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Jolie didn't plan to star in new film

“I guess I never really thought it was all gonna come together,” the actress told TODAY's Ann Curry of "A Mighty Heart."  The film, in which Jolie's performance has been  praised by critics, opens Friday.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

When Angelina Jolie met Mariane Pearl, she thought they would have a great friendship. But Jolie never thought she would play Pearl on screen.

They had been introduced to each other some three years before the movie “A Mighty Heart,” which opens Friday, was made, Jolie told TODAY's Ann Curry. Even when Jolie's companion, Brad Pitt, purchased the rights to it from Pearl, Jolie didn't think it would result in a film.

“I guess I never really thought it was all gonna come together,” Jolie said. “I thought I'd met this woman and we were gonna become great friends and now even closer friends 'cause we have something we're all talking about and Brad's bought this book.”

Pearl had written “A Mighty Heart” after her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and beheaded by al-Qaida terrorists in 2002 while on assignment in Pakistan. The book recounts the kidnapping and the two desperate weeks when Pearl was missing and she and a multinational team were trying to win his release.

Mariane Pearl, a radio reporter for a French media outlet, was six months pregnant at the time.

Pitt and Jolie thought it was a great story, but were afraid that unless it had the right director, it could easily be trivialized.

“It was, 'Who could possibly direct this without making it a melodrama?'” Jolie said during the interview, which was conducted last month when the film was first shown out of competition at Cannes.  “It could have just been so many different things where somebody took one angle and tried to milk it, to make it emotional in that way as opposed to just saying this is an extraordinary story.”

Finally, Pitt, who is the film's producer, enlisted director Michael Winterbottom, whose credits include “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “In This World” and “The Road to Guantanamo,” all films made in the straightforward style of documentaries.

Pitt, Jolie and Pearl all felt that style was best for a film about two journalists who tried to tell stories as honestly as possible, without injecting their opinions into them.

Dan Futterman plays Daniel Pearl and Jolie plays Mariane in a performance that has drawn impressive reviews.

The real Mariane
When the film debuted at Cannes, Jolie had talked about losing her mother to cancer, but refused to compare her loss to Mariane's. And the paparazzi she has to deal with are also different from the squads of media who chronicled Mariane's efforts to find and free her husband.

“I don't know what it's like to have lost my husband and somebody do that to me,” Jolie said then. “It's very different ... I just haven't gone through what she's been through. And so I just think being stopped by paparazzi is one thing. Having cameras in your face when your husband is kidnapped or he has lost his life is something that is totally different and can never be compared.”
When it was clear the movie was going to be made, Mariane personally asked Jolie to portray her. They had met on what Jolie called “a play date like three years before,” but had never really gotten together since.

“We kind of kept sending word back and forth,” she told Curry. “But we both hate a phone. And we both take a really long time to respond to the other. And we never got in the same place at the same time.”

They have since spent a great deal of time together while they were filming on location in Karachi.

Mariane chose not to hate those who brutally murdered her husband. Her book is not about conflict but about the people — Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews — who came together to help her.

“It is about so many things,” she said. “And I think many people will see this and hopefully ... will be moved in different ways and be drawn to different aspects of this story.

“This is not Muslims against Christians,” Curry interjected. “It's not about that. It's the complications are that there are similarities no matter what faith, what country you're from.”

“And there's something beautiful in a film that you would think is about this difference of faith is actually very much focused on the people — from Buddhism to Christianity, Judaism, Muslim — all in the same house, becoming great friends and becoming each other's greatest support,” Jolie said.

“Acknowledge that we are very different. And at the end of the day, we can see the beauty in that, and we can work together. And that was happening while they were looking for Danny,” she continued. “It's not this big specific message; it's not preachy. It's just something to be aware of.”