A Vanity Fair interview with Angelina Jolie made headlines last week for a range of items, including the revelation she'd developed Bell's palsy last year. But one nugget in particular caught people's attention: how she allegedly cast kids for her new Netflix movie, First They Killed My Father, based on the story of Loung Ung, a Cambodia-born activist who lived under Pol Pot's regime. Vanity Fair described the casting process as a game "rather disturbing in its realism," in which Cambodian kids were asked to snatch money off a table (after thinking of something they needed it for), then asked to create a lie about why they'd needed the money after being "captured." The actress eventually tapped to play Ung reportedly became "overwhelmed with emotion" during her own audition, noting she'd been thinking of her grandfather's death and her family's inability to pay for his funeral.
All of which had people railing against Jolie for her "emotionally abusive and cruel" casting methods, per the BBC. But Jolie says, via a statement to Variety, that the audition was simply an improv exercise based on a scene from the film and that real money wasn't used. "I am upset," she says, adding: "I would be outraged myself if this had happened," referring to the "false and upsetting" prospect of real cash being ripped away from kids. She also notes "every measure was taken to ensure the safety, comfort, and well-being of the children on the film" and to "make sure that no one was in any way hurt by participating in the re-creation of such a painful part of their country's history." Producer Rithy Panh also issued his own statement, noting that guardians, tutors, doctors, and therapists were all on the set to help kids along during the filmmaking process.