The most recognizable woman in the world is going undercover.
Angelina Jolie begins work today on Salt, a spy thriller about a rogue CIA operative who tries to clear her name after she is accused of being a Russian sleeper agent — perhaps falsely, perhaps not.Among the many different looks she has in the film are a soft-looking, all-business blonde and a raven-haired femme fatale who easily could be concealing a dagger or a gun.
Which is the real Salt? That's what filmmakers say is the central mystery.
"She's a character you never know," says Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who also produced Transformers and the upcoming G.I. Joe. "People who think they know the real her may or may not. Those who think they can tell whether she's in a disguise also may or may not.
"You're supposed to be kept guessing. She tells you her agenda, but are you supposed to believe it?"
Jolie's character, Evelyn A. Salt, originally was called Edwin A. Salt, back when the role was intended for Tom Cruise, who dropped out last summer. Jolie is a proven action star after the Tomb Raider movies, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Wanted, but di Bonaventura says it wasn't as simple as changing "he" to "she" in the script.
"I had no idea how complex it would be," he says. "We had to rethink the whole notion of how a man vs. a woman operates in the business world, in personal relationship and in friendships."
The film co-stars Liev Schreiber (Defiance) as Winter, her ally and supervisor in the CIA's Russia office, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) as Peabody, a counterintelligence officer who tries to take her down.
Salt is being directed by Phillip Noyce, who made the 1990s-era Jack Ryan films with Harrison Ford, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.
He promises Salt will be "a reality-based spy movie with action set pieces as thrilling as the most crowd-pleasing movies of this genre."
Comparisons are inevitable. Salt recalls TV's Alias, with its female action hero donning multiple disguises. It also will be measured against the current spy-movie trendsetters: the Daniel Craig reboot of James Bond and Matt Damon's Jason Bourne films.
Di Bonaventura says Salt is different because the character is trying to hide truths about herself rather than discover them. "The question of Jason Bourne is 'Who am I?' " he says. "The question of Salt is, 'We know everything about her, but do we?' (Her pursuers) have a ton of information to act on, but that's where they begin to question what is real and what isn't."
Salt shoots in Washington and New York City. It opens in 2010.
By Anthony Breznican