STARRING Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
DIRECTED BY Phillip Noyce
WRITTEN BY Kurt Wimmer and Brian Helgeland
After kicking butt in Tomb Raider and taking names in Wanted, Angelina Jolie has shown that she can play the action game just as well as Hollywood's A-list big boys. But with her latest rock-'em-sock-'em thriller, Salt, she may prove that she can replace them, too.
You see, back in the summer of 2008, Salt was a script about a CIA agent who's accused of being a Russian sleeper spy a male Russian sleeper spy. At the time, Tom Cruise was attached to play the lead. But as the script evolved into more of an on-the-run espionage thriller, Cruise began to feel that the character was a little too close to his Mission: Impossible alter ego, Ethan Hunt. When Cruise bailed, Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal remembered a series of conversations she'd had with Jolie about creating a female James Bond-style franchise for her at the studio. And voilà, the movie's hero, Edwin Salt, was rechristened Evelyn Salt. ''We tried to change the name to Edwina,'' says Jolie via e-mail, ''but it didn't quite have the same ring to it.''
Jolie says she wasn't nervous about the role's gender reassignment. After all, there's a long history of Hollywood heroes swapping sexes, including the character of Ripley in Alien. ''I was simply looking for the best action script that was going around,'' says the 34-year-old star. With Jolie on board, director Phillip Noyce, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and writer Kurt Wimmer (1999's The Thomas Crown Affair) flew off to Chez Brangelina in the south of France to retool the screenplay. But the process was a bit trickier than just changing the hero's name and adding high heels. ''In the original script, there was a huge sequence where Edwin Salt saves his wife, who's in danger,'' says Noyce. ''And what we found was when Evelyn Salt saved her husband in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little. So we had to change the nature of that relationship.'' In the end, Salt's husband, played by German actor August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds), was made tough enough that he didn't need saving, thank you very much. Which calls to mind a certain other pair of well-matched wedded warriors on film. Any chance Jolie and her Mr. & Mrs. Smith costar (and real-life partner) Brad Pitt might reunite on screen? Not soon, says Jolie: ''I love working with him. He's my favorite actor to work with, and the only complicated thing is to find the right project.''
Either way, Jolie seems convinced that the gender tinkering in Salt was more than just skin-deep; it actually improved the story. ''Hopefully we've succeeded in making her more emotionally complex and physically meaner.'' In fact, the actress is certain that female action heroes can be just as badass as their male counterparts. ''We expect different things from men and from women, both emotionally and physically,'' she says. ''For example, a man can have a character arc in which he discovers his heart at the end that would never be a surprise for a woman.''