By Devan Coggan
April 06, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Angelina Jolie is blazing a trail.

EW has an exclusive first look at Taylor Sheridan's Those Who Wish Me Dead, starring Jolie as an elite firefighter trapped between man and Mother Nature. The Oscar-nominated Sheridan has built a career on tense, Western-inspired thrillers — both as a writer (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and director (Wind River) — and he continues that streak with this fiery new survival drama set in the smoky Montana wilderness.

"He has a unique voice when it comes to characters within America, which had not been a prior focus of my work," Jolie tells EW. "I wanted to be in this world with him."

Those Who Wish Me Dead
Angelina Jolie in 'Those Who Wish Me Dead'
| Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Based on Michael Koryta's 2014 novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Jolie as the smoke jumper Hannah — one of the expert firefighters trained to parachute into a blaze. Stationed at an isolated fire tower, she's still reeling from a past failed mission when she encounters 12-year-old Connor (Australian actor Finn Little). The traumatized preteen is on the run, stalked by two assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen), and together, Hannah and Connor have to outrun both their hunters and the wildfire raging around them.

The 45-year-old Jolie is no stranger to action-packed epics, having starred in films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Salt. But Those Who Wish Me Dead presented a new, more down-to-earth challenge, and she found herself drawn to the troubled Hannah, who vows to help Connor but is also hiding secrets of her own. "I've done action in fantasy," she explains. "This was different because it was real."

Those Who Wish Me Dead
Finn Little and Angelina Jolie in 'Those Who Wish Me Dead'
| Credit: Emerson Miller/Warner Bros.

Still, Those Who Wish Me Dead's fiery setting required more than a few complicated stunts: For one sequence, the production team constructed a giant woodland set, which was carefully set ablaze. "[Sheridan] must've spent this huge amount of money on this fake forest," Little, 14, says with a laugh. "It was like, you built this massive thing just to burn it down!"

Real firefighters were also on set to help monitor the wildfire scenes, and Jolie met with several of them for insight into the hazards of smoke jumping.

"The first day we were in the fire, [I noticed] the heat and how quickly the winds would change and how quickly the fire would suddenly take to a tree that you weren't expecting," she says. "Our respect just grew day after day for these people on the front lines and how difficult this work is."

Those Who Wish Me Dead also stars Jon Bernthal, Tyler Perry, Medina Senghore, and Jake Weber, and will hit theaters and HBO Max on May 14.

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