Why that subject matter and how did you end up directing it?
Well, I suppose now that we've talked about my entire life up to this point, it oddly does add up in my head. I didn't plan to direct. In my work with the U.N. one of the conflicts I was having trouble understanding was the war in Yugoslavia. And there was a few days that I got the flu, basically, and I went into this separate room, this white room in Miraval, where we have a house, to stay away from the kids so I didn't get them sick. And I never have that time. (laughs) So I didn't know what to do with myself, and I thought 'I'll write a story, I'll write a script.' I've never done it. I'll do it for fun. And the exercise I want to give myself, can I want to learn about that war. I want to understand how people who are lovers and friends can get to a place where they murder each other. I really want to know. That's how the story starts and that's how the story ends. What happens in the middle that does that to a society and to family members and lovers. And so that was what it was and it gave me kind of a good exercise to do homework on the region and travel to he region. I never planned on really showing it to anybody and I was doing it for myself. And then, somebody saw it and said, they thought it wasn't so bad. And somebody else saw it. And the next thing I knew they said we have the funds for it. And I was possessive only because it was political and sensitive and also had sexuality and I wanted to get it right. So i felt I needed to do that to get it right. And then I remember the day when suddenly I realized I was directing a movie and I really didn't understand how I'd gotten there. I really felt completely overwhelmed, but full of purpose and very excited to work with actors from another country.
I'm sure you've continued to evolve as a director, FTKMF is the 4th, but it also seems you've had instincts that have held true through them all... In this case, cast local people and film it in Bosnian and in English. So you're basically making 2 movies.
Well it was written in English and it was funded in English. Your in the habit of that's what people do. You want to reach as many people, so you are raised to believe that that's what it should be in order to communicate. And no one really questioned it. I was working with them and I went to the bathroom, and I came back and before I sat down the whole group I had been talking to had switched and they were speaking their native tongue - the former Serbo-Croatian. And I listened and it was a different personality, a different them And such a beautiful language and it just felt wrong not to shoot it in their language. But of course I'd made a deal financially to do it in English. So I said I really feel it has to be in their local language and they said if you fall behind, even a day, you can only do English. But if you want to try to do both, you knock yourself out. And so I said to the actors, 'We've been challenged, so let's take the challenge. Let's do, on average, 2 takes of each, and let's switch quick and let's be ready. We can do this.' And they obviously, for their own country, were very committed to that challenge.
That's amazing. What a gift for them to have. And with FTKMF you've now found financial partners who see there is value in telling it in the local language.
And also to give credit to the audience, and the audience that is interested in these subject matters wants to hear it in the voice of the people, in the language it was spoken. They want to know the history in the real voice. You now, 'Don't speak down to your audience, don't think that they can't hear that.' It's also very important because languages like Khmer, special languages, ancient languages that we need to strengthen, that we need to make sure that they stay, exist, are taught. It's part preserving the culture.
So 3 years after Blood an Honey comes out, you're back directing again. How, with Unbroken which people in Hollywood had been trying to do for over 50 years, here you're the one who cracks the code. Why did you fight so hard to be the one who got the chance to do that. I now you ended up becoming very close with Louie Zamperini and I remember you introducing him the night you became the youngest person ever to get the Jean Hersholdt Humanitarian Award he was there, and a year later when the movie came out, he was gone. How did this, seems like a whirlwind experience with that one.
"I'm not somebody necessarily who's religious or spiritual, I'm not sure what I am, but I do believe that when you're very much on path and you're listening to your own instincts, and you're coming from the right place, things, sometimes you can see them and they kind of fall in line and you can recognize what you should be doing. And this was that for me. I kind of looked. You know I loved directing, I realized I much preferred giving the spotlight to other actors. I much prefer not being in front of the camera. I love being with the team, and I love the community, I love the family and I even like the responsibility of being the director. So you read, they give you, 'Here's all the different movies that are out there' that you know different, to talk to studios. And if you're going to go in as director you have meetings with studios. And so I looked through these lists and on the Universal list there was this one. And I even went home and said to Brad, 'There's this one.' And you know, I do love history and World War II of course is. And he said, 'Oh honey, that one's been around forever.'
