Only In Hollywood

Angelina’s film helped get her through surgery

By: - Columnist
/ 12:01 AM August 17, 2014

Angelina Jolie described the late Louis Zamperini, right, as “extraordinary”. UNIVERSAL PICTURES


LOS ANGELES – Louis Zamperini, the late Olympian and hero, not only inspired Angelina Jolie to direct “Unbroken,” a film about his life as a survivor; he also motivated her personally, especially when she had double mastectomy in 2013.


The world-class distance runner, who died in July, served as a World War II bombardier, survived over a month on a raft after his plane crashed, and was tortured as a POW by Japanese soldiers for two years.

“The human spirit is so strong, that it can pull us through,” Angelina said. “Louis reminded me of that and he helped me decide to have my surgery when I did. He reminded me to appreciate every day of my life. He taught me different games to play with my kids.”

The actress-director is glad that she got to show “Unbroken” to Louis, played by Jack O’Connell, just before he died of pneumonia. “He watched the film in the hospital, on my laptop,” she related. “It was quite amazing, seeing somebody 97 years old at the end of his life, watching himself, his mother, brother, best friends (portrayed in the film) … watching his life unfold again in front of his eyes, win races and be so physical even as his body was shutting down at that time.

“He was full of cheer and love,” Angelina gushed about the man who was born in New York but grew up in Torrance, California. “His last days were spent giving to others … and just smiling. He was extraordinary. We all had a good cry. We went to the funeral. We sat in the editing room and cried often, not because we were sad—he had a great life—but because we missed him and [we knew we wouldn’t] meet another Louis Zamperini in [our] lifetime.”

Passion project

“Unbroken” is Angelina’s passion project. It was quite a journey for the star to get the biopic made. Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson wrote the screenplay based on Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Louis, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.”

“When I was looking for something to direct, I said that I wanted it to be something that mattered to me,” Angelina stressed. “Every studio has 15 different little blurbs of things that have never been made. I went through all of them and stopped on ‘Unbroken.’ ”

She recalled telling Brad: “I came home and said, ‘Honey, there’s this story, ‘Unbroken’ … Brad said, ‘Honey, that’s been around forever.’ It was the one that never got made but everyone talked about. Then I read the book and I fell in love with it. It took months of me fighting for it. I had my poster boards, color boards, charts and maps and how I would do the film. I had to come in and pitch. I pitched and pitched.

Jack O’Connell plays Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and war hero, in “Unbroken,” which the actress directed. UNIVERSAL PICTURES

“There was a time when I did my big pitch and I didn’t hear [anything] for three days. I was just sick inside. Then I found out I was going to do it but I didn’t know if we could get the money together, to be able to balance the budget, find the right locations, the right actor because I really wanted somebody who was right for Louis, not just a celebrity who would green light it.”


Angelina admitted that Louis, who was also an inspirational speaker, totally charmed her. By coincidence, she and Louis lived close to each other in Hollywood Hills. “I met and spent time with Louis. I just fell more and more in love with him and his story. Louis said to me, ‘You better get going, girl. I am not going to get any younger.’ I said, ‘When we get the green light, I will fly the flag [on my roof].’

“Yeah, he was right up on the hill,” she said. “I used to get on my roof and wave to him … So when I got the good news, I called Brad and made him get on the roof with the American flag. So Louis knew that finally, after 57 years, it was going to happen.”

Survivors’ bond

What Louis went through, including being adrift on the ocean with little food and water for 47 days, and then being severely beaten and mistreated as a POW, inspires Angelina to take on the challenges, especially personal ones, that come her way. “Nothing compared to Louis (and his story),” she said. As a survivor herself, she found a bond with Louis. “I have had many things. I came from a broken home. I didn’t know if I would ever have a family and children.

“But I decided I wanted to work hard to build a family. I wanted to be a great mother. I wanted to have kids. Even if I felt that I had a challenge from my history, I felt I had to move forward. Certainly with my health issues, my mother, my breast surgery—but it’s (about making) choices to keep moving forward.”

No comparison

“I spend so much of my life with people who suffer, like the children in Gaza, the victims of Syria and everywhere, in all sides of the conflicts,” pointed out the special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “To know better and to know that my pain and suffering are nothing in comparison because I have access to so much and so many opportunities, I try to never forget that.”

She added, “I have obstacles and I do feel that it’s important to stand up and find your inner strength. I have often found it from people who have survived against immeasurable odds. They inspire me so much. I am always shocked by the resilience of people who have absolutely nothing. It’s a lesson to us all, especially when we complain about small things in life.”

“Unbroken” will open in the US on Christmas Day this year.

(Email the columnist at [email protected] Follow him at

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TAGS: Angelina Jolie, Celebrities, cinema, Hollywood, Louis Zamperini, Movies, POW, Unbroken
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