Who could singlehandedly heat up the Cold War till it sizzles red-hot? The answer, of course, is Angelina Jolie. Arguably the silver screen’s sexiest siren, Jolie once again delves into the shadowy world of spooks and skulduggery in her latest spy thriller, Salt. In the film, she plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer who is accused of being a Russian double agent and then goes rogue to evade capture. As Evelyn’s existence is being erased, she uses her deadly spy skills to clear her name. But, in the web of espionage, nothing is as it seems—and neither, it appears, is Evelyn.
“Angelina plays a character who is both good and bad,” explains Salt director Phillip Noyce. He apologizes for sounding cryptic. “If I say any more it will give too much away,” he says. “Evelyn’s duality leads audiences into a fascinating jigsaw puzzle, and the fun is putting all the pieces together.”
Meanwhile, halfway round the world, in Venice, Jolie is already filming yet another spy caper called The Tourist, in which she plays an undercover Interpol agent who uses an American tourist (played by Johnny Depp) to help her entrap a former lover who is a suspected global criminal.
If you’re beginning to sense a pattern here, you may just qualify for MI6. Jolie has mysteriously cornered the market on spy films: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), The Good Shepherd (2006), Wanted (2008), Salt (2010) and The Tourist (2011). If you count her female James Bondesque adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and its sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), to quote Ian Fleming: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” Maybe, just maybe, Jolie isn’t really acting. What if our greatest covert operative is, as the old spy adage goes, “hiding in plain sight”?
Hmmm… Let’s consider Jolie’s qualifications, shall we? She’s intelligent and perceptive, and her humanitarian efforts as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Goodwill Ambassador provide her access to international trouble spots. And, oh, yeah, her proficiency with knives and guns is razor-sharp—so much so that it even surprised Brad Pitt when they first met before filming the husband-and-wife-assassin thriller Mr. & Mrs. Smith. “We were running together through these weapons-training courses, and I was very impressed,” he says. When asked who was the better shot, Pitt concedes defeat with a laugh. “Well, I think that’s pretty obvious, don’t you?”
Hmmm… Jolie offers additional clues when we discuss her recent Navy SEALs refresher course. “I’m used to certain kinds of weapons,” she divulges. “I had some bad habits of shooting a certain way and doubling up with two guns. I needed to learn to work in tandem with a partner.” Uh-huh. Later, Jolie confesses to connecting more with the assassin side of her character in Mr. & Mrs. Smith than the domestic “suburban housewife” cover. “She is probably more like me than not like me,” explains Jolie, slyly arching her right eyebrow. “I mean, I don’t kill people for a living,” she adds quickly with a sultry smile, “but there’s a side of me that is a bit closed off. She doesn’t trust anybody and isn’t too soft as a woman.” So, in other words, I press on, you are more comfortable holding a gun than cooking pot roast? “Oh, absolutely,” says Jolie, laughing. “Absolutely—hands down!”
Hmmm… Noyce—no stranger to the spy world himself with his ’90s-era Jack Ryan films Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, as well as The Saint and, more recently, The Quiet American—marvels at Jolie’s physical prowess. “She’s absolutely fearless, and her focus is uncanny,” he explains. “I planned on using stunt doubles, but she refused. There’s one sequence where Angelina has to jump from a car to a truck and then off the edge of an overpass down to another freeway and onto another truck, and she’s attached only by a thin cable. For me, it was completely nerve-racking, but for Angelina, who has this remarkable confidence and absolutely no fear of heights, it was as easy as doing a dramatic scene.” Jolie, however, shrugs off her spectacular feats of derringdo as simply a way to entertain her children: “Now I’m twice as motivated to do a really cool stunt because my kids will love it.”
Hmmm… One thing’s for sure: Jolie can kick butt in Hollywood’s traditionally male-dominated action genre like no other woman. In fact, Salt was originally intended as a Tom Cruise project, but the actor bailed when the plot became too similar to his Mission Impossible films. After Jolie came on board, Edwin Salt became Evelyn Salt and the script underwent some major revamping. “Angelina wanted to take the character sort of two notches toward the realistic,” explains Noyce. It’s a role that Jolie knows well—perhaps too well. So maybe it’s time to lay our cards on the table. I playfully ask Jolie how she thinks she’d fare as a spy. Surprisingly, she takes the question rather seriously. “Well, I’m not very good at lying,” she insists. “However, I know I’d do quite well in a militant type of situation. But as a spy…I don’t know.” After a pause, a devilish grin spreads across her face. “Maybe a Mata Hari spy,” she says, laughing.
Hmmm… The plot thickens.
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