Interview: Salt Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura On Cutting A Sex Scene And Female Action Heroes

When you make a movie starring Angelina Jolie, you might assume there's a single prime directive: show off her body early and often, and make sure she looks good always. But Salt isn't your average Angelina Jolie movie-- she's playing a role original written for a man, she's playing an ass-kicking female action hero in a real-world context, and oh yeah, the producer and director made the decision to cut one of the actress's sex scenes.

Come again, you say? Indeed, the steamy scene glimpsed briefly in the trailer, showing Jolie locked in a romantic embrace with co-star August Diehl, was cut from the final film. "It was definitely not an easy choice," admitted producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura when we caught up with him in Washington D.C. last week. "When we were developing the script, we had a lot of flashbacks to try to explain her life. We shot a lot of those things, small, 30-second, minute kind of things that are almost not even scenes. You'll get to see all those on the DVD." Director Phillip Noyce explained further, "We shot of a lot of material with August Diehl and Angelina that was catch-as-catch-can type stuff. Just me, my assistant shooting with them on the way home from set, we stop and film something. It was all meant to be stream of consciousness flashback material." Noyce said the director's cut will be available on the DVD and will be about seven minutes longer than the Salt opening in theaters this Friday-- including a different ending.

We'll have more from our conversations with Noyce, including an exclusive sit-down, but for now check out the rest of what di Bonaventura had to say. The producer has no lack of experience with launching blockbusters, putting his name to the Transformers franchise as well as G.I. Joe, Shooter and Constantine. He gave us the producer's point-of-view on putting together a movie like Salt, including the risks involved in changing the lead character to a woman, the ways in which Angelina Jolie is like Steve McQueen, and which A-list actress he expected to become an action star before she went the romantic comedy route. We'll have many, many more conversations with the Salt cast and crew as the week goes on, so get things started below.

In the trailer there's definitely a few scenes that didn't end making the final cut. Could you tell us what those were? There looked like a hot sex scene.

When we were developing the script, we had a lot of flashbacks to try to explain her life. We shot a lot of those things, small, 30-second, minute kind of things that are almost not even scenes. You'll get to see all those on the DVD. When we put it together, there was a really careful balance between trying to keep the movie moving at the pace it moves, because every time you're having a flashback, you're slowing down. You're taking yourself out of the present day reality.

But now all the internet commenters are saying, 'Why on earth would you cut an Angelina Jolie sex scene?'

I was asking myself the same thing. It was definitely not an easy choice.We tried putting that in instead of them meeting at the museum, but it felt like you wanted to see the meeting, you wanted to understand how this character got sucked into it as opposed to where it had evolved to. And in a way, it answered a question we didn't want to answer, too, which was, does she love him or doesn't she?

If somebody comes to you and tells you, you have to cut a few million dollars here, where is the first area affected by that, usually?

It's usually in one of two places. It's either in the secondary cast or it's in cutting one big action sequence out, and in this case, actually, we cut one out and then we all thought, well, no, we need it, so we went back and got it.

Which one?

It's the barge scene where she goes crazy.

As far as finances, production, everything, was it considered at all risky changing Edwin to Evelyn and not a video game action hero, but a real woman?

I think the biggest risk in making this movie was we played with the audience's affiliation with the lead character. You know, I've been involved in 150 plus movies in different forms and ways, and [in] every single one of those, we did one thing the same, which was make sure you like that lead character, make sure you root for them. And this is the only time where I've been involved in a movie where you purposefully affect how the audience is feeling all the way through. I've talked to people after the movie and there are some people that feel really ambivalent about her at the end of the movie, but they still liked the movie. So I think that was the bigger risk. And she has an attitude that I think you know is going to work on an action level.

Is there any way this could have been made as a female lead if it wasn't Angelina Jolie, because she has been the only successful female action star for a decade now?

I can't think of anybody right now you could make at this scale; you'd have to have made a much less expensive movie and tried to launch something. I thought Jennifer Garner was going to do it, but she went the road of romantic comedy.

Why do you think Hollywood is afraid of casting women as leads in action movies?

I don't think they're afraid. I think we follow the audience. The audience has not been really receptive to it, you know, and hopefully this will change, but there's nobody else out there right now that has that thing that she has, so it's not easy to be an action star, male or female. There's not a lot of male action stars, if you think about it, right now either.

Has working on Salt inspired you to make more strong female movies in the future?

You know, the female audience has been the most fickle audience, so they're harder to make movies for, actually. We constantly have evidence of that over and over and over again. I felt really strongly on this project that it's not a female character; I felt it was a hero. That it's not gender-driven, it is methodology-driven. Iit was funny because Amy Pascal is the head of the studio, and Angie, they were telling me, "This is going to be gender-breaking," and I kept saying, "I don't really think that." I think it's about what you want out of that character, male or female. Fundamentally the action beats that that character had to take went through the same way. I hope it opens up for more female action movies. It'd be fun.

You mentioned this "thing" that Angelina Jolie has. Can you elaborate?

She, as an actress, is so committed that it's a great leeway as a producer. Steve McQueen is the guy I keep thinking about when I think about Angie. He wasn't a big guy. He had a ton of attitude, and you had absolute conviction that he was going to do what needed to get done. She has a ton of attitude. She's not a big woman, not a big person, but you absolutely believe she can succeed. You totally buy her as she's going through knocking one Secret Service agent out after the other.

The script has changed so much, but what was it like when you optioned it?

The thing that hooked me was the moment when the Russian says, "Then you're the spy." When you read that in the draft, it was like, I'm in. Like, almost anything could have happened after that. When I watch the movie, that's still the moment where I go, yeah, okay, here we go. In the third act is really where the preponderance of changes that occurred from the script to actually making the movie.

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend