Gonzo's Fred Topel Interviews Super Star Actress, Humanitarian and now Director
In the Land of Blood and Honey
Release date: December 23rd, 2011
By Fred Topel
Angelina Jolie is well known for giving back to the world through her work with the United Nations and traveling to troubled regions to help. Now she has added movie director to her resume of movie star and humanitarian. Her film, In the Land of Blood and Honey is a story of war torn Bosnia-Serbia, in the native language of her actors. The heavy topic allowed Jolie to get personal in an interview with rare access to the mega Hollywood legend.
Q: How did your acting background influence your writing and directing style?
AJ: Well, certainly as a writer, I think I was probably able to flip characters in my head as if I was playing different roles in order to write the different people because you kind of have to be one person, and inhabit him and write from his voice and be her and write her voice. So I think that helped. As a director, I hoped that I was able to help the actors by giving them the space and the respect they need and the trust. I gave them what I always felt I needed when I was working, and I would protect Zana [Marjanovic] in the scenes where she was very vulnerable, or had to deal with scenes with sensuality or nudity. I would be very considerate and only put in the film what was necessary for the story telling. With the big emotional scenes, I would try to protect them from the crew, from the noise. So you’re just trying to make these safe spaces and you try to help them, because instinctually you know what you would need so I hoped that to be very sensitive when it came to their craft. But it was quite easy in a way because I happened to pick extraordinarily talented actors.
Q: What was it like being on the other side of the casting process?
AJ: That’s a really interesting question, I was really sensitive to it because I remember the days of auditioning and being nervous and so I really didn’t want to make people have to jump through hoops to do auditions and be nervous and make them more nervous. I kind of wanted to hire everybody and find something for everybody. We had a wonderful casting director who was such a kind person as well so I would always know that she would follow up with people even though they didn’t get the job and would look for other work for them. But I was always very conscious of that in making sure people knew and had strong feedback even if they didn’t get the part. So it was hard, I didn’t want to put the actors through much and I actually saw each of their auditions once they got scenes and they all auditioned and I was pretty sure after I saw just a scene once because after they did scenes, they talked. So I got a sense of them as a person and then I saw their scene work and then I pretty much cast them from that. And the people that I thought were going to be the ones and I would say to [casting director] Gail [Stevens], what were they like when they came in? Were they nice to everybody? Were they humble? Were they gracious? Because this was very important to me and she would say, especially these people were really, really lovely human beings because of the subject matter. So then we sent the script out without my name on it, we just sent it to them and the few who we wanted, we just had our fingers crossed because we knew how sensitive it was when they read the whole script, would they be comfortable with it. Fortunately they were.
Q: Are you hooked on this directing now or would it take a really special project to get you back?
AJ: It would take a really special project. I loved this not because I wanted to be a director. I loved this because I’m happy to get this story out into the world. And I had this wonderful experience of basically working on this foreign film with actors from across the world and getting to know them and their culture and the history. So it wasn’t just a film for me and I don’t know if I can put that much energy [into something else.] It’s a lot of work. It’s much easier to be an actor. I did not know that. I really did not realize how much work went into it.
Q: Could you talk about what you learned and discovered through this production? Were there any life lessons?
AJ: I think doing anything having to do with war, you walk away so very grateful for everything you have and the safety that you have. But you also are very conscious that all the issues in this film are going on today in other parts of the world. Violence against women and lack of intervention and man’s inhumanity to man and this kind of atrocities are going on as we speak. So there’s a lesson in that we must speak out about these things. These are big issues of our times, we must speak about them, we must learn how to better understand how these things happen so we can address them. The film is not a solution. It’s not a political statement but it raises those questions and those feelings.
Q: Was there a moment in you life where you realized that compassion was the way to live life and something that kind of crystalized that intention?
AJ: The life changing moment for me what the first time I went to a war zone and that was Sierra Leone. I took two weeks, eleven years ago and I went. I wasn’t an Ambassador or anything I just asked to go and I was allowed to go. It was like someone smacked me in the face. For all the times that I worried about my own problems or was not grateful or ever woke up, because in this country for the freedom that we have and the safety we have, we’re so far from what the majority of people are living. Of course there’s extreme poverty in this country and that should never be ignored and that should be addressed. But across the world, there are these places where it is beyond… So that and I went to Tanzania and I saw my first mass refugee camp because there are about 500,000 people at the time. When you see that sea of humanity displaced with the lack of human rights and not knowing what their future is, it’s just so daunting. I was in complete shock. I didn’t cry, I think I stayed quite still and totally in shock and by the time I got to the airport, I broke down. I talked to my mother on the phone and decided that I would just try to live a better life and never ever forget what I have learned.
Q: Beside this film, which obviously had a very profound effect on you, is there another film that had that kind of effect on you?
AJ: I loved doing A Mighty Heart, which was the Daniel Pearl story. I loved that because I loved her message. And I think her message of tolerance and forgiveness is very important. I don’t know if I could be as gracious, personally. And I’ve come to know her family and her son so it was very important for me, that film. And I loved Michael [Winterbottom]’s directing, I thought it was just a great experience as an artist.
Q: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
AJ: I think I’ll be working less. My kids will be needing me a lot when they hit their teens. If I know anything about being a teenager. I need to be braced to be spending a lot of time with all six of them and making sure I can be there for when they go through everything. So I’m sure I’ll be working less or working from home in some way. Maybe I’ll get to write or something.
Release Date: December 23, 2011
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Director: Angelina Jolie
Screenwriter: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija