Q&A: Angelina Jolie Talks Brad, Her Kids And Her Directorial Debut With 'In The Land Of Blood And Honey'
December 19th, 2011 3:00pm EST
Angelina Jolie doesn’t usually have time for a lot of interviews, with her busy schedule as a U.N. ambassador and working mother as well. Her latest film is a passion project that combines many of her interests. She wrote and directed In the Land of Blood and Honey, a drama set during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
It’s a subject close to her heart, as Jolie has adopted children from and worked hands-on in post-conflict regions around the world. Speaking about the film gave Jolie an opportunity to get personal in a way that can educate the public about these worlds we may not even hear about.
Q: Did this film come out of the U.N. work that you do?
AJ: Yes, I’m sure it did. I wasn’t quite conscious of what was happening. You know, as we evolve, you don’t really analyze what was happening. When I first started traveling years ago, when I went to a few countries, of course I was very emotional about it. The change as a person, as a mother and then I went through a period of really getting angry and trying to understand what was happening and how to start to fight against it. Then I started looking into the laws so it’s been an evolution for me. Then part of this film is never expected to be a movie and I quietly sat alone and thought, “I’ve written journals and I’m just going to sit with this format of films since it what’s I’ve done in my life and quietly see if I can express, write a project where I can meditate and study what happens to human beings through war so I can better understand people in post conflict situations.” And better figure out how to help and have an excuse, privately, to kind of give myself homework to have to learn about the conflict that I didn’t know anything about. So this was my private homework and it gave me purpose to watch documentaries and read books and research and watch news footage and visit the region and spend time with people. So never with the thought that this was going to be a film, just something that I was doing for what I felt that I needed to do and learn and then somehow ended up evolving into a film.
Q: How much did you follow your creative instincts as a director and how much did you turn to other directors you worked with or people you trusted to figure out how to do something at this scale for your first project?
AJ: If I knew… I didn’t. I was lucky to have Dean Semler work with us. I actually called him, never expecting he would agree to work on this. I said, “You know, we worked together 10 years ago, can I just ask you a question?” And he said. “Yeah, shoot.” I said, “Can I just send you a script and just tell me what kind of DPs you think I should send it to, because I need help and somebody who would be patient with a first-time director.” And he called back and said, “I’ll do it.” And I couldn’t [believe it.] I think I’d ask three times to clarify that he was saying he’d actually do the film. And he took a pay cut, everybody did. Everybody took a pay cut because everybody said I want to do something that means something and I’m jumping in. Same with John Hutman. We worked together on The Tourist and everything was about elegance and wealth and suddenly there we were, working with no budget on a war movie. So I leaned on everybody. I asked everybody advice. Anybody who was willing to talk to me, I asked them for help.
Q: How did you develop the different characters in a different language?
AJ: Well, the first draft I did, I coursed it as much as I could. I don’t know my rise. I tried to keep it quite clean, where just what is said is what needs to be said. And there’s a lot of silence and there’s a lot of tension. So the writing of it, I did I did my best to kind of keep it simple and pure and then, as we adjusted it into its authentic language, which this region is very complicated so we had to not only get it translated but we had to get it translated more than once because a translator couldn’t be just a Bosnian-Muslim or just Bosnian-Serb because even the translation could go slightly slanted one side or the other. So even that had to be agreed on by all sides, the final translation. And the actors themselves, this is their native tongue. They taught me and often if I wanted to make sure that someone had done and wanted to check performances, I’d ask each of them. So if Danijel had a big scene, I would pull Zana aside and say, “It feels right for me emotionally but text wise, is there anything that I should know?”So they kind of reported on each other because I couldn’t understand everything, I had to ask.
Q: Regarding your regular routine as a mom and an actor, what did you sacrifice to make this film?
AJ: Well, I would never sacrifice any time with my family. Brad and I, if we couldn’t manage our schedules, we would always sacrifice work. So I stayed with him while he was doing Moneyball in L.A. with the kids. And I did the prep for this film mostly here and I only traveled for two days and I came back, two days and I came back. I kept doing that because I couldn’t leave my family for a long time. So I had a very scattered prep and I only had three days in country before I started shooting because I had to stay with my family. And Brad’s film went over so I had to push back. We had three days where I was completely there and then I started and he was there a week later. So we just do everything we can to try to stay together and through the film, my family was there. So he took the kids to school and after school they came to set and we would usually stay outside of the set and play with the fake snow and try not to come anywhere near the camera because it’s an inappropriate film for them to be near.
Q: How open or straight forward are you with telling your kids about the problems in the world?
AJ: Very. Very straight forward. My children have been to post-conflict situations and they’ve been to refugee camps with me. For example, Maddox would go to the place, say we have a house in Cambodia. It’s not a house, it’s a room on stilts surrounded by a hundred Cambodian people that work with us to secure these 5,000 villagers. And it’s a project in the middle of the jungle. We found 48 landmines on our property. We have neighbors that are landmine victims and the kids play with local kids and they swim in the pond. So it’s a part of what they know, it’s a part of their life. Pax is from a country of conflict. My children’s birth parents probably all fought in some way or dealt with conflict a little bit more. So when I go on U.N. missions, I always sit down with them and explain to them why I’m going. And they often know enough, especially the older ones who watch the news. And I tell them that I’m going to go and meet other kids like them and spend some time and make sure everybody’s okay. And sometimes they give me little things to bring to them, so they are pretty lovely kids.
Q: How is your childhood different from the childhood you’re creating for your children?
AJ: Well, I’m trying to make them just more global. My mother, as open as she was, we just didn’t travel as much and she always taught me to be a good person. She was always interested in things. She took me to my first Amnesty International for dinner when I was nine. She was part Native American and always told me issues but we didn’t live outside of America. We didn’t travel, we weren’t at home in the world. Our world was smaller. So with my family, I’m trying to raise them to have respect for all people and make friends around the world and feel at home with the world and really live a truly global [life] because I think it’s what forms them and it’s really important to me. And I make sure they do their math and their science, but that is the most important thing for me.
Q: Working with actual Bosnians and Serbs, were there ever moments where you had to play the negotiator to get everybody back on track and not to get into the politics of what happened?
AJ: Well, we started on the first day and we had everyone come in from different sides and I intentionally picked when we would watch their interviews. We also talked to them and I knew how they felt. I knew they were all very intelligent, and very open and thoughtful people as I was casting them. And I kind of instinctually felt they should talk and if they got in the same room and really talked it through. I knew what they didn’t. I heard their private conversations, I heard their interview, I knew they wanted the same goal, they worried for the same thing for their countries and they all considered themselves Yugoslavian. Even when they were interviewed, they’d say and you’re background is? They would all say Yugoslavian. Because they deal now with this divide of being divided but they were all born Yugoslavian. There was so much kindness because they were confronting with this story of ugliness of this past that they do not want to repeat. So it did quite the opposite.
Q: When are you the most happiest? Is it on set or being a mom?
AJ: Being a mom. We had a moment, often I’m happy whenever I’m with my children, but there was a moment where we had just finished work in New York and Brad and I were piled in the car with the kids and we’re listening to Christmas songs and we were laughing and playing games in the car and I looked at Brad and I said, “This is one of these moments, isn’t it? This is the moments we live for.” And so it’s that. You just catch yourself sometimes and you look around. I’m so fortunate; I love my family so much. And they’re such a funny, interesting group of people.
Q: Was Brad in anyway used as a sound board when writing the script?
AJ: Yeah, he was the first person to read the script, because probably if he would have said anything negative, we wouldn’t be here today. [Laughs] I just kind of showed it to him as just this experiment that was on my desk, and he took it with him when he did a two-day thing in Japan and then he called me and said, “You know honey, it’s really not that bad. It’s pretty good.” And we talked further about it and he encouraged me through the whole process and he came to set on most days and did some still-photography for the film. He was always around and always supportive.
Q: Did those maternal instincts ever show up with your cast and crew at all?
AJ: Probably. Well, probably in the sense that you’re always answering to somebody with something. When you have six kids you’re just used to, “What’s next? Who else?” So I think the natural multitasking that comes with being a mother works well and transitions into being a director.
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
AJ: I wrote this two years ago I think, maybe. It happened really quickly. As I said it didn’t intentionally happen, somehow it just happened and there it was. If I would have had 10 years, I probably would have gotten scared. So it happened to quickly for me to think about it.
Q: I know you can’t say much on the lawsuit, but does it come with the territory that when you’re writing something, does it surprise you that someone would come out of the woodwork that would say this is my property?
AJ: It’s expected and a part of the course and I believe it happens in every film.
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Photo Credits: Andrew Evans / PR Photos; FilmDistrict and GK Films