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In this wide ranging video interview, Salt director Phillip Noyce tells Andrew L. Urban how Tom Cruise turned down the central role which led to the character getting a gender re-assignation: it is now a female CIA officer accused of being a sleeper double agent for the Russians, and Angelina Jolie is playing her dream role - as a female James Bond, Evelyn Salt.

Phillip Noyce and Angelina Jolie onset

By Andrew L. Urban
(31 minutes)

The last time Phil Noyce worked with Jolie was over 10 years ago on the thriller, The Bone Collector. “At the beginning of any relationship with an actor you say a lot. And as you learn to dance together – because it is a dance – and as you learn to trust each other, the words become fewer. So when we picked up again (on Salt) we were at the stage that a wink, a nod, or a raised finger was often more communicative than hundreds of words.”

"it’s a new kind of fearlessness"

Making The Bone Collector “she was already an accomplished actress but wasn’t in her stride,” says Noyce. “I don’t think she fully understood the instrument that was her acting skill; she was very tentative. Now, 11 years later some things were the same and some things changed. What was the same was her fearlessness: try anything, go anywhere, do anything, completely open, not closed. A lot of actors when they reach a certain level close down… now of course she is also fearless but it’s a new kind of fearlessness: now it comes from really knowing her craft.”

The universe must have been listening when Jolie made an offhand comment some time earlier. “I was meeting with (Sony Pictures Co-Chairman) Amy Pascal a few years ago when it came up in conversation that she was getting ready to make one of the new James Bond films,” Jolie remembers. “I playfully said, ‘I want to be Bond!’ That was our little joke, and then she found this project.”

Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer had originally written the story around a character named Edwin Salt. “When all the A list actors we approached tuned us down,” says Noyce, who personally took the call from Tom Cruise who was otherwise engaged and said no, “Amy Pascal came up with the brilliant idea of making the character a female. I liked it immediately.”

"brains and brawn"

The “inspired idea” impacted on the entire screenplay “and made all the relationships more complex and made the whole trip that much more entertaining. Watching Angelina Jolie defeat half of America’s secret services through a combination of brains and brawn gives a little extra joy to the viewer,” says Noyce.

The sex change brought one other major change: as soon as Jolie signed on, she was adamant that Evelyn Salt should have no children, arguing, successfully, that a woman in her dangerous profession would not have children; they would be in danger as well as being at risk of losing their mother.

Noyce has always had a fascination for spy stories, ever since his dad, Bill, would tell him stories about training spies for Australia’s defence during the war. And sleeper spies are of special interest, made suddenly relevant in this post-cold war era by the capture of a dozen sleeper spies in the US (June 2010), just weeks before Salt hit the cinemas. If it wasn’t for the newspaper headlines, says Noyce, maybe audiences would have thought that the old cold war spy stories about sleeper spies were a bit out of date. Obviously not.

Published August 19, 2010

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Phillip Noyce


When defecting high ranking Russian agent Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) reveals that CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is really one of several sleeper Russian spies within the US security network, Salt is forced to go on the run as she tries desperately to get her entomologist husband Mike (August Diehl) to safety. Her closest CIA colleague Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) can’t help her and internal security agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants Salt interrogated – or shut down. But Salt’s training comes in handy as she evades the teams of agents after her, and makes contact with Orlov at his hideout, where his team is preparing to start world war three – with her help.

Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Phillip Noyce

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