Jolie came under fire when it was revealed that she allegedly cast the young lead in her film after playing a game that involved the directors giving impoverished Cambodian children money, then taking it away as part of an acting exercise. Critics slammed the process in which casting directors would, as described in the magazine, “put money on the table and asked the child to think of something she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away,” as “deliberate emotional abuse” and “exploitative.”
Jolie refuted the excerpt, saying her statements about the scene had been misconstrued, as it was “a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film.” Jolie also stressed that she was “upset” by the allegations.
“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,” she said. “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.”
According to Vanity Fair, Jolie’s lawyer contacted the magazine and said that contributing editor Evgenia Peretz, the author of the piece, had “mistakenly” reported the incident. The attorney asked for the below statement to be published and for the original paragraph to be removed from the online article.
“The casting crew showed the children the camera and sound recording material, explaining to them that they were going to be asked to act out a part. … The children were not tricked as some have suggested. … All of the children auditioning were made aware of the fictional aspect of the exercise and were tended to at all times by relatives or guardians from NGOs. … We apologize for any misunderstanding.”
Vanity Fair said it reviewed the transcript and audio of the interview and “stands by Peretz’s story as published.”
The publication also released the interview transcript.
AJ: But it was very hard to find a little Loung. And so it was what they call a slum school. I don’t think that’s a very nice word for it, but a school for kids in very poor areas.
And I think, I mean they didn’t know. We just went in and—you just go in and do some auditions with the kids. And it’s not really an audition with children. We had this game where it would be—and I wasn’t there and they didn’t know what they were really doing. They kind of said, “Oh, a camera’s coming up and we want to play a game with you.” And the game for that character was “We’re going to put some money on the table. Think of something that you need that money for.” Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was a cookie. [Laughter] “And then take it.” And then we would catch them. “We’re going to catch you, and we’d like you to try to lie that you didn’t have it.”
So it was very interesting seeing the kids and how they would—some were very conscious of the camera. They were actually—there are so many talented kids in this country. But Srey Moch was the only child that stared at that money for a very, very long time before she picked it up, and then bravely, brazenly lying, like was trying to hide, but then she also kind of—
EP: Wait. This is the girl, Loung.
AJ: This is the girl. And then when she was forced to give it back became very kind of like strong, emotional, she became overwhelmed with emotion that she was—and she just—all of these different things flooded out. And I don’t think she or her family would mind me saying when she was later asked what that money was for, she said her grandfather died and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.