At the London premiere this week of Angelina Jolie's new movie Salt, there was a sense of fevered anticipation as hundreds of fans gather to catch a glimpse of the glamorous actress.
A day later there were similar scenes in Paris as crowds gathered to see her latest red carpet look.
A few days earlier I’d glimpsed her star quality for myself at the LA premiere on Hollywood Boulevard. As the sun set, the assembled TV crews began filming while security men prowl the cordoned-off street and helicopters fill the skies.
It was a scene worthy of the arrival of royalty but then, in showbiz circles, that's exactly what this is. A blacked-out car finally pulls up and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt emerge. Skipping the gossip media in favour of news crews, Ms Jolie looks phenomenal.
So is it true Salt came about from her desire to play 007? “I was meeting with [Sony Pictures Co-Chairman] Amy Pascal a few years ago when it came up in conversation that she was getting ready to make one of the new James Bond films,” says Jolie. “I playfully said, ‘I want to be Bond!' That was our little joke, and then she found this project.”
In Salt, which opens in the UK today, Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer who's forced to go on the run after facing accusations that she's a Russian spy.
“I can't tell you stuff — there's so much I can't say about Salt because she's such a secret,” says Jolie smiling widely. “But I think when she's decided to do something she believes in, she'll do whatever it takes to do it.”
The film had originally been conceived for a male lead but several drafts later, studio executives began envisioning Jolie in the role and ‘Edwin' became ‘Evelyn'.
The film became “harder and darker when it became a woman”, says the 35-year-old who spoke to real CIA operatives as part of her research into the role. “They're these lovely, sweet women that you can't imagine being put in a dangerous situation, but they really are,” she says. For similar reasons, Jolie's children — Maddox (8), Pax (6), Zahara (5), Shiloh (4) and two-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne — have yet to see Salt.
She says laughing: “I can't show my kids movies where people are trying to kill me!
“They saw a clip and were a little disturbed. I mean, they liked the fun part. They came to the set and they liked to see me do stunts but in a clip, they saw me having my feet tied up [when Evelyn's being held hostage] and didn't like it.”
In another scene, Salt disguises herself as a man and this, too, induced alarm from her eldest son.
“When I did the test make-up for the first time, I said, ‘Can somebody get Maddox?' because he's the oldest and can handle it,” says Jolie. “I didn't speak and he looked at me bored and said ‘Hi'. Then I said ‘Honey?' and he went, ‘Mom? Get it off!' He was freaked out!”
Salt's day job might be a lot more dangerous than Jolie's but their personalities aren't so different. “There's something a little off about her and there's still something off about me, so um, it seemed like a good match,” she says, laughing. “There's a real duplicity to Salt's personality and there's a part of her that's not necessarily a good guy, because of certain things that have happened. She's a bit damaged.”
Having starred as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films and as an assassin in Wanted, Jolie's no newcomer to stunts and drama, but she reckons Salt is her best action film to date.
“I love doing action and I love doing dramatic films, but I've never really been able to combine them,” she says. “For this one, it was such a nice challenge to say, ‘We have to work so much harder to convince the audience that all these things are absolutely possible'. So my [fighting] style got meaner, harder and darker, and it wasn't as fun or pretty!”
She expands on this, saying: “In some movies I've done, there's been a temptation, because I'm female, to make the action nice, but ‘nice' is not how a trained operative accused of being a sleeper mole for the enemy would fight.”
The film saw her reunite with stunt-co-ordinator Simon Crane, who she worked with on Tomb Raider and Mr & Mrs Smith, and Jolie says she once again relished the opportunity to do her own stunts and fight scenes.
“Instead of feeling scared, it's like working with the circus for the day, and you get to play,” she says — although she didn't survive the shoot unscathed.
“I had to jump into a door and shoot sideways while rolling on the ground, but I rolled into a desk and cracked my skull. Now I have a little scar,” she reveals.
It's something her younger self would have no doubt treasured. For while Jolie may now be a mother of six and famous for her humanitarian work, it wasn't so long ago that she was hitting headlines for wearing a vial of her ex-husband's blood and passionately kissing her brother at the Oscars.
“I think no matter what your circumstances are, how you were raised, whatever excuses you have for the pain in your life, or your self-destructive nature, at some point you make this big decision to make your own choices. Salt does in the film.”
And there's no doubt Jolie has too.
Salt is now showing provine-wide