Jolie on her Cambodian epic and the power of family
Angelina Jolie arrives for an interview with the familiar harried air of a parent who has just barely managed to withdraw from her children, all six of whom she’s left having breakfast upstairs in their Toronto hotel suite.
“The reason I was a little late is they made me change,” Jolie says, smiling. “They thought what I was wearing was too revealing.”
It’s just another example of the extreme balancing act of Jolie’s life, one which combines global celebrity with humanitarian devotion, A-list stardom with sober filmmaking, glamour and family. “I actually went to a premiere once with pee on me,” she says. “It was when the kids were little and I just got peed on at the last minute. There was nothing to do but wear it.”
But Jolie’s latest film, the powerfully immersive Cambodian genocide drama “First They Killed My Father,” represents a kind of amalgamation of Jolie’s multifarious life. Her initial interest in Cambodia came when she arrived — in a much earlier life — to make “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in 2000. She became infatuated with the country and its people, began goodwill work for the U.N.’s refugee agency and adopted her first child, Maddox, from Cambodia.
“First They Killed My Father,” which hits Netflix and select theaters Friday, is based on Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir. The film hues close to Ung’s perspective as a five-year-old girl living with her family in Phnom Penn when the Khmer Rouge march in, force the residents to flee and then imprison Ung’s family in a labor camp, brutally indoctrinating them to a classless society. Some two million (nearly a quarter of the country) died during the Khmer Rouge’s four year reign of terror.
The film isn’t just a shattering view of war through a child’s eyes, it’s intended as a cathartic healing for Cambodia itself, and a personal journey into the past of Maddox’s countrymen. The 16-year-old, credited as an executive producer, collaborated with her mother on the production, which was shot in Cambodia with local actors, both professional and not.
“I said to my son Maddox, who’s known Luong his whole life, when you’re ready, we should tell Luong’s story. But we have to tell it together,” Jolie says. “We had this script for a few years and he came up to me and said, ‘I’m ready.’”
Jolie’s heavily-watched appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival was her most public since she filed for divorce from Brad Pitt after 12 years together — two of them married. Jolie acknowledged it’s been a difficult period of transition and that her filmmaking has been put on pause. She has an acting gig lined up (“Maleficent 2”) but the yearslong work of directing has for now been tabled.