It prompted her to contact the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to learn about the agency’s work before joining as a goodwill ambassador in 2001. She was then given an expanded role as Special Envoy in 2012.
It was during an early trip back to Cambodia with the U.N. that Jolie had another epiphany — this time about motherhood.
“It’s strange, I never wanted to have a baby. I never wanted to be pregnant. I never babysat. I never thought of myself as a mother,” Jolie, now famously a mother of six, says with a laugh. But while playing with children at a Cambodian school, “it was suddenly very clear to me that my son was in the country, somewhere.”
She adopted Maddox in 2002, and a year later opened a foundation in his name in northwestern Battambang province, which helps fund health care, education and conservation projects in rural Cambodia.
Her fondness for Cambodia is mutual, says the country’s most celebrated filmmaker Rithy Panh, who says “First They Killed My Father” will be the first Hollywood epic filmed in Cambodia about the country’s genocide — a sign that the government trusts her to respectfully revisit the horrors of the past.
“I don’t think they authorized Hollywood to come here. They authorized Angelina Jolie. It’s not the same. She is special. She has a special relationship with the Cambodian people. There is a mutual respect,” said Panh, her co-producer.
She expects to return to hold the film’s premiere in Cambodia at the end of the year, before its release on Netflix.