Angelina Jolie has opened up about her life, public image and 2016 divorce from Brad Pitt in a revealing new interview in which the 42-year-old actor and director reflects on a "difficult" year for her and her six children.

"I never expect to be the one that everybody understands or likes," Jolie told The New York Times. "And that's OK, because I know who I am, and the kids know who I am. They really help me so much. We're really such a unit."

"They're the best friends I've ever had," she said of children Maddox, Pax, Shiloh, Zahara, Knox and Vivienne. "Nobody in my life has ever stood by me more. None of it's easy. It's very, very difficult, a very painful situation, and I just want my family healthy."

Speaking to People magazine, Jolie said she is a "little bit stronger" following the high-profile divorce.

"I have had my ups and downs. I guess I am a little bit stronger," she said. "We all have our difficult times, but as a mother you also have a responsibility first and foremost towards the kids. They are going through their formative years and everything else comes second to that."

Maddox, who is 16, also spoke to the magazine, saying: "[She's] fun, funny, and easy to work with. She's a wonder."

Jolie is currently on the promotional trail for new documentary film First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, about the country's brutal Khmer Rouge regime. The film was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when a Vanity Fair piece revealed casting techniques used to find the film's young star Sareum Srey Moch.

Maddox and Pax, 13, worked with their mum on the film's production, pitching ideas, review dailies and working as on-set photographers.

First They Killed My Father is Jolie's fourth feature as a director, but the star recently revealed she is set to return to acting after easing off on big roles over the past few years to focus on work behind the camera.

"I am now the breadwinner for the family so it's time," she said, confirming she'll reprise her role as Disney villain Maleficent in a sequel to the live action origin story that was a huge success in 2014.

"We have been working on the script and this is going to be a really strong sequel."