It seemed like a good idea at first: the newly-married Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt thought they would combine filming By the Sea on location in Malta with their honeymoon. But it didn’t work out quite as they had planned.
“There were a few days when we thought [a working honeymoon] wasn’t the best idea,” laughs Jolie, who wrote, directed, produced and co-starred with Pitt in the low-budget domestic drama.
“There were days during filming last year when we were really worried and it was hard.
“If we had married and were just starting a relationship it would have been a disaster, but because we have been together so long we wanted to see how far we could push our relationship and our love and see if we can work together under very intense circumstances and with very complex issues and see if it would make us better.
“But at the end we came out of it thinking, ‘This was the best honeymoon’ because the film says, ‘Whatever you go through, weather the storm and stick together’.
“So it was kind of a message to each other that we are going to stick together whatever comes.”
Inspired by European art films of the Sixties and Seventies like Jules et Jim and Breathless, By the Sea tells the story of Jolie’s Vanessa, a depressed former dancer and her heavy-drinking novelist husband (Pitt) who arrive in a seaside town in Seventies France with their marriage in crisis.
As they meet fellow travellers and local residents they begin to examine their problems and come to terms with unresolved issues in their lives.
“I want people to walk away with different things from this film,” says Jolie. “Audiences will interpret it in a hundred different ways and it’s intended to be like that.”
She insists the story is in no way autobiographical – for years, tabloid newspapers and magazines ran reports claiming the couple were on the verge of splitting up, right up until the point they tied the knot at their château in the south of France last August.
“Brad and I have our issues, but if the characters were even remotely close to our problems we couldn’t have made the film. To be clear: we have fights and problems like any other couple. We have days when we drive each other absolutely mad and want space, but the problems in the movie aren’t our specific problems.”
It is Jolie’s third directorial effort (after In the Land of Blood and Honey and Unbroken) and is the first time she and Pitt have worked together since the 2005 action-comedy Mr and Mrs Smith, the movie on which they met (while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston).
“When we first worked together it was very different because we didn’t really know each other and we were young and, it was really a fun film, so we thought, maybe By the Sea was going to be that kind of fun, but realised very quickly that it wasn’t,” she said.
“Then we joked that this is what happens after 10 years of marriage.”
Directing her husband, who has a considerable amount of French dialogue in the film, was not always easy and they had to make a pact with each other.
“Our first few days were quite tricky because no matter what I say, he knows me so well and knows every little gesture when I get impatient, or when I am not really happy,” she said.
“I was nervous about not being able to have the right direction for him, to see him stuck and not being able to push him.
“These were very sensitive themes and I know Brad’s triggers and what he can do and what he is thinking about so I had to step away and just be very careful in how he was directed.
“The strangest things were the scenes when we were fighting and it was so weird trying to tell him to fight with me better.
“In the bathtub scene, being naked in a bath trying to direct the camera crew with my husband outside the room through a microphone was just weird.”
Because they have a home in France and spend much of their time there, Pitt, she said, wanted to really learn French.
“So I figured I was going to write a bunch of scenes in French and I was going to force him. So he had a lot of studying to do.”
Jolie is outgoing and surprisingly candid about her private life. Two years ago she caused a worldwide stir by announcing she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy after learning she had an 87pc risk of developing breast cancer.
Her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, had breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56, while her grandmother had ovarian cancer and died aged 45.
“I turned 40 this year and I am so happy,” she said. “Most women in my family start to get sick and start dying in their 40s and I am going to be very happy to become 50 and 60. I love getting older.”
Their six children were with them in Malta while they were filming By the Sea and three of them – Maddox (14), Pax (11) and Shiloh (9) – are currently working with her on her next project, the Cambodia-set First they Killed my Father: a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.
“Maddox is working with me in production. Pax is going through the photography and Shiloh is sketching the sets. It has to be with family and they have to be a part of it now.”
The Cambodian film serves as a history lesson about Maddox’s birthplace, she says (Jolie adopted Maddox in 2002).
“I’m now doing films that really matter to me and I can really enjoy with my children. If something inconveniences my children too much, or takes me away from them, I won’t do it.
“When I was younger I was questioning everything but now it’s less about that and more about these are the years of my life with my family.”
By the Sea is the first, and could be the last, time she has directed herself in a movie.
“I love directing and I would love to be allowed to do more films and I hope I’m a good enough director to keep getting jobs. Most of my films are based on a history that’s important to me.
“I don’t have the same connection with By the Sea although it’s important because humanity in life is important. But I think I am more comfortable making war films, to be honest.”
She pauses for a moment, then says: “Not that marriage can’t be a little bit like that.”