Australian director Phillip Noyce has done it all, from acclaimed thrillers like Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games to dramas such as The Quiet American. Now he’s back in the chair for the much anticipated spy thriller Salt, which reunites him with his The Bone Collector co-star Angelina Jolie.
In this interview, Noyce takes time out from filming in New York City to talk at length about the film, how it changed from a Tom Cruise movie to a Angelina Jolie film, and working with the talented actress.
Question: This film went from a male lead character, then to a female lead character. And it went through a whole sort of casting process...
Philip Noyce: In the original script by Kurt Wimmer, the lead character was called, at that time, Edwin A. Salt. We discussed the film with Tom Cruise, we had a table read with various actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, who kindly played one of the parts, just so we could hear the script read.
After that table read, Sony Pictures decided they definitely wanted to make the film. Around that time Tom wasn’t prepared to commit to the script as it was—his main fears were that the character was too close to Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt, being a rogue spy, with extraordinary abilities. So over many months, we tried to twist and turn the story to differentiate the character of Edwin Salt from Ethan Hunt. But, Tom had a valid point. It was kind of returning to an offshoot of a character that he’d already played. It’s like playing the brother, or the cousin, of somebody that you played in another movie.
Then the project was in hiatus for a couple of weeks. Sony’s Amy Pascal had been talking over the years and had often spoken to Angelina Jolie. They’d expressed their mutual respect for each other and also, their mutual desire to try and create a female spy franchise, so we sent the script to Angelina. Then that script was revised by Brian Helgeland, who basically did a character pass. Based on that script, Angelina committed.
Question: Is the basic script you’re shooting now the same as the Cruise script, in terms of plot structure, and that kind of thing?
Noyce: The script was always evolving. I think that it’s just been a continual process, obviously accelerated by changing the central character. But the locomotive of ideas that drives the movie are the same. An undercover CIA operative is accused of being a Russian mole, and has to go on the run to defend herself. That’s been the same since day one. The tone of the film has changed in this evolution. In the same way, as action thrillers have changed along the lines of the Bond films and the Bourne films. Bond used to be almost cartoonish but now, you can take those Bond stories very seriously, on a dramatic and emotional level.
Question: So, this has a more realistic edge to it?
Noyce: Yeah, it has evolved into a story where we hope at all times that the audience takes seriously the emotional interplay between the characters, and are very, very involved on an emotional level with the story. As well as getting enormous thrills and spills, and all the other popcorn elements that you’d hope to see in a summer movie.
Question: Are you in your element making this kind of movie?
Noyce: This movie is sort of a combination of every movie I’ve ever made, in a weird way. So, was I in my element? Yes. However, the major thing the audience is going to find is that the movie’s a showcase for the incredibly diverse talents of Angelina Jolie. When I say "incredibly", that’s not an understatement. Incredibly diverse. As we know, she’s a brilliant dramatic actress. Without a doubt. That’s been proven. But she’s also shown that she can kick ass as good as any man. In this film, she gets to do both and she does both in a way that I think will startle audiences. It’s highly dramatic, it’s highly emotional. It’s a thrill a minute. People are going to be very, very surprised by what they see, and by what they see her do. As I have been.
Opening soon across the Philippines, Salt is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.