There are few women who command as much of a presence on screen or in Hollywood as Angelina Jolie, one of the primary female forces venturing into the action territory once dominated by men. There’s no better proof of this statement than her new movie Salt, the conspiracy action thriller that reunites the actress with director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games).
Originally called “Edwin A. Salt,” it was meant to be about a male CIA agent who gets caught up in a conspiracy involving Russian sleepers agents. In fact, Tom Cruise had been attached for many years, and after he dropped out to make Knight and Day, various actors were considered before the filmmakers thought, “Why does this character need to be a man?”
Whoever came up with the idea to change the lead character to Evelyn Salt and get Jolie on board will probably be getting a nice bonus at year’s end if the movie does as well as we think it will, and Salt should also benefit from the rather fortuitous discovering of REAL Russian spies in our country less than a month ago, turning what may have seemed like an outlandish premise into something that resonates with the headlines.
ComingSoon.net was down in Washington D.C. for the Salt junket and we got to talk to Jolie along with other journalists from around the country.
Q: The recent capture of the Russian spies, that was all promotion for the film, right? Angelina Jolie: Uh huh. We did well. It was a good marketing department.
Q: Do you feel you’ve inspired a new set of action heroes and would you consider this a feminist role? Jolie: We certainly didn’t intend (to). We made a really, really big point of while we were making it to make sure that we didn’t actually make it about a woman. That’s why I think it worked. I’d actually read things written for women in this genre a lot and they tended to start make it about being a woman, and that’s where it tended to lose half the audience and not be as strong. So we thought the most important thing was to make her stronger, harder, tougher, all those good things. But it was surprising when we looked into it that a woman hadn’t done an action movie based in reality. There are all the ones that I’ve done that are fantasy or some kind of science fiction. So it hadn’t been done or worked and so I think it made us all a little nervous and we did think that if it worked it would be really, really nice for women. Having daughters I’m happy, too.
Q: When you first read the script was it already modified to be Evelyn Salt? Jolie: No.
Q: How did that happen then? Jolie: I got a call that said, “We’ve got a role, we’ve got a movie for you and your name is Edwin and you have a wife.”
Q: Can you talk then about how you worked to develop that and change it? Jolie: Well, the first thing is that the big transition he made was that he had a wife and child and in the end he was able to say, “I love you.” This was the big arc. I said that wasn’t something that would be surprising for a woman, and I don’t think this woman would have a child. So the first thing was that we couldn’t have a child and we had to find a way to have this relationship with a husband or a wife that is very different. What would you not expect a woman to do, what would be unusual, what would suit a woman but be something that we could do? What do we do with that? That was the first thing and then once we decided what we were going to do it was how we were going to make that work in the movie.
Q: The concept of you trying to save your husband, some people might not believe a woman would do that, except when it’s you doing it. Why do you think that is and are you aware of that quality you have that would bring that to an audience? Jolie: Thank you. I think instinctively if something ever happened to somebody I love, I would do anything possible to get them and I would be fearless about it because that’s the way that I am for somebody I care about or something I love. So maybe there’s just that, man or woman, if it’s in your make up to be willing to have a certain fight at times. People can believe it or not believe it because it needs to be inside of the person. Maybe. Maybe I’m lucky.
Q: Can you talk about working with Phillip Noyce again? Were you the one who brought him on board? Jolie: We all kind of came together at the same time it seemed. I just knew because of the other films that he’d done, I knew that he was that very rare director that really loved action and good action and understandable action but also really loved drama and could really tell a story and was sensitive to getting performances and all of that. I knew that the film wouldn’t be simplified into some kind of run around action movie. So I was very comfortable with him and it was interesting because the first time we worked together I played a rookie and it was kind of who I was at the time. Now, ten years later I play someone a little more sure of herself and it suited our relationship. I think I was a little more like, “I would do this I think.”
Q: Now at this point you can throw in more ideas than back then, right? Jolie: I think I was more collaborative, yeah.
Q: What sort of collaboration came about in working with Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor? Jolie: It’s so hard to talk about it without giving away the movie. They’re all extraordinary actors. The man who played my husband is an extraordinary German actor. Daniel [Pearce] was extraordinary, the guy who played the Russian. The nice thing about this kind of film is that sometimes in these action movies, there’s not enough great characters. This one had had really great strong characters and so it welcomed really strong actors and so it was such a pleasure to have these very real scenes and very deep relationships with each one of them. Instead of the action movies I’ve done where it’s been really about that, in this I got to do that really great scene work. I just think the world of all of them. It was really fun also because when you see the film, the relationships just change a lot, they morph. So we had fun with that because one day we’d be one thing to each other and the next we’d be something else.
