LOS ANGELES - Angelina Jolie responded to growing backlash over the casting process for her latest film, saying she was "upset" that an improvised scene during auditions had been misconstrued as taking real money away from impoverished children.
In a Vanity Fair interview published last week about her film "First They Killed My Father," Jolie described a game played by the casting directors with the young Cambodian children auditioning for the lead role of Loung Ung.
Jolie, a special envoy for the United Nations refugee agency, told Vanity Fair she looked for her lead star in orphanages, circuses and slum schools.
In the casting, a child was placed in front of money on a table, asked to think of what they needed it for and to snatch it away. Jolie would then pretend to catch them, and the child would have to lie about why they stole the money.
"I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario," Jolie, who directed the film, said in a statement on Sunday.
"The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened."
Users on social media slammed Jolie's casting game as cruel and exploiting impoverished children. Vanity Fair reporter Evgenia Peretz called the casting game "disturbing in its realism" in the profile, while Kayla Cobb at pop culture website Decider.com compared the game to a psychological thriller.
"Everyone should know better than to literally dangle money in front of impoverished children ... no movie is worth psychologically traumatising multiple children," Cobb wrote.
"First They Killed My Father" is about the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime under which more than 1 million people died. It is due to be released globally and on Netflix in September.
Jolie said the young girl who won the part, Srey Moch, was chosen after "she became overwhelmed with emotion" when forced to give the money back, saying she needed the money to pay for her grandfather's funeral.
"The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested," Rithy Panh, a Cambodian producer on the film, said in a statement. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe."