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UPDATE: Angelina Jolie’s Casting Strategy Is Either Meaningful Or Exploitative

Jolie wanted authenticity for upcoming Netflix film “First They Killed My Father”–and the casting directors went to rather shocking lengths to get it.

UPDATE: Angelina Jolie’s Casting Strategy Is Either Meaningful Or Exploitative

UPDATE (7/30/17): Angelina Jolie has refuted claims of emotionally abusive behavior concerning the casting process for her Netflix film First They Killed My Father. In a statement to The Huffington Post, Jolie says Vanity Fair contributor Evgenia Peretz took the description of choosing the young actress for the film’s lead out of context. Apparently, the game the casting directors played was part of a scene in the movie based on Loung Ung’s real-life experience of stealing from the Khmer Rouge and getting caught.

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“Every measure was taken to ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of the children on the film starting from the auditions through production to the present,” says Jolie in her statement. “I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario…The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened.”


Angelina Jolie’s upcoming Netflix film First They Killed My Father stands to be her most personal to date. Based on Loung Ung’s memoir of the same name, the film chronicles the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power in Cambodia in 1975 and the mass genocide that followed.

As detailed in her cover story for Vanity Fair, Jolie’s ties to Cambodia started when she picked up Ung’s memoir on a roadside stand while filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in the country. Being in Cambodia and reading the atrocities Ung described stirred Jolie to adopt the first of her brood, Maddox, a Cambodian orphan, and compelled her to become one of Hollywood’s most visible and dedicated humanitarians. Suffice it say, Jolie wanted to get First They Killed My Father right, starting with bringing on Cambodian documentarian Rithy Panh as a co-producer and getting the access to actually film in the country. Jolie even tapped Maddox as an executive producer. As for casting the lead role of a five-year-old Ung, Jolie scouted children in slums, orphanages, and circuses to determine who could deliver the goods on emoting the pain and desperation of such a story–and then the casting directors decided to play a little game:

In order to find their lead, to play young Loung Ung, the casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism: they put money on the table and asked the child to think of something she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away. The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie. “Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time,” Jolie says. “When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.” Jolie then tears up. “When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.”

Damn.

The lengths the casting directors went to for emotional accuracy are commendable on one hand–on the other, however, it seems a touch scarring. Surely, Jolie would never co-sign something that would hurt a child, especially one tied to a country and a project that’s so close to her. But to reiterate: Damn.

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See if the unorthodox casting method paid off in the behind-the-scenes clip below.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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