Unbroken director Angelina Jolie says she prefers directing to acting

Director Angelina Jolie (above, with husband Brad Pitt) who directed Unbroken, about Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini surviving being adrift at sea and a gruelling experience in a Japanese war camp. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Director Angelina Jolie (above, with husband Brad Pitt) who directed Unbroken, about Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini surviving being adrift at sea and a gruelling experience in a Japanese war camp. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSEPHOTOS: UIP, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Director Angelina Jolie who directed Unbroken (above), about Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini surviving being adrift at sea and a gruelling experience in a Japanese war camp. -- PHOTO: UIP
Director Angelina Jolie who directed Unbroken (above), about Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini surviving being adrift at sea and a gruelling experience in a Japanese war camp. -- PHOTO: UIPPHOTOS: UIP, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Oscar-winning actress and Unbroken director Angelina Jolie loves the technical aspects of the job and prefers directing to acting

After winning an Oscar, bagging three Golden Globes and more than two decades on the screen, Angelina Jolie - one of Hollywood's biggest and best-paid stars - has realised that acting is not her true calling.

Instead, the 39-year-old is far happier in the director's chair these days, a role that has made her see how unfulfilled she was before.

Speaking to Life! and other press in New York, the one-time star of action flicks such as Tomb Raider (2001) and Mr And Mrs Smith (2005) says directing the new war epic Unbroken has reinforced her decision to switch gears.

"I'm so happy to be able to direct. It's something I love so much. And I didn't even know I would love it. I didn't realise how much it would mean to me," she says while promoting the film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

"And I do prefer it to acting. I didn't realise until later in my life how much I really don't love being in front of the camera."

This does not mean she will retire from acting completely.

Jolie - who will appear on screen with husband Brad Pitt in the upcoming drama By The Sea, which she also directs - promises to "do a few more films as an actor", simply because she "loves telling stories and connecting with an audience".

Besides, the daughter of Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight does not regret those years as an actress, a career she found success early on, picking up Golden Globes for the television biopics George Wallace (1998) and Gia (1999) before the movie Girl, Interrupted (1999) earned her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Golden Globe and established her as a rising star.

"I believe you can't regret anything in life because we are who we are today because of all the good and bad things and mistakes we've made. So I've learnt a lot about storytelling and acting and character work that I'm sure I am able to apply.

"And being an actress has given me a wonderful life. I'm very grateful for the career I've had and what it's allowed me to do, and the people I've worked with," says Jolie, who met Pitt, her third husband, while making the spy thriller Mr And Mrs Smith.

She was previously married to actors Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton.

"But on my first day on set as a director, I thought, this is so different, I'm so happy. I fell in love with film and I really wasn't in love with film before."

The scale and scope of the US$65-million (S$87.9-million) World War II epic Unbroken, which features a large cast, intricate action sequences and a still-controversial period of history, demonstrate Jolie's directorial ambition.

It is based on the true story of the late Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O'Connell), the Olympic sprinter-turned-soldier who survived being adrift at sea for 47 days during the war, followed by a gruelling experience at a Japanese prison camp.

While shooting on location in Australia, Jolie - who had previously directed only one feature-length film, the smaller independent Bosnian war movie In The Land Of Blood And Honey (2011) - says she surprised herself when it came to handling the technical nitty-gritty details of this massive production.

"I loved the story of Unbroken and I loved Louis, but I suddenly had to really be the person on set to explain how we were going to do the opening fight scene or the battle with the sharks.

"And it has a certain technical aspect, a mix of stunt and computer-generated imagery, so it's a different world.

"I knew I'd be comfortable with the actors, but I didn't realise how much I'd love the technical details - how fast is the speed of the flak versus how fast the plane is and what was the paint style of it.

"I got quite geeky about the technical aspects of filming, so that surprised me."

She felt that Zamperini's story - documented in his own memoirs as well as Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling biography Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience And Redemption - carried an important message about the human spirit, one that she has also discovered through her duties as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for refugees and other victims of war.

She admits that witnessing the after-effects of conflict means "there's so much you can feel disheartened by".

"That's why I wanted to do this film. When I read Louis' story, I felt better because it made me think, 'Here's something to hold on to, here's something to believe in.'

"I see it every day when I see refugees and their families or the survival of victims of sexual violence, and I see them fighting for themselves and getting on with their lives.

"So there are so many inspirational people in the world, but we need to push their stories forward and remind people that we've got it in each of us."

Zamperini's humble background and inauspicious beginnings appealed to her too.

"What I love about Louis' story is he wasn't born exceptional - he was smoking, drinking and stealing and a bit of a punk by the time he was 19 years old.

"He certainly wasn't a saint. He just found a way to meet those challenges and change his way of approaching the world and it was something that proves the strength of every single individual and what unites us."

Although the film explores Zamperini and other soldiers' mistreatment at the hands of their Japanese captors, she insists that it is not an anti-Japanese film and "it's not meant to be about a hero - it's meant to be an inspirational film about the human spirit".

With Pitt, 51, also pursuing his career as an actor and producer, the high-profile pair has vowed not to spend too much time apart from each other or their large brood, which comprises Maddox, 13; Pax, 11; and Zahara, 10, who were adopted from Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia respectively; along with Shiloh, eight, and six-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.

So they usually take turns to make a film and "he's with me when I'm working or I'm with him when he's working".

Occasionally, a project will also have more than one member of the Jolie-Pitt clan on the payroll: Vivienne played the young Sleeping Beauty character in Jolie's film Maleficent (2014) and Maddox worked as a production assistant on Unbroken.

Jolie smiles at the memory of the latter and says: "It was funny because when Brad and I met, he was about two. And now he's got a walkie-talkie..."

By The Sea is Jolie and Pitt's first film together since Mr And Mrs Smith.

Jolie confesses she did not entirely enjoy directing the drama about a couple who try to salvage their failing marriage by going on holiday.

"I did not like directing myself, I found it very difficult," she says, revealing that she has been putting off looking at the footage.

Directing Pitt, however, was a cinch.

Jolie says: "He was wonderful to work with because we trust each other so much. Of course, when you're married and playing an unhappily married couple, it's very heavy work and it's not simple.

"But we have such a history and a trust that we can kind of push each other in ways you couldn't with somebody you weren't as close to.

"So it was very nice. Very nice."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Unbroken opens in Singapore tomorrow.