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Angelina Jolie refutes controversial audition claims in Cambodia

Angelina Jolie at a news conference in Siem

Angelina Jolie at a news conference in Siem Reap province in Cambodia on Feb. 18, 2017. Photo Credit: EPA / Mak Remissa

Angelina Jolie is refuting claims by some on social media that she subjected auditioning children to a cruel game while casting her upcoming Khmer Rouge drama “First They Killed My Father.”

In the new issue’s interview with the actress and filmmaker, Vanity Fair described how casting directors “set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism,” in which children had to improvise stealing money from a table and devising a lie when caught. A number of Twitter commenters retweeted a post by Kay Burley of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News, alleging Jolie had been “tempting deprived kids with cash and then snatching it away.” British talk-show host Piers Morgan, one of the retweeters, wrote, “What? This is appalling.”

Jolie, 42, who directed and co-wrote the movie with Loung Ung, on whose memoir it is based, responded in a statement Saturday to HuffingtonPost.com. “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.”

She added, “Every measure was taken to ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of the children on the film starting from the auditions through production to the present. Parents, guardians, partner NGOs whose job it is to care for children, and medical doctors were always on hand everyday, to ensure everyone had all they needed. And above all to make sure that no one was in any way hurt by participating in the recreation of such a painful part of their country's history.”

The movie’s producer, Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, told the site in a separate statement that, “Ahead of the screen tests, the casting crew showed the children the camera and the sound recording material. It explained to them that they were going to be asked to act out a part: to pretend to steal petty cash or a piece of food left unattended and then get caught in the act. . . . The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe.”

Some on Twitter did understand that casting directors sometimes use improvisation during auditions. One called the passage in the Vanity Fair article “poorly worded,” while another said, “The kids were forced to improvise to showcase their acting. they didn’t really try to steal the money. am i wrong?“

The period drama, shot in Cambodia with the cooperation of the government and largely Cambodian cast and crew, is scheduled to premiere on Netflix.

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