So I went in, I read a script on it and I basically explained why I didn't like the script. And Donna said, 'Read the book.' And I remember saying to my agent 'I'm never going to get this job.'... It's a big WWII movie, a big studio movie. But then I read the book and I had to. I had to understand Louie. It was a journey I needed to take. I wanted to know this man. I wanted to know how you go through all this and survive that way, with your spirit intact. I loved the idea of this story of somebody who is not perfect, and actually not special in any way other than his will and his spirit are strong. And I think we need more of those.
And then when I got closer to doing it, I said 'Can I meet him? Where is he?' And they said, 'he knows where you live because he can see your house.' And right up from the bedroom window was, up the mountain, but I could see him. And we became very, very close.
Just a year after Unbroken was By The Sea. You laughed at the fact that it was pretty much right on the heels of your wedding in 2014. It's not the way everybody chooses to have a honeymoon.
Yeah, it may not have been a good idea.
You and Brad play a couple going through a horrible time after the wife has 2 miscarriages. Was it a healthy thing to put yourself through at that point?
“It should have been good for us. To be honest I wanted to work with him because we worked, we had met working together and we work together well. And even though it was a challenging role, we'd matured. And I wanted us to do some serious work together and I wanted to see him do that kind of work. So I thought that it could be a good way for us to communicate. And I think in some ways it was, and in some ways we learned some things. But there was a heaviness probably during that situation that carried on and it wasn’t because of the film. (giggles) It was something that we were dealing, that you know. Things happen for different reasons, and things, you know -- 'Why did I write that exact piece? Why did we feel the way about it we did when we made it?' I’m not sure.”
Obviously it's about grief but it's also connected in other ways.. I read you wrote it shortly after the death of your mother ... and then when you were finishing it was when, you were in the editing room and you had another health scare. So it seems every step of the way there was something.
I don't know. I mean my life has been, I've had many, many extraordinary, very fortunate things happen, and it's also been many different things over the years, that have been challenging. So that wasn't a particular time just when I wrote it. I mean, if we look at it, I had my mastectomy right before I shot Unbroken. Over the span of that decade, I did lose my mother, I did have my mastectomy, and I did then have an ovarian cancer scare and have that surgery as well. And other things, of course, that happen in life that you go through.
It really depends, a piece of art can be something that can be healing or it can just be difficult. I still don’t know. I’m happy we did that film because we did explore something together, and whatever it was, maybe it didn’t solve certain things, but it did, we did communicate something that maybe needed to be communicated to each other.”
FTKMF come 2 years after that and I guess it traces back to that firs trip you took to Cambodia with Lara Croft.
When I was on that trip I picked up Luong's book and her book was really the 1st book that helped me to look at and understand what had happened. It was the beginning of an education for me.
And how soon after did you actually connect with her cause I know you guys are very close now.
Soon. Soon after I returned and when I started working on these issues I planned to go back to Cambodia with the UN and work with the demining groups as it turned out that she was working on the campaign to ban land mines and going to Cambodia also. So we went together on mission, in fact, to work with these different groups together and became very fast friends.
So when along the line did you become a citizen of Cambodia, in addition to being a citizen of the U.S.
It was 2005.
How did that happen.
I had been working in country. When Mad was about 1, the place that Luong and I went back together was Battambang which is up near Semlot which is near the Thai border. It was the 1st and last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, there's a lot of land mines. And its where I decided to buy a small piece of land and start an organization to help many things: we look after the Cardamon Mountains, we protect the forest from being deforested, from demining, we have schools and clinics, TB - AIDS clinic and just work with thousands of people there and have for 14 years.
And it's named after Maddox.
So why did that script stay in your desk drawer for as long as it did?
We were friends forever and never thought about making it into a movie until I directed Blood an Honey and I thought, 'I do love directing, what do I love?' And I loved her piece so I called her and said.'We should try to do this, what do you think?' And we did, and we finished it. And we thought about what it would be like to do it, and we talked about how the country would feel, would the country be ready? It's very, very complicated to do this film in this country because it's not something people talk about. Some people are still very much in denial. The Tribunal had not come to the decisions it had made, only just a few years ago, at that time. So there wasn't a guilty verdict yet, and the label of genocide in that official way, yet. But most of all we looked at Mad, and said 'When Mad is ready, Mad has to do this with us. Mad needs to know.' Part of doing this is Mad is going to learn a lot about who he is and we can't do it without him. So we told Mad about it, we talked to him. He's known her his whole life, so he knows her story. And we said, when you're ready, you're going to take it seriously when you're ready, and we'll all do it together. So I did other things happened and then Mad came up to me and said 'I'm ready. I want you to make Luong's, I want to go back.
How old was he when he said that this to you?
So I guess another partner that was required to do this, I believe they were in from the beginning with Uh hmm
The big consideration for a lot of filmmakers when it comes to Netflix is that maybe your film doesn't get a wide theatrical release but it is then available in all but 3 of 4 countries in the whole world.
Why did the latter trump the former for you?
As you mentioned I had done Blood and Honey. I love foreign films. Foreign films they tend to be very understood and embraced when they're good and when you do them right, in a country. In the country itself. But then globally, it's very hard. It has a very particular audience. It was so important to me that this film be really seen and understood because I wanted people to have that education that I didn't get. I wanted this country to be understood. I wanted it to be seen and the artists from the country to be seen and appreciated. So it was that. It was the global reach. It's also true that in a lot of these countries there aren't a lot of movie theaters. Cambodia, Siem Reap where we were in has 3, and nobody really goes. So they weren't going even though we did put it in theaters there and we showed it, we screened outside and now we've been showing it in schools, but a lot of people see it this way. See it more, a lot of people don't have access to theaters that some people do. So it was very much the reason I went to Netflix first.
You made several key decisions with this one that could have gone a different way: to do it in Khmer, to shoot it in Cambodia, with locals. Why did you decide that was central on this one. How receptive was the government and the local people and all the folks who had to get on board for you to be able to do this.
We wanted Mad to be ready and that was one step, we needed the funding and the support, and I really wanted to work with Rithy Panh who's an extraordinary filmmaker, producer Cambodian. But ten it was we won't do this if i was in any way going to be disruptive in country. If in any way the country is not ready for it and it could have an imbalancing effect or do something. Because that's more important than anything. The victims and survivors, it's more important that they're OK. When they're ready. So we went in country and I go there often. You kind of get a feeling. We talked to a lot of people about doing this. It's Luong's story but it really is to represent everyone. And through the eyes of a child is a different way of helping people look at things because it comes without judgement and it come just a witness to things. And to be interpreted and to put it front of people and to feel it in an emotional way and to show the love and beauty of the family. So we focused on that. And yes, I was very, very surprised that we had the government's support. We had many.many meetings with Apsara, the people who work with the protection of the land, anything I could possibly learn about how to do this and how to do it right. How to communicate with the local people because they're not used to this kind of films.
And reliving. The biggest concern was that we were going to bring back the Khmer Rouge and we were going to re-traumatize people.
Concern for whom?
For me, the producers, for all of us. We just felt like this is not something tat is talked about a lot and now, and these people are not used to films. So when you suddenly have a mass of Khmer Rouge soldiers and tanks coming over that bridge, what is that going to do and how do we get everybody ready for that? How do we make it cathartic and not traumatic. And so there was just a lot of communication. A lot of community meetings. A lot of meetings with monks. A lot of blessings. A lot of prayer, a lot of stopping to talk. We had a therapist in set every day. We did it like a therapeutic communal exercise.
How did Luong feel about it.
She said something beautiful. She said during the war everyone was alone, and this was everyone together. Everyone over 40 remembers the war so everybody was either a child of somebody or they themselves, this was their life. So just everybody was holding each other, if there's an emotional scene you look around and everybody holding each other crying, talking, praying. It was such a collective. It was such a sharing, that I think it did do something quite special and I was very humbled to just be a part of it, to witness it.
This movie was unveiled at Telluride, that's where I was lucky enough to see it. Got a huge response there, everywhere else since. To be chosen by Cambodia for the Foreign Language race, what has that meant?
That means so much to me because it means that the country, like I said it's been a very, very long time, 40 years since the war to be able to acknowledge this part of the history, and to have something where people can come together and agree, and discuss. And so for the country to put this forward and agree, come together and say that this represents a part of their history is an acknowledgement and a step forward for the country just on what it symbolizes. For me personally, I remember the day that I was nervous, asking Luong what she would feel if I adopted a child from Cambodia because I didn't know if Cambodian people would be offended if I was a mother to a Cambodian child. So for me, to be allowed to be a part of their country, and then for that country to accept me as their own and be able to represent them is the greatest honor.
Last I heard you do something that's unusual in Hollywood, you don't have a manager, agent or publicist. What's that about?
I have an agent. Publicist, I never really got along with. Had to have them for emergencies and it's never worked out. (laughs) So it's just, yeah, I mean I just, I don't now. I really don't know. (laughs)
All four films you've done have been sort of darker subject matter, 3 of them about war. Is that just solely attributable to your interest with the UN? Humanitarian activity has brought you into that world as often as it has? If you were to psychoanalyze why those are the movies you've chosen to direct. What's that about?
I think any film is really a study about human nature, human behavior and obviously in war time, we come to the extremes, Man's inhumanity to man, and our deepest humanity so it does these extremes that I'm interested in. But every film in a way, they're all war but different stages of it. It's almost like I'm trying to understand how we prevent war,how we get through war, how we survive a war. Blood and Honey was this collapse under something and how it divides, Unbroken it rose up, for First They Killed it was so much they love of the family and how you can't take away the thing that can actually be the most beautiful thing can come through something so horrific, and to see it trough a child's. They all have different things.
Somebody told me once, and I probably shouldn't point this out, somebody says to you, 'Here's the thing you do as a director all the time, don't tell anybody. ' But I'll tell you. Somebody said to me, 'Why is it in every one your films, there's always a scene between two people and one person drops to their knees and the other person is left standing.?' Isn't that strange? And it never dawned on me. And it's in every single one of my films. It's almost like, embarrassing, how it's like you can almost put them all next to each other. And it's strange. But I wonder if there's something to that. That idea of something I've been always trying to find in life. Like when you're up against something and you have to find what you stand for, and you have to fight for it. And you have to, your will and your drive, and will you stay standing or will you fall. Or will you accept that you're responsible and then will somebody step forward. So something about that I am very drawn.
And all four have different cinematographers.
And all four have different cinematographers, yeah, all amazing. All amazing men.
Why should refugees and friends of refugees like yourself not despair at the Trump administration's very unwelcoming attitude towards refugees?
"I've been working on these issues for 16 years and I hope to wok on them until my last day. And I hope my children work on them. These things are bigger than all of us. Me personally I believe things evolve. We have to hope that even in our darkest times that, if we look back in history we've hit very, very dark times and we've come out stronger. And we have to believe that is what our goal must be. And sometimes things can crystallize something and then you understand even clearer what you need to fight for and why, and what you need to hold on to and why. And so I think that can be, and maybe must be, the way people have to look at dark times.
These next few years, do you have any specific goals or challenges for yourself? What do you think the next few years hold for you?
More directing or will you also act? Or are you done with acting?
No, I'd love to do a little bit more. I think I'll enjoy acting more than I did before now that I'm older and I come at it differently. I would love to direct again. But very honestly I've spent the last year and a half doing nothing but really just being a Mom, and it's the most important thing for me to do. So, I'll see what projects come, but I'll see how much I need to balance that with my kids right now.