Angelina Jolie: 'Unbroken' Inspiration 'Right Outside My Window' (Video)
The World War II hero and the director of the film based on his life story were unknown neighbors before Jolie started working on the movie.
When Angelina Jolie was preparing to direct her upcoming movie Unbroken, she was searching for something significant to helm, but she didn't know that her subject was one of her neighbors.
"I wanted to direct something again, but I wasn't sure what, and it had to be something that I loved and cared about because it takes much more time away from your family and much more effort than acting," Jolie explained to NBC News' Tom Brokaw of her search in an interview that aired on Tuesday's Today.
VIDEO: Angelina Jolie's 'Unbroken' Preview Airs During Olympics
After she discovered the story of Olympian and World War II hero Louis Zamperini, the focus of the film, she went to great lengths to get a green light from Universal.
"This has been the hardest thing I've ever done," Jolie explained. "I made hours and hours of phone calls and made all these boards. I took my glue and tape and pictures off the Internet, and I put all my boards in a garbage bag and I carried them to Universal myself and I put 'em out and I pitched my butt off."
She then wanted to meet Zamperini and was told that he knew where she lived.
Indeed, the two were neighbors, with Zamperini able to see Jolie's house from his patio.
PHOTO: Angelina Jolie Poses With 'Unbroken' Inspiration Louis Zamperini
"I imagine that for the last 10-something years, he's been sitting there having a coffee in the morning and wondering, 'Who's going to make this movie?' " Jolie said. "And I've been sitting in my room, lying there thinking, 'What am I supposed to be doing with my life? I want to do something important. I want to connect. I need some help, some guidance. Where is it?' And it was right outside my window!"
Jolie sat down with Brokaw and Zamperini for an interview at the 97-year-old's home.
There, Zamperini, who first rose to prominence in 1936 during Hitler's Berlin Olympics, told Brokaw about meeting the Nazi leader.
When asked what Hitler said to him after his dramatic finish in a 1500-meter race, Zamperini said, "All that he said was 'the boy with the fast finish,' and I couldn't really shake hands — he was up pretty high — so I just reached up and touched his hand."
Zamperini later fought in World War II, when his plane was shot down. He and two other crewmen survived in a raft for 47 days only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a POW camp, where he was subjected to barbaric war crimes and left for dead. His phenomenal life story was later told in the best-selling book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.
Jolie's movie version of Unbroken — starring Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson and Garrett Hedlund, among others — is slated to hit theaters on Christmas Day. The film previously received a Brokaw-narrated preview during the Olympics.
The actress said she feels an incredible commitment to getting Zamperini's story right.
"[I have] such a huge responsibility to get it right because I love him so much and because he's helped me so much in my life," Jolie said on Today.
Watch Jolie and Zamperini's full Today interview below.