Angelina Jolie will forever be grateful to author and activist Loung Ung for teaching her about Cambodia’s history and helping her develop a deep love for the country and its people.
Jolie’s new film First They Killed My Father is adapted from Ung’s memoir about her childhood under the nation’s oppressive Khmer Rouge regime, and the Hollywood star admits she first came up with the idea of turning the book into a movie after spending the night with the author during a monsoon.
Promoting the film at a Screen Actors Guild event this week, Jolie revealed she stumbled across the book during a visit to Cambodia two decades ago.
“I went there, to Cambodia, and before I came I read about the country and I was shocked at how little I knew, how little I was taught in school and how ignorant I was,” Angelina said.
“I was really quite upset. I really expected to meet a very angry people who were bitter and broken. I was stunned to meet such loving, resilient, spirited, kind, generous people. It changed my perspective on life throughout the year… One day I went for a walk and bought this two dollar paperback book, First They Killed My Father… I was in my early 20s and it completely opened my eyes.
“I loved the way Loung told the story through the child and helped me understand and made it more relatable.
“I felt like she wanted me to learn and not just be impressed with her writing and talk to me and teach us. Then months later I volunteered, wanting to learn more about refugees and returnees and landmines, working with Loung Ung on campaigns against landmines and we decided we would spend some time together.
“We actually broke away from our team, left the United Nations for a bit, and went off and spent the night in a monsoon and sat up talking.”
During the night, Ung convinced Jolie to adopt her first son from Cambodia.
“I said, ‘I’m thinking of adopting from Cambodia, would you be offended?’ and she said that her entire life would’ve been very different today had more children been adopted from Cambodia,” Jolie recalled. “She’s been supportive and she’s been in my son Mad’s family since he was a little baby, and her story and this story has been something I use to teach him about who he is.”
Now 16, Jolie’s eldest child Maddox has a producer credit on the film, which he helped his director mom promote at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada this week.