Brad Pitt Fills in for Angelina Jolie at 'Unbroken' Premiere

AP Images/Invision
'Unbroken' actors (L to R): Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney

Families of the late Louis Zamperini and chicken pox-addled Jolie took their places and paid tribute on the red carpet

With the USC Marching Band playing the school’s fight song in background, it was a never-ending parade of actors, Olympians and armed forces veterans on the red carpet of Monday’s Unbroken premiere at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. However, amongst the swarms and cavalcades of people, it was the absences that weighed most heavily over the night.

Home sick with an unfortunate bout of the chicken pox, director Angelina Jolie was noticeably missing from the proceedings, with husband Brad Pitt representing the Jolie-Pitt clan in her stead. Though she was able to send along her heartfelt remarks at the movie's screening, the illness marked a final unlucky button on a week that saw her badmouthed in leaked Sony emails and shut out of the Golden Globe nominations.

See more Inside THR's Director Roundtable With Angelina Jolie, Christopher Nolan

However, perhaps even more notable was the other absence, one that unfortunately could not be overcome. This absence was that of the man of the hour, Louis Zamperini, upon whose life the movie is based. Unfortunately, Louis, who used to sign "Be hardy" next to his name, passed away in July at the age of 97

"Well, I sort of fantasized about the idea of doing this red carpet with [Louis], and I remember being motivated by that every day," Jack O’ Connell, who portrayed Zamperini in the film, told The Hollywood Reporter. "But I guess [having Zamperini see the film was] partly sort of the pressure that comes with presenting somebody with their life story, with me as the actor designated to portray that, an extraordinary man as well […] I had my sights set on being here with Louis one day."

O’Connell, sporting a sleek three-piece suit, complete with a Jolie-gifted pocketwatch inscribed with "Bombs Away," was joined on the carpet by co-stars Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Miyavi, and Jai Courtney, as well as members of the Zamperini family.

Read more Angelina Jolie Chokes Up Thanking Family of Late 'Unbroken' Subject During Promo Tour

The movie, based on the best-selling Laura Hillenbrand novel of the same name, follows the incredible true story of Torrance-native and USC track star Zamperini, an Olympic athlete turned Japanese POW during WWII's Pacific Campaign. The biopic traces the incredible survivor's journey, from a troublemaking childhood and track stardom to enduring more than a month stranded at sea and suffering cruel torture at the hands of one of Japan's most notorious war criminals.

To depict the scenes at the POW camps and those while stranded at sea, the actors had to adhere to strict 700-calorie diets, emaciating their frames and dropping significant weight.

For Hedlund, the weight loss was just a small sacrifice compared to the real thing. "Most of these people lost half their body weight, and most of them lost their lives," he said. "Losing 30 pounds is really nothing."

Of course, that doesn't mean that the deprivation and preparation was easy. Wittrock remembers filming a particularly triumphant scene: "When we ate the shark liver, it was prosciutto, a big piece of prosciutto and we were actually starving at that time — that was the emaciation part — and nothing tasted that good ever."

See more Angelina Jolie's Best Red-Carpet Looks So Far

Louis' journey is a fantastic and unbelievable true story, and one that has taken more than 57 years to finally make it to the big screen.

On finally getting the story on the big screen, producer Matthew Baer explains, "It was really two things [that got it made] which was, No. 1, we really needed to have the right filmmaker because the canvas of Lou's story is so massive, and No. 2, we caught an amazing break with Laura Hillenbrand having written Unbroken." Baer, who has been with the project for more than a decade added, "Angelina just had a very clear vision of how she wanted to tell the story, and it was evident from the first phone call we had."

For the Zamperini family, there was nothing but gratitude for Jolie and her finished project. "To see it on the big screen, to see Jack playing our dad, and doing such a great job at it, and to see just the spectacular production, I think Angelina did such a fantastic job," praised Louis' son Luke Zamperini. His sister Cynthia augmented the praise, saying, "Words can’t really express, and we're grateful and happy for [our father]." 

Unbroken hits theaters nationwide Dec. 25.

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