Five years ago, the character Edwin A. Salt was a badass CIA agent in the vein of Jason Bourne or a new iteration of James Bond. Producers shopped the script — titled, predictably enough, “Edwin A. Salt” — to the studios, hoping to entice an A-list actor to sign up for some explosion-filled action. But they came up short.
Then, for awhile in 2007, Tom Cruise was circling the role, but still, the project never shifted into production. Eventually the team switched gears … drastically.
Edwin became Evelyn, making way for Angelina Jolie to step into lead role, and the film was rechristened “Salt.” Jolie’s Salt is a CIA agent who goes on the run to clear her name after she’s accused of being a Russian spy. The rub is that we’re not really sure if we can trust Salt, if she’s telling the truth or if she is, in fact, a ruthless turncoat.
We’ll have to wait to see — but not for too much longer. Five years after it first made the Hollywood rounds, the film is hitting theaters on July 23. As part of MTV News’ continuing Summer Movie Week Preview, [movie id=”376997″]”Salt”[/movie] producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called MTV News to talk about reworking a script after your male lead becomes a female, Jolie’s penchant for stunt work and the one mishap that landed the actress in the hospital.
MTV: What’s the hardest part of revising a script for a different gender?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: The hardest thing in switching from a man to a woman was actually all the characters surrounding the main character. It’s not like you felt everyone had to baby the character because she’s a woman. What’s so great about Angelina playing the role is she’s so tough and uncompromising in the characterization. We simply respond to a female character differently than we respond to a male character.
MTV: But I can’t believe all you did to “Salt” is change the pronouns.
di Bonaventura: You certainly have to do work on her character. Yes, that was hard work. But it was even harder with the characters around her. First, we did her character and said, “That works but everyone else seems kind of off.” So then we had to go back and do everybody else. It was a much larger undertaking than we previously expected.
MTV: You were shooting on location in New York and D.C. The paparazzi photos were everywhere. Did it ever get difficult to shoot in that environment?
di Bonaventura: The amount of paparazzi is extraordinary with her. That requires a lot of planning to create a space to make that movie. I think one day we had over a-hundred-and-some-odd paparazzi, which is kind of wild.
MTV: Does that sort of thing get in her head?
di Bonaventura: I shouldn’t speak for her, but my sense is that’s the condition of her life. She’s beyond committed to her character. She’s a workhorse. It doesn’t feel like anything in her life can distract her from her life.
MTV: From the trailers, it seems she got in incredible shape. I don’t know, maybe she’s always in incredible shape, but did she do any specific training for the role?
di Bonaventura: She did some training. She learned elements of martial arts. But more than anything, she had to train for the fights. We all felt that there should be no difference in Salt in terms of the action. Salt is every bit as tough and capable of great harm as a woman as a man.
MTV: She also undergoes a big transformation, from blond to black hair. Angelina Jolie has such a recognizable look. How’d you decide on those two styles for the movie?
di Bonaventura: She has a great sense of what she wants. One of the real fun things about the movie is you’re left thinking, “Who is she? How do I feel about this character?” The change in hairstyle is one of those things that contributes to that. One of the strengths of the movie is one of the things people were initially scared about, which is you don’t know at times if you should root for, or against, her. The script does not follow conventional rules.
MTV: Is there one action scene that is particularly cool or was difficult to pull off?
di Bonaventura: One was a question of how do you make it plausible to have an action sequence in the White House. It was less about the physical demand of the action scene and more about its credibility. We didn’t build that many sets. It’s more about how can we convince someone that something can occur in the White House, and what will be the authorities’ response and the counter-response, and the pragmatics of what the hell would happen so it doesn’t feel like a cartoon. And from a pure action point of view, there’s a great car chase and smashup on a bridge. It’s in the trailer. As the car’s going forward, she’s going backward. It’s vicious and so much fun.
MTV: The second trailer has a sort of chopped-up timeline. Is that the way the movie proceeds?
di Bonaventura: The way it proceeds in the film is that things start to appear differently to you as you go along and what you thought was the truth begins to shift on you. Sometimes you’re going back and forward in time. You’re consequently getting information from the past and switching time frames on that level.
MTV: One day on set, she ended up going to the hospital because she hit her head. What goes through your head when you find out Angelina Jolie got hurt on set?
di Bonaventura: Well, I was actually there. When you make action sequences, there’s always a possibility of something — and we guard against it. Angie is daring and wants to do all her stunts. We sometimes have to talk her out of doing stuff. She’s ready to go. She’s fearless. She believes the more the movie star does, the more fantastic it is. I remember the first screening of “The Matrix,” people went, “Oh my god, Keanu Reeves can fight!” Angelina does that in our movie. So when you hear your star is banged up, you hold your breath. We knew it was not a critical injury. We took her to the hospital as a precaution. It all turned out fine.
Are you excited to see Angelina doing her own stunts in “Salt”? Let us know in the comments!
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