Nick Ut/AP
Jonathon Dornbush
December 04, 2014 AT 07:41 PM EST

Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken tells the true story of Olympian Louis Zamperini, who spent years in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. But Jolie and the film’s crew had the unique opportunity to involve Zamperini in telling his own story.

Though Zamperini died this past July at 97, he still played an integral role in bringing the film to life. People has an exclusive featurette from the film, in which Zamperini speaks to his life’s story.

The WWII veteran describes his journey from a troublemaking kid to the inspiring man who spent years fighting for his life.

“I was a rotten kid,” Zamperini says. “My excitement came from seeing what I could get away with.”

But Zamperini’s life took a turn for the better, and possibly kept him out of jail, when he began running competitively.

“That’s one thing you learn in sports,” Zamperini said of how his passion for running applied to every aspect of his life. “You don’t give up, you fight to the finish.”

Watch the entire interview at People, and for more on Unbroken, read EW‘s cover story for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

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