It is the beautiful and unlikely friendship that led Angelina Jolie to Australia.
The Oscar-winning actor has opened up about her friendship with 96-year-old Louie Zamperini, an American hero whose extraordinary story will be told in Jolie's film Unbroken.
Jolie and Zamperini met as neighbours in the Hollywood Hills and despite their near 58-year age gap have since spent many hours together, discussing his life story. Jolie says it is a real privilege to bring his story to screen.
"It will be hard to make a film worthy of this great man," Jolie said, in a statement released by Universal Pictures. "I am deeply honoured to have the chance and will do all I can to bring Louie's inspiring story to life."
Zamperini is also clearly pleased to have Jolie on board as the director of the film, which is being made in Australia. "Angelina is a human dynamo, and I know she will tell this story in the right way," Zamperini said.
It has taken more than 55 years to bring it to screen - Universal Pictures first acquired the rights to Zamperini's story in 1957. But plans for it to be a Tony Curtis film did not eventuate.
Interest in Zamperini's tale has been renewed in the States in the last three years because of the popular book by author Laura Hillenbrand, titled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.
It detailed Zamperini's life story as a US Olympic athlete in the 1930s, before he enlisted in the air force. He was one of only three survivors of a plane crash that killed eight men in 1943.
After floating on a life raft for 47 days, two of the men - including Zamperini - were found and then imprisoned by Japanese forces. (The third survivor died after a month at sea.)
But one of the more extraordinary parts of Zamperini's story was his forgiveness; he became a deeply religious man, who met with (and forgave) many of the guards who had held him captive.
Jolie said his remarkable life has changed her.
"Like all readers of Laura's book and all people who love and admire Louie, I am a fan who has learned so much. He has made me a better person," Jolie said.
Zamperini said he had been inundated with letters from readers of Hillenbrand's book but he hopes the film will create an even wider audience.
"I've received so many letters and talked to so many people who say that Laura's book has helped them when they were going through hard times," he said. "I believe the movie will reach even more people with that message."
Jolie confirmed earlier this month that she will be filming Unbroken in areas of New South Wales and Queensland, after initially travelling here (with her children in tow) to scout possible locations for the movie.
Parts of the film will be made in Sydney and north-west NSW, in the Tamworth region.
As a touching tribute to the pair's friendship, Jolie has revealed she will wear one of Zamperini's gold running pendants - a prize from his early career as an athlete - on each day of filming.
British actor Jack O'Connell, who has starred in TV hit show Skins and just completed filming 300: Rise of an Empire, has been cast as Zamperini in Jolie's film.
Unbroken has already been tentatively scheduled for release by Universal Pictures in the US in December 2014, with the Australian release date expected to be in January 2015.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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