“I was trying to help wherever I could,” Maddox tells PEOPLE of his role on the film.
What was it like to work alongside his famous mama?
“[She’s] fun, funny, and easy to work with,” he says. “She’s a wonder.”
The Academy Award-winning actress, who adopted Maddox from Cambodia in 2002, says her son fully supported the film about his home country. As well, the teen studied documentaries and helped with the script.
“Mad knows himself very well and if he said he was ready, I knew he knew,” the mom-of-six, 42, 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.”
When 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.”
Along with filmmaking, Maddox has been taking flying lessons and speaks multiple languages.
“He’s quite capable and always takes me by surprise,” gushes the proud mom. “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.”
First They Killed My Father is an adaptation of the Khmer Rouge memoir written by survivor Loung Ung that recounts the 1970s Cambodian genocide from a child’s perspective. The regime killed up to two million Cambodians between 1975-79 through execution, starvation and overwork.
On Monday, the actress-director attended the premiere of First They Killed My Father at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival with all six of her children — including Pax, 13, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, 11, and 9-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.