When PEOPLE asked the mother of six what she learned from Zamperini, the World War II hero who’s the inspiration for her film Unbroken, she had an answer ready.
“When there is an obstacle, you have to rise to the challenge, not be overwhelmed by it,” she replied. “And we’re not alone in the world.”
Jolie added: “I don’t know if there’s a name for that – religion or faith – just that there’s something greater than all of us, and it’s uniting and beautiful.”
Zamperini became close friends with Jolie while they worked on the film together.
“Angelina is a human dynamo,” said the war hero, who was 97 when he died earlier this year.
“It is a loss impossible to describe,” Jolie said in a statement at the time of his death. “We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly.”
Unbroken exceeded box office expectations in its first weekend of release, earning $46.05 million over four days.
• Reporting by MARY GREEN