Angelina Jolie may not have been able to make the L.A. premiere of “Unbroken” at the Dolby Theatre Monday, but the family was well-represented in her absence by Brad Pitt, his parents and three of the couple’s children: Maddox, Pax and Shiloh.
The Jolie-Pitt clan had a hard time stealing the spotlight, though, as that honor belonged to the nearly two dozen World War II veterans attending to support the film honoring the life of former Olympian and P.O.W. Louis “Louie” Zamperini, including two veterans who were interned in Zamperini’s prison camp. Also in attendance were Zamperini’s two children, Cynthia Garris and Luke Zamperini, who said there could be no greater way to honor their father’s life than with this film, which is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 biography of the same name.
“We’re so, so happy. We’re so proud of father and we’re so grateful to Angelina and the people at Universal. They’ve made our dreams come true and an old soldier’s dreams come true,” Garris said.
“It could only be better if he was here to enjoy it with us,” Luke Zamperini added.
Louie died July 2 of this year, but his children said he had the chance to see the film and enjoyed it, though it brought out a touch of film critic in him.
“In the hospital, before he went into intensive care, [Jolie] came over with her laptop and showed him [the film], and he liked it,” Luke said. “He gave her a little critique here and there, and she was explaining herself as she went through, but he liked it.”
Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini in the film, and said he understood the daunting challenge ahead of him when he landed the role, which required him to play everything from Olympic track star (he finished eighth in the 5,000 meter race at the 1936 games) to plane crash survivor (he and a fellow soldier survived 47 days in a raft in the Pacific Ocean before Japanese soldiers rescued/captured them) to ultimately a starved and beaten prisoner of war.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of incapability, but I guess sometimes that’s part of the fun,” O’Connell said. “I guess that comes with the challenge, and I’m 23, I don’t want to turn my nose up at challenges just yet. I just got busy preparing, you have to understand the task itself is mountainous but there are things you can do to make the whole thing more manageable.”
O’Connell, sporting a gold pocket watch – a gift from Jolie – with the inscription “Bombs Away,” said that meeting Zamperini was crucial to understanding the spirit of a character who survived two and a half years of endlessly trying ordeals. He said he was impressed with just how nice of a guy Zamperini was.
“He was easy-going, and very warm,” O’Connell said. “You felt very comfortable in his presence, very soothed. And unassuming, he didn’t regard himself as superhuman or anything like that. Then you project the heroism on him, because he was so normal in the way that he carried himself. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by that. I lost track of what he was saying just because I was in awe of the man.”
Before the film, producer Matthew Baer introduced the attending veterans as well as Zamperini’s children and grandchildren to the crowd, rousing a standing ovation, and Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley read a heartfelt note from Jolie, who said she was trying to take a page from Louie’s book and make the best of the situation.
After the premiere, the party moved upstairs to the Ray Dolby ballroom, with cast and crew as well as the Wings Over Wendy’s veterans, seated in the heart of the party, enjoying food, drinks and music.
“Unbroken,” from Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures, opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 25.
(Pictured: Brad Pitt with the Zamperini family and guests at the “Unbroken” premiere)