"I've drawn on this as inspiration, and will continue to as I journey through life and the twists and turns that come my way," the star tells PEOPLE

By Jacqueline Andriakos
Updated April 01, 2015 04:20 PM
Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty

Angelina Jolie‘s endeavor of bringing to life the World War II drama Unbroken resulted in much more than adding another directing credit to her lengthy professional résumé.

The Oscar-winning actress, 39, spoke with PEOPLE about the lessons she walked away with after working on the Louis Zamperini biopic that have helped her face personal challenges during the past few months.

“What has changed the most in my life from knowing and loving such a man as Louie is realizing the strength we possess as individuals,” Jolie says, adding that she feels “lucky” to have been able to capture raw interviews with the real-life Zamperini, who died last year.

Unbroken, which was released on DVD March 24, tells the story of the famous Olympic runner and Army veteran who was captured by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in the early 1940s. The war survivor was a man of faith, Jolie explains, which helped her become more mindful of her own spirituality.

“[He] has strengthened my beliefs and taught me to focus on what is important,” she says of the hero.

“I’ve drawn on this as inspiration and will continue to as I journey through life and the twists and turns that come my way,” the Mr. and Mrs. Smith actress says of the film.

And life has confronted her with recent twists and turns, including a health scare that motivated her to undergo surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The mother of six penned a revealing personal essay for The New York Times, in which she explained her decision to choose the surgical method to prevent possible cancer in the future, which occurred for so many of her relatives due to a genetic mutation in her family’s history.

Jolie wrote in the piece that she did not want her children to grow up and have to say that their mother died of cancer. Instead, she took action by following her 2013 double mastectomy with the second major operation.

“When there is an obstacle, you have to rise to the challenge, not be overwhelmed by it,” she told PEOPLE in December.

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