Academy Award actress and director Angelina Jolie has brought a late World War II veteran's life story on the big screen, bringing out Hollywood accolades and speculation that the film would be nominated for an Oscar.
However, she didn't think that her film Unbroken would garner this much public interest, much less be in contention for an Academy Award or two. According to an upcoming article to be published in Entertainment Weekly this week, Jolie thought it would bomb spectacularly at the box office when she started filming down in Australia.
"If you saw that first shot and my reaction to it, you'd be absolutely sure that this was going to be one of the great disasters of filmmaking history," Jolie said. "The only thing you could do was laugh at how insane this was all going to be. And then you just had to take a deep breath and figure out what to do next."
After being in the highest-grossing film of her career, Maleficent, 39-year-old Jolie has taken on a behind-the-camera role as director. According to Entertainment Weekly, the $65 million epic Unbroken is her most ambitious project yet.
"I didn't know what I was up against when I was first getting into it," Jolie said. "I had never done anything like it. I was up for the challenge, but I had so much to learn."
Unbroken focuses on the life of Louis "Louie" Zamperini, a Southern California World War II veteran who competed in the 1936 Olympics before Adolf Hitler and survived a plane crash and 47 days stranded at sea, only to be held in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps for over two years. He later went to a Billy Graham crusade in 1949 and gave his life to Christ there, transforming his life as an inspirational speaker to the point where, in an act of extraordinary courage, he forgave his Japanese captors.
Although Zamperini, 97, passed away earlier this year in July, Jolie had the chance to show a rough cut of the film to him right before he died in hospital, according to Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports.
"I wanted to learn from Louis and be around this great man, but I wanted to put something out in the world that reminded us all of the strength of the human spirit and brotherhood and faith and all of the things that will, in the end, get us through these dark times," Jolie said in an Associated Press article.
"It was an extremely moving experience to watch someone watching their own life... someone so physically strong... and they are at the stage where their body is giving up," Jolie told the December issue of Vanity Fair about his death.
"And yet we laughed together, and talked about his mom. And being a man of such faith, he talked about all the people he believed he would be seeing on the other side. And that it would bring him peace. After a life of fighting, he could rest."
Zamperini noted that he and Jolie became close during the film's production.
"I made a new friend - Angelina Jolie," Zamperini said back in May. "The gal really loves me. She hugs me and kisses me 'til I can't complain."
Zamperini's story is based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand entitled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The Associated Press reports that Universal Studios purchased the rights to the book in 2011, but it only went into the big screen thanks to the involvement of Jolie and screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen.
"The fundamental turn in it becoming a movie was when Angelina came on," producer Matt Baer said at a news conference. "She had the solutions to what had ailed the script prior, which was being able to figure out structurally along with the Coen brothers how to craft a movie that played with time and still maintained the essence of the character."
British actor Jack O'Connell took on the role of Zamperini. According to the Associated Press, O'Connell's audition process included being locked in a dark cell and beaten with a rubber baton; however, those weren't the only difficulties he endured to play the lead role.
"The biggest challenge of my life yeah, easily," O'Connell said. "It all accumulates to one pretty enormous test for me as an actor. But the whole time I had Louis' example constantly dwarfing whatever hardship I was experiencing. So once you accept the reality there, it would be very inconsistent of me to start feeling sorry for myself then."
Unbroken is scheduled to be in U.S. movie theaters on Christmas Day.