Sitting on the Today Show set with Savannah Guthrie, Tom Brokaw introduces the exclusive interview by saying Angelina Jolie was about to "dive into one of the greatest American stories of the 20th century, and this one is in our own backyard." They then cut to the interview… and the first of many incredibly endearing moments. Jolie sneaks up on Louis Zamperini, hugging him from behind, and his reaction is priceless. "Oh my god, I miss you… I miss you, honey," the 97-year-old gushed. Jolie kisses his head before taking a seat beside him, holding his hands affectionately. Seriously, could these two be any cuter? Would you think less of us if we told you we were teary-eyed 30 seconds into this interview?
Zamperini, Brokaw narrates, became famous nearly 80 years ago when he wowed in distance running during Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics. And then Brokaw — a self-professed World War II history buff — reveals that Zamperini is the only person he's ever met who'd met Hitler. Of the exchange that occurred between the Nazi leader and Zamperini after the latter's dramatic finish in the 5,000 meter distance event, Zamperini describes the historic instance, saying, "All he said was, 'Ah, the boy with the fast finish.' That was it, and I couldn't really shake hands — he was up pretty high — so I just reached up and touched his hand." Was it interesting to hear Zamperini talk about that surreal moment? Absolutely. But what made it even cooler was knowing how much it meant to Brokaw for him to be sitting there with Zamperini and hearing it firsthand.
Noticing the sweet rapport Jolie and Zamperini share, Brokaw points it out to the actress. "Just watching the two of you, I'll bet this is not just a filmmaker's journey… for you," he observed to Jolie. "I mean, it's become really personal." Leaning in to Zamperini while holding his hands, Jolie confirms (with great sincerity), "Very personal." When Brokaw comments on the privilege of telling such an extraordinary story, Jolie exclaims, "Oh, such a huge responsibility to get it right… because I love him so much and because he's helped me so much in my life." This is one of those moments that has the power to profoundly alter your outlook on a celebrity. Whatever your preconceptions of Jolie were coming into this interview, you just can't help but think she seems like a genuinely good-hearted, nurturing person after watching her tender interactions with Zamperini.
Jolie describes to Brokaw the lengths she went to in order to get the film off the ground, calling it "the hardest thing I've ever done." Then, laughing, she paints a playful mental picture of how she marched into Universal Pictures armed with homemade aids. "I made all these boards — I took my glue and tape and pictures off the internet — and I put all my boards in a garbage bag and I carried them to Universal myself and put them out. And I pitched my butt off." It's when Brokaw asks what message Jolie hopes to convey through Unbroken, though, that we get chills. "I think for my children, and everybody in the world, I want to be able to say, 'It can seem dark and it can seem hopeless and it can seem overwhelming, but the resilience and the strength of the human spirit is an extraordinary thing.'" Can it be Christmas yet so we can go watch this movie, please?
In a twist like something straight out of a Hollywood movie, it turns out Zamperini's story was right in front of Jolie all along. From Zamperini's patio, you can literally see where Jolie lives — they had been neighbors and never even known it. "Yeah, I can show you my roof from the window," Jolie laughed. "I imagine that for the last 10-something years, he's been sitting there having a coffee in the morning and wondering, 'Who's gonna make this movie?' And I've been sitting in my room, laying there thinking, 'What am I supposed to be doing with my life? I want to do something important. I want to connect. I need some help, I need some guidance… where is it? And it was right outside my window!"
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