Angelina Jolie with Unbroken Hero Louis Zamperini: PHOTO

10/10/2013 at 01:30 PM EDT

Angelina Jolie with Unbroken Hero Louis Zamperini: PHOTO
Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini
Universal Pictures
Angelina Jolie met Louis Zamperini, the 96-year-old former Olympic runner and World War II prisoner of war, last winter when she signed on to direct Unbroken, based on Zamperini's life.

The pair became fast friends.

"Angelina is a human dynamo, and I know she will tell this story in the right way," said Zamperini, a bombardier who survived 47 days adrift in a lifeboat after a plane crash – only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese. Author Laura Hillenbrand's biography, Unbroken, became a bestseller in 2010.

For inspiration, Zamperini bestowed Jolie a gold pendant in the shape of a running shoe – a prize from his running days – which she plans to wear during filming, which kicks off later this month.

Jolie says she only hopes the movie does him justice.

"Like all readers of Laura's book and all people who love and admire Louis, I am a fan," she said. "It will be hard to make a film worthy of this great man. I am deeply honored to have the chance."

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