Salt - Angelina Jolie
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) © Columbia Pictures

Originally, the movie was called Edwin A Salt and it was to star Tom Cruise. But two years ago, Columbia Pictures announced that the star was no longer attached to the movie, and the studio decided to turn the character into a female CIA agent, Evelyn Salt.

Enter Angelina Jolie, who jokingly told Sony Pictures Co-Chairman, Amy Pascal a few years ago that she wanted to play James Bond. So Jolie is now playing the lead in Salt, who is on the run after a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy.

The actress spoke of her new venture into espionage at the press junket for the movie in Washington D.C.

This role was written for a man and then they adapted it in order for it to fit a woman. How different was it?

Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) © Columbia Pictures

The strange thing is it’s probably the opposite of what you would expect. Instead of making it softer, we made it harder. The man had a wife and a child and his big arc in the end was that he was able to say, ‘I love you,’ and commit to love and family. We said if that’s a woman that’s not a surprise.

We’ve got to do exactly the opposite, we’ve got to figure out what it would be that a woman would be challenged with, that would be surprising for a woman. Even the fights (sequences) we had to make sure the audience absolutely saw it was me. They got harder, they got darker, they got tougher because we had to try harder to make sure we could sell it.

Would you really love to play James Bond?

I got called in from the studio a few years ago and asked me if I would consider being in a Bond film. And I kind of playfully said, ‘No thank you, but I’d like to be Bond.’ We laughed about it, and then a few years later they called and said, ‘Okay maybe we’ve found your Bond.’ But I think this is very different from Bond in a nice way. It’s something new.

Did you model the character of Salt after Bond?

Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) © Columbia Pictures

No, I don’t think she’s very Bond-like. I think in the end we did study Bond, we studied, Bourne, we studied Three Days of the Condor, we studied The Quiller Memorandum. We tried to make sure it was more based on those great old spy (films).

We checked with the most recent ones to make sure we weren’t copying. It was important we didn’t do the same thing, so if anything it wasn’t checking to be similar, it was checking to make sure we went in a different direction.

There’s more ambiguity with her than with 007.

Yes, there is. I found her a very interesting character. As an actress, she was just wonderful to play because of the depth of her background and her childhood, and just that she continues to transform through the piece and struggles with her own internal understanding of who she is.

Melissa Boyle Mahle (who worked with the CIA as an operative for 16 years) said you were interested in how she thinks. What were you able to glean from you meetings with her?

Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) © Columbia Pictures

I think first just meeting her. I had this idea even when I read the script, what are these women like? Are they powerful, and you meet her and you realize, ‘Oh she’s so lovely.’ She’s not the image of what you would expect. She is very capable, very strong, gone to very dangerous places, and yet she doesn’t appear that way.

So this idea of what a spy appeared to be was blown out of the water for me. She spoke about the loneliness of not being able to communicate with her family and what that does to you when you come home from work and you just can’t share anything about your life for years and years.

What a relief it was when she was finally retired and she was actually able to have conversations with her family.

I developed such a respect for people that have that job because of that sacrifice that they make, how much they really live in isolation, and what that does to somebody. But she did also talk to me about the costumes and the disguises and all that, so she’s just fascinating.

What was your initial reaction when you heard about the Russian spies?

It was the day before we started press (for this film), so at first I didn’t believe it. I thought it was bizarre. It was twofold.  The part of me that was interested in politics felt I hope this doesn’t affect our relationship with Russia, and our relationships moving forward in Afghanistan and Iran. And the other part of me that does films thought what extraordinary timing.

All through the making of this film we would question, ‘Is this possible? Are we bringing back cold war propaganda that is something we should leave alone?’ So it was just bizarre when we read it. And we’ve been following it and it’s extraordinary how it’s unfolding.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane