Maddox tells PEOPLE exclusively in the magazine’s new cover story with Jolie that he pitched in on meetings, prepped for shoots and helped review dailies on the drama Jolie directed for Netflix (out Friday), based on her friend Loung Ung’s memoir about surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Maddox’s brother Pax, 13, was also part of the production and served as a set photographer.
“I was trying to help wherever I could,” says Maddox, the oldest of Jolie’s six children.
Maddox and Jolie at the premiere of First They Killed My Father in Toronto on Sept. 11.
And what did he think about working with his mom?
“[She’s] fun, funny, and easy to work with,” he says. “She’s a wonder.”
“I have had my ups and downs. I guess I am a little bit stronger,” the actress, director and philanthropist tells PEOPLE exclusively in the new cover story. “We all have our difficult times, but as a mother you also have a responsibility first and foremost towards the kids. They are going through their formative years and everything else comes second to that.”
“I haven’t worked for over a year now because they needed me home,” she adds. “We’ve all been a bit in lockdown.” But now, “I think they’re itching to get out in the world again.”
Jolie, who adopted Maddox from Cambodia in 2002, says that her son encouraged her to pursue making the film about his home country. He also studied documentaries and helped with the script.
“Mad knows himself very well and if he said he was ready, I knew he knew,” she says. “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.”
For all the details on Jolie’s new life, her emotional movie First They Killed My Father and her hopes for her kids, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Asked what he loves most about Cambodia, Maddox says, “the people by far. [They are] calm, relaxed, and when they want to do something wild, they do it — much like me in a way. I’m proud to be a Cambodian.”
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In addition to his foray into filmmaking, Maddox has been taking flying lessons and speaks multiple languages, Jolie reveals.
“He’s quite capable and always takes me by surprise,” she says proudly. “He’s been practicing flying, then they called me the other day and said, ‘So Mad can go solo,’ and I nearly dropped the phone! He’s been taking French and Russian and all these different languages. I hear him talking in full, fluent French, and they’ll tell me he’s reached a certain level in his German, and I have no idea. He doesn’t do it in front of me.”