Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Angelina Jolie redefines the action star

It's a typical Angelina Jolie moment in Salt.

She's fighting for her life and freedom, fleeing the CIA colleagues who are now her adversaries, conscious of the relentless eye of the closed-circuit TV camera, which is now monitoring a crucial moment in her escape strategy.

So she deals with her plight by reaching under her skirt, whipping off her skimpy underwear and draping it over the all-seeing lens.

It goes without saying that no male actor could resort to such a scene - not Tom Cruise (who at one point, was in line for the role she played), not any of the other actors who were anxious to be cast but were found wanting. But with the sexy but formidable Jolie in charge, the sequence generates an enormous roar of approval from audiences.

That scene came easily, offering Jolie and the filmmakers a golden "opportunity" to demonstrate that a super-charged gal like her was quite capable of playing a man's part, says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. But that doesn't mean it was a piece of cake to rework a script that had originally been intended for a male star.

"It was developed over five or six years for a man," says di Bonaventura, whose other hits include Transformers, the Matrix series, Ocean's Eleven and the first three Harry Potter movies. "And when Angelina came on board we thought, 'OK, the real job is how to turn this man into a woman.' It actually turned out to be a harder job, because every other character had to change."

The film's central plot device remains. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a trusted CIA officer whose life and career come crashing down after a defector fingers her as a Russian spy, and she must use all the skills and training at her command to avoid capture while she seeks to prove her innocence. But because of the title character's sex change, the whole dynamic of the piece shifted, and that meant substantial revisions to Kurt Wimmer's screenplay.

Director Phillip Noyce remembers it was Columbia boss Amy Pascal who came up with the idea of casting Jolie in the role.

"I came on board two years ago and, at that time, we were talking to a number of male actors to play the part," Noyce says. "We couldn't find the right actor, and that's when Amy Pascal said, 'Let's try Angelina Jolie.'

"It took me about 15 seconds to realize that these changes were a plus. Then we - myself, Lorenzo, Kurt Wimmer - went down to the south of France to Angelina's villa, ate a lot of cheese, drank a lot of their wine and discussed the possibilities of changing Edwin to Evelyn," Noyce said.

Jolie came to the firm conclusion that, with a female Salt, it would be wrong to soften the story if it was to retain its credibility. Instead, it had to be "harder . . . darker . . . tougher" - to prove that a woman was more than capable of taking on a man's job - and she had to do as many of her own stunts as possible.

She also offered lots of practical suggestions. The underwear moment was one. Another was that she would flee through the streets of Washington bare-footed, because it would be ridiculous to keep her wearing high heels during even the earliest moments of her flight.

But di Bonaventura says adjusting nuance was the biggest challenge, particularly when the filmmakers realized the need for changes in the characters played by Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and other cast members.

"That was the surprise for us," di Bonaventura says. "They were going to relate differently to 'her' than to 'him.' And that had an incredible multiplier effect as we went through.

"At first, we said, 'All right, we're just going to change her character.' So we changed the character and we read the script and we're like, 'I don't believe what the character is doing anymore.'"

That lack of believability loomed because of the context originally given to other characters. Perhaps the most crucial dynamic shift focused on the relationship between Salt and her CIA boss, Ted Winter, played by Schreiber. In the revised film, it's revealed that Winter has "this long-held love" for Salt.

"That was something we didn't have when it was two guys," di Bonaventura says. "That was something that came out of the change."

Noyce says the film's gender change gave the action scenes more power, but also made the relationships more interesting.

"Arguably, the central relationship in this film is between (Evelyn Salt and Ted Winter)," Noyce says. "Now, a relationship between two men would have been entirely different. His disappointment that she may have in fact fooled him and be a Russian mole would not be played with the same level of emotion if it had been between two men.

"We get the feeling that (Winter) has an unrequited love for Angelina's character, and, in a way, that relationship is the heart and soul of the movie."

Source: vancouversun