I’ve done a lot of roundtable interviews in my years writing for Cinema Blend, but I’ve never talked to anyone up close and personal who is as famous as Angelina Jolie. But then, who else could even match her? She has one of the world’s most iconic faces and most enviable acting career, and let’s face it, we all know her home life is nothing to sneeze at either. And with Salt she’s upping the ante even more, playing a truly original female heroine who’s such a badass the role was scarcely changed when it was written from originally being a man.
Not only is CIA agent Evelyn Salt a great character, but Jolie had a significant role in shaping her, fighting to keep the character from being too pretty when it didn’t seem realistic, and jumping into doing most of her own stunts under the guidance of stunt coordinator Simon Crane. At the end of the interview it really was hard to know who was more impressive– Salt the character, or Jolie, the woman playing her.
We talked to Jolie about changing Salt into a woman, why they got rid of a child character, which action scene actually scared her a bit, and Brad Pitt’s reaction when he visited her on the set and found her halfway into her drag disguise. Quite honestly, it’s a much better interview than I had expected from an actress who has every reason to keep all the juicy stories to herself. Check out the highlights from my 15 minutes with Angelina below.
What did you have to change about the character in order to take it from a man to a woman?
Well, I’m not Edwin. [Laughter] The most important thing was we said well we can’t start to turn this into a girl movie, because that’s where, I think, people have failed in the past. When they write something on purpose for a woman it’s always about being a woman, using your femininity, all these kind of female obvious things. So we said let’s just keep all the things about it that’s tough. If anything we have to make it darker and we have to make it meaner than the boys.
Is that why they cut the child character from the story?
I just didn’t feel that a woman would have a child in that position. And that if a woman had a child, I think it would be very hard for us not to imagine her kind of holding onto that child through the entire film. You know, because it would just become all about the child. Which is strange, but I think audiences would allow a man to have a child and the child be with the wife back at home, but it would be very, very difficult to see a woman not be 100% focused on her child.
It sounds like you had a lot of impact in building the character as a woman, and I wonder if you really focused on desexualizing her? There’s only one moment where she uses her sexuality to gain power.
It was extremely important to me. I just felt that she was just better than that, that she didn’t have to do that. And not that it wouldn’t have been fun to do if it was appropriate in a scene, but it just felt like if we could find a way to not need that, let’s not. There was even talk for a long time about adding a scene in the end… because I mean if you’ve seen it, I don’t end so pretty. And there was a discussion about, do you kind of catch up with her glamorous again because this is what people would want, this is what audiences would want. We made a definitive decision of no, it’s very, very important that we don’t do that to her, so we always angled it back into some kind of, trying to make it just harder and more raw. I just liked her, I was more interested in a woman like Evelyn than what could have become of her, which is always the scripts that get sent to me for action females. And I’ve never wanted to do that type of woman.
You’ve played so many strong female action characters, and for some reason that idea has never really taken off in Hollywood. Why is that?
Well I think it’s down to an audience, and you just wait for them to respond to one. So if you do it right, which we tried to do, then you’ve done it. And then hopefully, then like most businesses, they think if it makes money then somebody else will make money, and then they will make more movies with women in that role I think, if this one works.
The women in the group really enjoyed this. Are you hoping to appeal to woman specifically with this?
I hope so. And I think we really tried to do something that we all just thought was a great film, and that I think should appeal to everybody. But I do think it’s interesting for women, and it’ll be interesting for women, even the women on set. It was all the girls that fought for the end to not become pretty. It was all the girls that said don’t do that, that’s something you’re kind of doing on purpose for a different audience.
What do you think a character like Salt says about women?
Well I’ve never underestimated women. So I’m not surprised to start seeing women do these things, I just think it was, and that’s why we didn’t actually approach it as Salt’s a woman, we just approached it as Salt’s a badass and happens to be a woman, and this should be no huge surprise for anybody.
How hard it is to make a movie this based in reality and still include the crazy action scenes? Do you have to find a limit with how far you can go?
A lot of it was our stunt coordinator, Simon Crane; he’s just a genius. And it was him really trying to figure out, okay, if she’s going to go up against a guy who’s a foot and a half taller than her and a hundred pounds heavier than her, how could she actually do it? She’s faster, she can get height, she can jump on things, or she’s quicker, or she’s more agile, or whatever it would be. Everything had to be somehow possible, even if it was stretched, even if the trucks on the freeway were wild. In a stretch, it’s still not impossible. Crazy, but not impossible. It’s the opposite of actually every action movie I’ve ever done, because there’s never really been a female action movie based in reality. They’re always fantasy. I’ve done most of ’em.
Were there any action sequences that you were actually scared to do? Because you seem pretty fearless.
Oh, thank you. There was only the last kill; I was worried I was going to snap my arm. [Details on this kill would be very spoilery, so you’ll have to use your imagination here]
What was it like filming that, was that the original in the script?
No, that was one that Simon Crane actually came up with. There are so few things you could really do in this moment to, to, you know–
To leverage your way?
Yeah, what could be the only way to do it? The nice thing was that the first thing we did it, I think all the people playing the extras in the entire room didn’t know what was going to happen because they said to me, you can’t rehearse it, really, you just gotta go. So we just did it and we did it for real, and I think they were so shocked that they really reacted, and then everybody started applauding. It was like doing a stage play, like having done a circus act.
Your character builds bombs and rewires systems.
My MacGyver scene? That’s what I kept saying.
Did you pick up any skills?
Apparently… well we actually took one or two elements out of the bomb building so it couldn’t be recreated. You learn the oddest things when you’re an actor. That you don’t even know what, and you come home and your kids say what did you do? And you’re like, “I built a bomb.” I don’t know. But I did, I laughed through that whole scene. I felt like making MacGyver music.
The character goes from being Edwin to Evelyn, but you are a man [as part of an undercover disguise] for a few minutes.
I am. I couldn’t help myself.
What was it like to cross dress?
It was great. Oh, it was great. Well the funny thing is, you realize every lead in this movie has cross-dressed [Liev Schreiber in Taking Woodstock and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Kinky Boots].
We talked about it with Liev and Chiwetel too.
You talk about it? It’s just the greatest thing. I’m surprised that picture hasn’t gone out, of the three of us next to each other in like our matching drag photos. So they were very supportive.
They gave you tips?
They gave me tips. They just basically said, ‘Just go fully into it and enjoy it.’ I loved it. We called him Johnny for some reason. It was really weird. I think I was a bit suave. People had a very, very difficult time talking to me. Philip could hardly talk to me. Nobody could talk to me. It wasn’t as much what he looked like, it was when he spoke. Because when it was my voice coming out of him… And Brad came to visit me once, and I said ‘You don’t want to come, I’m going to be the man.’ And he said ‘It won’t bother me, it’s you, whatever, it’s you.’ And then he came and I was changing and so I was like half woman and half man. [He was] sooo creeped out by it.
Philip Noyce mentioned Hitchcock thrillers as an influence in making this film. Did you have that influence as well?
That would be more for The Tourist, the other film I did. That film is a little more of a throwback to those movies where people took a little more time … I think it was a lot of that. We’re very rushed today, there’s a very fast pace, very fast edit. You don’t spend a lot of time kind of looking at each other, hanging out on the balcony, somebody having a cigarette. You don’t kind of indulge in moments like they used to. And I think it’s too bad. And it doesn’t work in every film, but for The Tourist, we studied them. But Salt’s faster.