Angelina Jolie Mans Up

'Salt' actress talks about her sex change, tips from her drag-doing co-stars and kicking butt in her new spy thriller

By Chris Azzopardi

Angelina Jolie's just one of the boys. Not only by being a butt-kicking bombshell in "Wanted" or the "Tomb Raider" series, but truly transforming into a man for her role in "Salt," an is-she-isn't-she? espionage action-thriller that casts one of the most famous and bankable bisexuals as a tenacious CIA agent who's framed as a sleeper spy.

Jolie's character is Evelyn Salt, who freaks and hides when a walk-in outs her - resulting in a sweaty-palms-producing popcorn flick that finds Jolie doing daredevil stunts: balancing on skyscrapers, hop-scotching across trucks and fighting off men almost twice her size.

The actress is toothpick tiny - and also, on this particular day at a Ritz-Carlton suite in Washington, D.C., just before the film's July 23 release, she's all woman. With a black knee-length skirt, flowing locks and those famous pursed lips that exaggerate her cheek bones, the 35-year-old's a picture-perfect beauty who seemingly walked out from one of the countless magazine covers she's graced.

So stunning, actually, that she left co-star Liev Schreiber, her CIA boss in the film, nervously in awe - until they started talking about their kids and time-outs and teething.

"All the sexual tension went out of the room," Schreiber recalls, sighing with relief. "All the anxiety about her being very famous and a superhuman celebrity went away, and I found this very nice, easy person that I could relate to."

And then, as Jolie underwent the man makeover, they had something else in common: drag. Three years ago, Schreiber cross-dressed, starring as Vilma in Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock"; their "Salt" co-star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, did the same as Lola in the 2005 comedy "Kinky Boots." Now Jolie had her shot, and she was just ecstatic: "I couldn't help myself!"

"You realize every lead in this movie has cross-dressed? It's just the greatest thing," she adds - that big ol' grin cutting across her face. "I'm surprised that picture hasn't got out: the three of us next to each other, in our matching drag photos."

More than a doctored pic might be on the way, though, according to Schreiber: "I'm actually nervous, because Angelina's fairly powerful in Hollywood and she's got it in her head that she wants to do a movie with her, me and Chiwetel ... where Chiwetel and I are women and she's a man." He pauses: "I have a feeling that she's going to actually make this happen."

Not that Schreiber would mind. A similar thought's already crossed his mind: a TV show starring him and Ejiofor as two cross-dressing cops. He's even ahead of Jolie; there's a name for the series: "Sassy & Butch."

Wondering who'd be Butch?

"I'm Butch," he deadpans. "Come on, I'm 6 feet tall."

With Jolie's own butch turn in "Salt" (whom the crew named "Johnny," she notes), the actress received gender-bending tips from her co-stars, basically telling her to just go for it - be dude, and have fun doing it. But hearing her speak, with short hair and a manly mask, weirded out everyone - including her partner, Brad Pitt.

"Nobody could talk to me," Jolie remembers. "It wasn't as much what he looked like; it was when I spoke, when it was my voice coming out of him. Brad came to visit me once and I said, 'You don't want to come; I'm going to be the man.' And he said, 'It won't bother me. It's you. Whatever.' Then he came, and I was changing, so I was half-woman, half-man. (He was) so creeped out by that!"

Outside of Brangelina, and being a full-time job for those pestering paparazzi, Jolie's also noted for her roles - from a desperate mother in 2008's "Changeling" to her many memorable action heroines. Her genre-spanning work has earned her accolades (an Oscar for 1999's "Girl, Interrupted"), critical adoration (as the bisexual, AIDS-infected model Gia in the eponymous HBO biopic) and screen roles that are almost always made for men. Very few females lead action flicks like Jolie does.

None of her stunt work in "Salt" is blue-screened. There's no CGI trickery. Just the actress and her badass self doing - with longtime stunt coordinator Simon Crane's assistance - mad-crazy jumps, fights and balancing acts that made director Phillip Noyce, who compares her brave bits to "Cirques du Soleil," an anxious mess. The job sounds freaky even for the most macho man (Harrison Ford almost lost his head on the set of Noyce's "Clear and Present Danger") - and initially, the role was made for one.

Evelyn was Edwin, until Tom Cruise backed out and Jolie jumped on board - for obvious reasons, says Noyce: "You get to see one of the most beautiful women in the world beat up an army of guys," he laughs, "and having Tom Cruise or somebody else beat up an army of guys, well, we've seen that before."

But Noyce wasn't ready - and, by the nervous laughter he lets out while recalling those gutsy scenes, probably never would be - for Jolie to pull off those physical feats. The first time they worked together, on the eerie thriller "The Bone Collector," Jolie just walked casually through creepy corridors with a flashlight. That was over 10 years ago. Some things change. Noyce says, "Success has given her more fearlessness - in every way."

Success - or power, really - has also enabled Jolie to call the shots, nabbing some of the best roles for women. Evelyn, and the fact that she kicks ass without gender being a limitation, is one of them. The character's crafty, fast as all hell and surprisingly desexualized. Even unglamorous. Angelina ... not half-naked?

Jolie explains: "It was extremely important to me (to desexualize Salt), because I just felt that she was better than that. Not that it wouldn't have been fun to do if it was appropriate in a scene, but it just felt like if we can find a way to not need that, let's not."

Sadly for some, sex scenes were cut (look for them on the DVD, assures Noyce) as the focus became Evelyn's dude-defeating deftness. On-set powwows concluded with this: She'd have to be darker, meaner and badder than the boys.

"I've never underestimated women, so I'm not surprised to start seeing women do these things," Jolie says. "That's why we didn't actually approach it as, Salt's a woman; we just approached it as, Salt's a badass and happens to be a woman and this should be no real huge surprise for anybody."

Few films like "Salt," with a lead lady throwing down and dirtying up, ever surface. But this one's especially unheard of - and a first for Jolie. "It's the opposite of actually every action movie I've ever done, because there's never really been a female action movie based in reality. They're always fantasy."

Pondering, she smiles big again, then laughs: "I've done most of 'em."

  • Latest News

Enter To Win

Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more

Special Section: Pride Guide
Lake Effect

Hot off Season 7 of the LOGO channel's "Ru Paul's Drag Race" phenomenon, Darienne Lake of Season 6 spoke with Between the Lines about her upcoming hosting gig at Motor City Pride June 6.

View More Pride Guide
This Week's Issue

Download or view this week's print issue today!