A Vanity Fair cover story about Angelina Jolie’s post-divorce life and new film resulted in controversy for the actress and the publication. Specifically, there was a passage in the profile, which was written by VF contributing editor Evgenia Peretz, that appeared to describe an unusual and uncomfortable audition process for child actors in Jolie’s First They Killed My Father. The project is an adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir about the Khmer Rouge genocide, which is weighty stuff for any actor to deal with, let alone a child. Jolie described the process of finding someone to play a young Ung, which she first referred to as a “game” involving asking the kids to pretend to steal money, then lie when they got caught.
The idea of putting impoverished kids through that, even as a hypothetical, hasn’t sat well with many readers. Jolie and her crew have been criticized for this weirder-than-usual improv, so her lawyers issued a statement in an effort to clarify that they weren’t just messing with these kids’ heads at any point. Vanity Fair was on the receiving end of a separate statement, as well as a request to run a retraction in its October issue. Additionally, Jolie’s lawyers asked the publication to remove that paragraph from the original article. VF has just responded to the request with its own receipts, if you will, publishing an excerpt from the interview (which Peretz recorded on two audio devices) 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.
While Jolie’s remarks were condensed a bit, the article doesn’t appear to have distorted their meaning. Her description reads as if the kids didn’t understand that the “stealing game” was part of the audition: “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.” Vanity Fair concludes this parry by stating it’s standing by the story and author. Jolie has yet to issue follow-up statement.