Q: What kind of rigorous training did you go through for this? Jolie: The thing is when you have six kids and you say, “I just don’t have the time to train like I did for ‘Tomb Raider.'” A lot of it for me was just getting back into shape at all. It had been so long since I’d worked, and I’d had babies and it was just actually getting my boots back on and punching again. So we really crammed it in pretty fast. So it was a lot of learning while doing and it really suited the film because we just had to jump in. But they did try to train me in different styles, as I said. We started kind of fancy. We started with a lot of Muay Thai, with a lot of kicks, a lot of that, but then we realized that it had to go more street fighting and it had to go more with hands in somebody’s face and it just had to grapple and kick and punch. The quickest way to take somebody down instead of the most interesting and prettiest way.
Q: You’ve worked with Simon Crane multiple times for combat training. How did the physicality in this movie differ from other times you’ve worked together? Jolie: Simon’s thing with me is always, “Are you ready to suffer?” and I say, “Yes, sir.” I call him Dr. Crane because he always fixes everything. On this one, he knows all the other films very well, all the kinds of guys movies and other things and he said, “You have to be meaner. You have to stop being so elegant when you fight. You can’t kind of be long in your kicks because this is real now. So that would be pretty but this can’t be pretty. You have to find a way to stand and get more ground and get more rooted and be meaner and be more believable.” So he was pretty hard on me all through it. If my posture was too hard or whatever it was he would just laugh at me and make me start over and do it tougher.
Q: Yesterday, we spoke to the movie’s CIA consultant, and she mentioned how you two worked together. Can you talk about picking her brain and what you were trying to gather from her? Jolie: For the walk in I think it was just details. I asked her a lot of different and specific things, how she’d behave, what was appropriate, whether something was technically right ? that kind of stuff. But it was more for me understanding the loneliness of somebody who’s not allowed to talk to their family about anything and just studying her which she probably didn’t realize I was doing. I was asking her questions but really I was watching her mannerisms and just her behavior and just her and thinking, “This is just so the opposite of this kind of tough [image].” I was feeling, “Am I tough enough?” Then I meet her and I think, “Well, she doesn’t fit that package of the obvious tough either and yet she is the real thing.” So that gave me comfort to know that I could also be a lady, a woman and that there was some reality to that as well and to not kind of go tough, to not try to mimic some idea but to actually study this lovely lady who had all these elements.
Q: Do you have a most memorable moment while working on the movie? Jolie: I don’t know. It wasn’t that kind of a movie for me. Maybe watching the children. They had to sit me down and they showed me all this footage of children in all these institutionalized settings doing all these things and then the little me which kind of looked a bit like Shiloh to me and she was almost in it for a moment. I guess it told me so much about my character but I think it also made me think about those kids and those people and my character is forced to be an orphan, stolen. But to see the little baby in the classroom by his self, I would say that’s something that I’m drawn to.
Q: The movie is sort of left open at the end, so was that always the case? Jolie: I don’t remember exactly how it was. I suppose if the character is alive it’s open ended in some way, but I don’t know if it was this. I guess we ended in a way that is still mysterious and so it still asks questions. Like, in the end we like the idea that we didn’t answer everything.
Q: Would you be interested in revisiting this character if it turns out that this will be a franchise? Jolie: I would actually. I think if we can keep up the mystery and find another really great story, but she’s really fun in that she’s got so much depth because of her childhood and her life and a lot of what she’s gone through. She’s nicely complex. I love the possibility of the different disguises and different personalities and accents. It’s kind of like a playground for an actor, that kind of role.
Q: Do you generally enjoy watching films like this, and like the “Bourne” movies? Jolie: I have seen them, yeah. I like them. I like “Three Days of the Condor.” I like “The Quiller Memorandum.” I like those. We watched the more recent ones to make sure that we weren’t copying anything and we’d get it different and find a new language but we also watched the old ones to make sure that we were having enough of that good taste from the long time ago films. I think we all got boxes of spy films.
(The next question is somewhat of a spoiler so skip ahead if you don?t want to know any of the many plot twists.)
Q: What did you think of yourself as a man? Were you shocked and how long were you in that get-up? Jolie: I don’t know. It was probably something like four or five hours. It was long. Obviously you do everything. You tape your breasts down. You have to put sweatpants on and all these things underneath to try and make you bulk up. But it was just weird. I liked the half-stage. I liked when I was this odd, alien looking thing. It was very strange. Brad came to visit. I remember him saying, “When do you want me to come visit?” I said, “I’m a man tomorrow. It’s going to be very weird.” He said, “It’s you. It’ll be fine.’ I said, “No, no, no. It’s weird.” Then he showed up and went, “It’s weird.”
Q: What kind of badass woman do you look up to, who inspires you as a woman? Jolie: My daughters, speaking of badass. The toughest people I’ve ever come across. Jane Goodall is also a friend of mine and I just find her really tough and really inspiring.
Q: The recent “Vanity Fair” cover focuses on your retirement. I think it says “farewell” in fact. So what would be next for you? Jolie: I’m not retiring. You seem to be excited about that. Not at this time. Basically I said something as simple as “in the years to come I’ll be doing less film” I’m sure and that there are many other things to do in life. So it wasn’t as exciting as it sounds, but I think it sells magazines.
Salt open on Friday, July 23. You can read our interview with director Phillip Noyce here.