Five minutes with Angelina Jolie
The actor-director on using Brad Pitt as a messenger and balloons as place-markers for Unbroken
She’s betting on a remarkable story.
In her second outing as director, Angelina Jolie tells the story of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken. Zamperini was a delinquent who became a track star at the Berlin Olympics of 1936 and caught the attention of Adolf Hitler. Later, he enlisted himself in the US Army Air Force and became a bombardier. In 1943, Zamperini’s B-24 Bomber crashed in the shark-infested waters of the Pacific Ocean on a rescue mission (and he was presumed dead for a while), but he survived by staying adrift on a raft for 47 days – at which point he was captured by Japanese forces and held as a prisoner of war (and tortured) for two years.
She made Brad Pitt get on the roof for what?!
It’s an epic story of survival. And one that’s been floating around Hollywood for 57 years, ever since Zamperini sold the film rights. But it wasn’t until Jolie came across it in a slush pile looking for her next directorial project, that the movie was finally made. Jolie then discovered that Zamperini lived around the corner from her. “I told him I would fly the flag when I [got a go-ahead from Universal]. It took me months of fighting for it. I had my poster boards and my colour boards and my charts and maps, and I had to go in and pitch. And then I didn’t hear anything for three days and I was just sick inside. So when I found out, I called Brad and made him get on the roof with the American flag so Louis would finally know it was going to happen.”
She tried using balloons as markers for a scene.
The logistics of making this film were daunting – green screen, special effects, water tanks. She talks about shooting a scene where she used balloons as markers in a stadium set, where most of it had to be generated using CGI and the actors had to imagine everything. “We all kept standing there thinking: ‘Well, where is Hitler’s box? Is it that way? And where’s the starting line?’ We were looking at nothing, just looking at air, so I said let’s put balloons up so all the actors are looking at the same place. But the balloons kept blowing all over the place.”
She sent Pitt handwritten letters.
Her flock joined her in Australia where the entire production was filmed. Except Pitt, who was shooting his World War II saga, Fury, in London. “We decided to pretend to be of that time and think of all the people separated for months and months, if not years and tried to make it romantic. We wrote handwritten letters to each other. It was very connecting for us,” she says.
Unbroken is slated to release on December 25