November 18, 2015 11:00 AM

For Angelina Jolie Pitt, going bare in front of the camera wasn’t an easy decision. In her latest movie By the Sea, which she wrote and directed, she appears topless in a couple scenes.

Jolie-Pitt, 41, penned the 1970s France set drama about a marriage in crisis shortly after her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died from ovarian cancer in 2007. “I wrote it wanting to come to terms with my mother’s death,” Jolie Pitt tells PEOPLE.

The actress-director never intended anyone to see the movie, which she ended up starring in opposite her husband Brad Pitt.

“It did cross my mind to cut certain things. But I felt that was the wrong thing to do,” Jolie Pitt says. “That’s hiding something, and I don’t believe in that.”

David Beckham is PEOPLE's 2015 Sexiest Man Alive

For much more from PEOPLE’s interview with Angelina Jolie Pitt, pick up the new issue, on newsstands Friday.

In 2013, Jolie Pitt had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried the BRAC1 gene that increases the risk of cancer. Then, during post-production on the movie, she received more bad news.

“During the edit I got the call that I might have cancer and had to have my ovaries removed,” she says. She opened up about having the preventive surgery in a New York Times op-ed published in March.

Through this vulnerable experience, she says she learned more about herself. “It ended in a way where I understand myself and connect to other women and life and the cycles of life in a way I wasn’t expecting.”

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