Angelina Jolie has a connection to Cambodia that runs deep thanks to one of her star-making roles.
Jolie first fell in love with the sovereign state while filming her role as video game icon Lara Croft in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The following year, the Oscar winner returned to adopt her first child, Maddox.
Fast forward to 17 years later, Jolie, 41, has introduced the rest of her brood to the Southeast Asian country nestled between Vietnam and Thailand through her Netflix project, First They Killed My Father, which is set in Cambodia.
Jolie credited Maddox for encouraging her to make a film about his home country.
“He goes back and forth [to Cambodia] a lot, but this would be over four months of just being in the country, really reading, listening, learning and absorbing all things about his culture and country [including] the very, very dark parts,” she previously told PEOPLE.
Jolie first found Cambodia still recovering from the genocide inflicted by the Khmer Rouge regime, which led to the deaths of nearly a quarter of the population from 1975 to 1979. The group was active until 1999, and the war tribunals started in 2009 are ongoing. Based on Cambodia human rights activist Luong Ung’s memoir, First They Killed My Father documents her experience as a young girl under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge.
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Despite the terror endured by average Cambodians, Jolie told Vanity Fair last July of her first visit, “I found a people who were so kind and warm and open, and, yes, very complex. You drive around here you can see a lot of people with many things, but not often expressing happiness. You go there, and you see the families come out with their blanket and their picnic to watch a sunset.”
The Netflix movie, directed by Jolie and nominated for a Golden Globe, was shot on location with Maddox, 15, and Pax, 13, working on the production and their siblings — Zahara, 11, Shiloh, 10, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 8 — joining the family during filming.
It was an especially personal shoot for Maddox as he helped research the devastation inflicted on Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge communist party in the 1970s that killed nearly 2 million people in a population of 7 million.
Maddox previously told PEOPLE that he pitched in on meetings for the film, prepped for shoots and helped review dailies.
“I was trying to help wherever I could,” said Maddox, the oldest of Jolie’s six children.
Asked about working with his mother, he said, “[She’s] fun, funny, and easy to work with. She’s a wonder.”
Shortly before its release last October, the actress expressed hope that by shedding light on the genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge communist party’s regime, the Cambodian people will take pride in what they survived instead of feeling hatred or resentment for what the country endured in the late 1970s.
“I hope this doesn’t bring up hatred. I hope this doesn’t bring up blame,” Jolie told the BBC. “I hope the people of this country are proud when they see it, because they see what they’ve survived.”
Tomb Raider — now starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft — opens in theaters Friday.