Salt - Liev Schreiber
Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) © Columbia Pictures

Widely considered one of the best actors of this generation, Liev Schreiber recently starred opposite Daniel Craig and Jamie Bell in Defiance and alongside of Hugh Jackman in Wolverine, as Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth, the beastly nemesis of Wolverine.

He is currently starring with Angelina Jolie in the spy thriller Salt, portraying Ted Winter, the boss of CIA operative Evelyn Salt, who is on the run after a Russian spy accuses her of working for them. Winter is put in the difficult position of being torn between wanting to help Salt and wanting to catch her.

The actor spoke of his fascination with the whole world of espionage at the press event for the movie.

What drew you to this project?

It was a page-turner. I zipped right through it. It was a really fun read. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, what happened to all these spy agencies that were in place? These operatives were ingrained with modes of thinking that are now outdated I our contemporary political climate. I think that’s the question that Phillip (Noyce, the movie’s director) was interested in, and I was too.

What was the coolest part about acting with Angelina?

Salt - Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Angelina Jolie
Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) © Columbia Pictures

Just getting to know her. In the beginning I think I was very intimidated and very nervous. I get uncomfortable around famous people and beautiful women and she was kind of a double threat. But we bonded very quickly over children.

We were very quickly able to develop a friendship around that and that was great because all the sexual tension falls away and you can focus on the person as an actor and as a co-worker.

I just think it’s so important that the familiarity is there, that you get that. When you’re playing people like intelligence operatives it’s really important that I think you get the water cooler gossip right because it humanizes them.

I know you had consultants on this from the CIA. Was there anyone in particular that was helpful?

Well, fortunately [my wife] Naomi [Watts] was preparing to shoot Fair Game [where she plays former CIA agent Valerie Plame] while I was preparing to shoot this.

There’s a lot of CIA stuff in that, and I got to meet Valerie Plame and talk to her. I was particularly pleased that I got to spend time with Valerie because one of the things that had always troubled me about these kinds of characters is what motivates somebody to do something like this?

What motivates somebody to give so much of their life to something often at the expense of their futures, their families and their homes?

What did you learn from Valerie Plame?

What I got from Valerie was a real sense of patriotism. She is a real American patriot. She really was someone who believed that the right thing to do was to put her country first and that’s why she was so devastated by what happened.

I had never considered that as an actor, because sometimes these plots are so outrageous that patriotism really doesn’t come into play. So that was very helpful to me because I had to then seriously think about it, like, ‘Okay, why are you doing this? And at the end of the day do you feel committed to what you’re doing?’

Were you surprised at the discovery of the Russian spies recently?

That was just amazing and completely bizarre because arguably it’s kind of a passé idea, Russian sleeper spies. There was a great article in The Times called The Wiring in the Walls which basically said that intelligence networks are like the wires in the walls of a house; that when one owner moves on they’re still there.

You can’t see them but they’re there waiting for the new owner to come in and turn on the light. That aspect of a very vast and intricate espionage network that the KGB had established had to be up and running at the fall of communism.

So what happens to all of those agents, all of those operatives who are all over the world who suddenly have no agenda, have no mission; have nothing? They’re just on hold while the KGB transfers over to the SVR.

That must’ve been an incredibly delicate and scary time for all of those operatives. All those people who were motivated by a loyalty to the communist ideal are suddenly foreign nationals in other countries, going, ‘What am I loyal to?’ That to me was fascinating.

That feels very contemporary, but if you had asked me in the first week of shooting if ten Russian sleeper spies were going to get caught and found and swapped back – it’s just amazing.

Can you confirm that there’s going to be a Wolverine sequel?

I’m pretty sure there is. A lot of things go into development and never hit the ground.

Are you interested in doing another one?

Sure I’d be interested. I think that the storyline they’re doing is in Japan and I don’t think that Victor figures into it but I’m not sure.

Judy Sloane

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