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?
Angelina Jolie: 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.