The globe-trotting actress discusses her new mission as the writer-director of a tragic love story set in the former Yugoslavia

In the Land of Blood and Honey marks your first time writing and directing. What daunted you most about the project?
When you’re an actor, you do think about the overall [picture], but you focus on one perspective. You are one character. So when you write something, it’s like you’re an actor playing all different parts. So you have to keep pushing your personality and write from different angles. You have to be the antagonist — and then you switch. I’ve always said other people’s words in my life. I had never written anything. So to sit down and put words on paper was terrifying, because it’s so personal. I found that much more difficult.

You’ve visited many war-torn regions as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. What drew you to write this story about civil war in the former Yugoslavia?
I get very frustrated with lack of intervention in the world. I’ve spent the last 10 years with a lot of people who have come out of these wars, and these wars go on for so long that it changes the society. So I was interested in this question of why we let certain crises go on for so long without proper intervention. I started to study the situation, learn about the history of a country that I felt I should educate myself on. And in the process, I put myself in a story saying, ”What would I do? What would my friends do?”

Did you find your own character coming through then?
I think it’s one of those things that a therapist could tell me that I don’t yet know. [Laughs] I will say this: The thing that everybody says is the worst thing that happens in the film is my personal worst nightmare. I can’t say more. But maybe that’s my character.

The movie is set in the Balkans, which is a name from the Turkish words bal and kan, which mean ”blood” and ”honey.” It’s an unusual title, but when you know that, it seems like such a natural fit for a bittersweet story about love in the midst of war.
That’s right. It was actually the earliest suggestion, which I think is interesting. Then you shy away from it, and you try to find all these other titles. It did seem like there was no title that fit it better.

You made two versions of the film, shooting separately in English and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian. Why?
I personally like stories being told and lived as they actually were. At the same time, I know many people don’t go out of their way to see films if they’re subtitled. I wanted to make it as accessible as possible for people.