Angelina Jolie says the Coen brothers brought a lack of sentimentality to 'Unbroken'
HOLLYWOOD — "Unbroken" is Angelina Jolie's second directorial effort to date, but she bit off a whole lot more than she expected to chew. The production became a huge undertaking, particularly at the script stage when a number of various elements could have been included from the epic life of Louis Zamperini. So it was as important as ever to do a lot of heavy lifting on the page.
I sat down with Jolie last week to discuss those particulars, taking a risk on unknowns in the film's central roles and how Sidney Lumet's "The Hill" informed the look of the film. Read through the back and forth below for that and other tidbits. And check out our recent video interview at the top of this post for even more.
"Unbroken" opens Christmas Day.
HitFix: Before we jump in here, I just wanted to say I'm glad to see someone taking on Eric Roth's "Africa" script. I've been hearing about that project for a number of years so it's cool to see it finally taking off.
Angelina Jolie: It is. It's very exciting. I love him Eric much. He's such a dear friend, and he's a godfather to our son Pax. We've been working on "Cleopatra" a long time, and still working on it. And he's been so supportive of me becoming a director. But to suddenly get the opportunity to direct an Eric Roth script, to be able to sit with Eric and work on it, it's new for our relationship.
Well good luck on it. On this, though, how did it feel stretching out a bit more working on your second film as a director?
It was a really, really big movie to do. And I didn't go into it realizing it, I think. I came into it thinking, "I love Louie. He's inspirational." But the reality of suddenly having a very specific budget and needing all these different locations, and convincing myself that I could walk on with the confidence to direct the raft scenes, the shark attacks, the plane crashes, it was all more than I anticipated. I wasn't looking to do a big movie. I was just looking to direct a film I cared about, and I would have never attempted something of this size had it not been a story I loved.
It's a lot of material to wrangle into a script. When you came to the project was it still a battle of figuring out what to get in, what to leave out? What were the hardest decisions in that process?
That's exactly what it was, and I think it's why it has taken since 1957 to do it, because his life is kind of a miniseries, you know? And everything we would leave out — I would carry the book around and it would drive me crazy because people would always stop me and say, "That is my favorite book. You know what my favorite scene was?" And whatever it was it was something that wasn't in the movie. "My favorite scene is when he stole the Nazi flag." I'm like, "I know, me too, but…" Or "My favorite scene was when the Great White breached," and "I know, I can't get that either. It's too expensive." So it's frustrating. But I think Laura's book and the Coen brothers coming in and the work that had been done on the scripts, we were able to really look at it and say, "OK, let's not be overwhelmed by all the details of this life. Let's look at it and say, 'What is this film about?' It talks about the human spirit, so we need to see the rise of the human spirit. It's an athlete and understanding his own body and endurance and how it gets him through the war. We need to see that. It is about a man of faith and we need to understand that was present in his life since he was 9 years old and how does he come to that? And where does forgiveness come in?" So we had the themes and we just had to say, "Alright, that's our film. What, then, in his life, do we pull out to illustrate those themes?" Because as the Coen brothers pointed out to me, if you literally try to go page by page you will just make a terrible film. So make a good film, but make sure the essence is the same or you'll drive yourself crazy. There's just so much content.
Speaking of the Coens, what else did they feed into the script that helped the story along?
I think a few things. One, they're great directors, obviously, so there's a sense of structure they have — a tighter sense of where things need to be moved or structured or this begins or this comes after. So they can help to clarify that and make it a more interesting structure, which this film really desperately needed. And also, I think, what's great about them is they're not sentimental, and I think this film could have, with the wrong writers, become one that was very earnest and very beautiful, but didn't have the edge and the sense of humor and the way of just looking at life, and not only the beauty of life, but just the strangeness of life and the friendship and the very intimate, regular moments of life, which the Coen brothers are just so brilliant at putting forward.