All she can see, in every direction, is water. It’s Oct. 16, 2013, the first day of filming on the WWII drama Unbroken, and a barge has taken Angelina Jolie, her crew, and an enormous crane camera onto the open Pacific off the coast of Queensland, Australia. As she stands on the ship, silhouetted by bright blue sky and deep blue sea, actors Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, and Finn Wittrock float nearby in a small yellow raft. They are skinny and weak and starving, having subsisted on just 500 calories a day for two months. Suddenly, the wind picks up, stirring salt spray and waves. The crew on the barge begins to slip and fall. Jolie can barely hear O’Connell, her young star, deliver his lines, and for a moment she can’t even see him. As the camera zooms in for a close-up, he bobs helplessly in and out of frame.
“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 says today with a smile, sitting on a sofa at Milk Studios in Los Angeles. “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.”
Ah, the eternal unanswerable question: What will Angelina Jolie do next? In a life that has spanned her transformation from Gia Carangi to Evelyn Salt, from femme fatale to media-sainted ambassador, from wild child to mother of six, she has been everything except one thing: predictable. Now, on the heels of the highest-grossing film of her career, Maleficent, Jolie, 39, is shifting her focus from movie star to director. Unbroken, her $65 million period epic, is her most ambitious undertaking yet. “I didn’t know what I was up against when I was first getting into it,” Jolie says. “I had never done anything like it. I was up for the challenge, but I had so much to learn.”
For more on Unbroken, including how Jolie cast the young British actor Jack O’Connell, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands this Tuesday.