Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor: The Salt Junket Interviews

SALT, the sizzling summer blockbuster from Sony Entertainment and Columbia Pictures starring  Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor is headed toward sweet success as it edges closer to the 200million mark worldwide.

Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and partner Naomi Watts.

Directed by Phillip Noyce and produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, SALT has remained on a steady trajectory since its premiere three weeks ago and should round out the top three films of the 2010 summer season.

Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Director Phillip Noyce at the LA premiere of SALT.

In addition to Angelina Jolie and Director Philip Noyce, whose roundtable interviews were posted in “SALT Adds Flavor To The Summer Box Office” we also had the opportunity to speak with  Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Liev Schreiber and partner, Naomi Watts at the LA Premiere of SALT.

Liev Schreiber whom Director Philip Noyce has described as “one of America’s greatest living actor’s”  began the interview process and set a nice tone for the remainder of the interviews and was quick to put us at ease. Below is the exchange between Liev and myself as we moved from the meat of the role to its preparation and his style of implementation.

Angelina Jolie and Chiwetel Ejiofor in at the International Press Junket in Cancun, Mexico.

Janet Walker: We know more about the CIA and we know more about Operative Culture and we live in a society where everything is highly technologically advanced and it advances quickly. How did you bring those elements to the your role?

Liev Schreiber: Technology?

Janet Walker: Well, not the technology but how did you incorporate those elements in your role as you portrayed your role. What was your process? Was it all on the script and you followed the script or did you bring any of your own . . .

Liev Schreiber: I guess, what appealed to me most about the genre is and generally about acting is working in opposition. If you have a character to is perceived as a cold blooded killer or espionage expert what you want to do as an actor is find the opposite the opposition so in that case where is the domestic side of the person, where is the mundane side of this person, where is the emotional of this person, where is the vulnerable side of this person. So for me what I was really interested in I guess the first time I played a CIA operative and it carried through to this film as well, ‘What’s the water cooler gossip like?’ Because if you can get that sense of familiarity with the character then it becomes much more believable and we received as human beings in these situations and not machines. Which is, I think, for me in a great film that’s what you do  and there are many great films that don’t do that but from an acting perspective that’s much more interesting to me. Because you can more compelling to watch because its human and much easier to catch the audience off guard if you can get them to identify.

One the set of SALT.

Janet Walker: What are your most memorable moment from working on this film?
Liev Schreiber: Most memorable moment working on the film? I think the most memorable moments was the scripts conversations that happened in the first two weeks because there  was a lot of rethinking and renegotiating plots which was terrifying and very exciting.

Janet Walker: Did you get the script as Edwin Salt or Evelyn?
Liev Schreiber: By the time I got it was already Angelina.

Janet Walker: Would your preparation had been different if you had received the script from a male point-of-view and then had to change all of to a female. Would it have changed your role at all and if you would’ve how would you have done that?
Liev Schreiber: Of course it would be different it were a man my whole relationship to them would be different it would change how I think about the character. But the fact that it was a woman created more opportunity, different kinds of opportunity, for finding ways to relate to her.

Director Phillip Noyce.

Janet Walker: I know that there were CIA consultants working on the film, Do you think in the CIA operative world the gender lines are blurred or is it  clearly a gender class male and female operatives and they work from that point of view?
Liev Schreiber: I don’t know enough about the CIA to know what their sexual politics are but I suspect it’s like any other job place where you know women run into problems dealing with male co-workers and vice versa.

Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor during the SALT filming.

Janet Walker: You mentioned one of your most memorable moments was the first two weeks of the film and you didn’t really elaborate on what that was and when you got that script what turned that into a most memorable moment in the process?
Liev Schreiber: No. It’s the first two weeks when everybody is in the same room negotiating decisions. And that’s very important because on a film like this, and I think it happens on a lot of action films and a lot of films that move very quickly is that some decisions need to be made a group very quickly because the movies are so expensive and when they have this many twists and turns you got to commit to things and the problem is if you’re not all committing to the same things you can run into huge problems down the road. And it was very important to make those decisions quickly and commit to them as thing shifted or locations changed or ideas changed you knew the direction you were trying to push the character and you had agreed with the director, the producer and the other actors that you were trying to push the character in that direction. And the reason that time is exciting is that that really is the birth of the character when it really starts to happen.

Janet Walker: You spoke perfect Russian. How did you learn it? Are you bi-lingual?
Liev Schreiber: Well, I had to learn Russian for four films now. I’m getting better at faking it. I still can’t really speak Russian.

Liev Schreiber at the SALT junket roundtable.*

Following Liev Schreiber was British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. For those who don’t recognize the name , you’ll surely recognize his face from his recent role as Dr. Adrian Helmsley in 2012 the mega-hit from Director Roland Emmerich and possibly from the sleeper hit, Love Actually. His native British accent was appealing, to an anglophile, and a bit unnerving, at first, as he rarely plays the Brit. He too, was accommodating and very interesting.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber arrive in Washington, DC for the SALT junket.

Janet Walker: Did you have a most memorable moment when you worked on the film? One particular time that stood out as opposed to the entire process?
Chiwetel Ejiofor:  Good question. I don’t know if there was one moment that I was say differed hugely. I was I was very intrigued by the claustrophobia aspect of the film, initially. That we were all in this office building with room and corridors and chemical changes and temperatures and this idea that words can be spoken and everyone is looking at each other differently and I just thought the concepts of that and Daniel [Olbrychski] who came in to play Olov who I just thought was remarkable to watch and listen to through this two-way glass that we had and was kind of brilliant and the speeches he had in the early part of the film are quite long and the way I was observing them had this kind of theatrical quality to them and not his performance just the nature of sitting there watching him. I just thought he was amazing I thought he was incredible so deeper than the character.

Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor with SALT Director Phillip Noyce.

Janet Walker: How did you prepare for your role?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Well, I just spoke to people in the CIA. People who were in the CIA and I was very interested in the interdepartmental aspects of intelligence and whether there were any tensions between counter intelligence and agents in the field and what were the dividing points are between being an agent does the farm then goes into the field and somebody who does counterintelligence knowing that one of the things you are looking for is your own colleagues in the CIA and knowing therefore that there is going to be a level of being ostracized and what would create that decision. I was curious about that.

And different people have different perspectives the things. One of the things I concluded with the others with these two guys especially around this idea of moles there’s definitely these elements of tension between them. They exist well before anyone comes in and defectors around and that was the kind of the jump off point of the tension between them.

Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor in SALT.

Janet Walker: You role was one of counter terrorism so you had to look at your colleagues in a particular way or be suspect of your colleagues, not counter terrorist . . . 
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Counter intelligence.
Janet Walker: Counter intelligence. So would that have changed if it had been Edwin Salt or is it across the board in suspect regardless of gender?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Yes. I think the script changed in a number of different ways as a result of the gender change. I don’t know if that was one of them I don’t think so. But I say there is so much we have in terms of gender expectation that I was so surprised. It was surprising to me and  I came to the project fairly late well after these changes had been made and Edwin and Evelyn but I still was aware that certain things were being figured out because things were slightly about more expectation and I think it’s still quite fascinating. If a man is trying to save his wife there’s a different  there’s a subtle difference in terms of the movie than the woman trying to save her husband.  And trying to delineate what those difference are in fact it’s quite complicated buts it’s about our expectations are for the character. I think it’s very interesting the way it is now I think it pushes certain boundaries and I don’t know if there are many other films that have pushed that and it also shows that it works and you don’t feel like the husbands weak or you don’t feel you buy both characters and I think that’s a very important push.

Chiwetel Ejiofor at the SALT junket roundtable.*

Janet Walker: Did you have any access actual case files that were opened up or real situations that they gave you to look into?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Well, no I was quite sensitive about it. I didn’t want to get involved really too much with the details of people being in the field. But people were forthcoming about the nature of the guys who were accused of being moles about five or six years ago and people who were selling secrets and that sort of started the operations around them and how they were closed down. It was quite interesting. I was also curious about some of the more violent aspects of life in CIA. I was curious about them and I was more into the bureaucracy of the CIA. You know, I wanted to play Peabody as a person not as an agent and it felt to do that you had to understand the nine-five aspects of him that can then break out into something else but start somewhere quite rooted and I was a little more interested in that as a role.

Chiwetel Ejiofor with Angelina Jolie.

Janet Walker: You’re an accomplished and respected stage actor and in demand film actor. Do you have a preference between stage and film? If yes, which and why?
Chiwetel Ejiofor:  I don’t know if I have a preference really. The great benefit of theater is that you get to take the train with you. You get to go on the journey and the audience can somehow inform what kind of night they are looking to have, somehow and they can tell you things about how you’re doing it and it’s kind of an interesting cooperation. That you go through in theater that you don’t go through in film. But then at the same time film does offer a kind of wide expanse in opportunity and the attempts the people you can meet and the people you can talk to about characters about things I found in film to be so available it’s such a wide medium and so many people involved in it I have a lot of affection for them both. I do feel like it can never be too long, I can’t be off stage for too long before I feel like I need to get back and reboot.

Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura on the set of Transformers.

The next SALT Junket interview will feature Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. The final installment will feature former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former US Intelligence officer and Middle East Counterterrorism Expert, Melissa Mahle, Director of Communications and Analysis under the Bush Administration, Kirk Whitworth and Operative and former KGB General Oleg Kalugin.

SALT, the espionage action thriller, soars past the 100m mark.

Special Thanks to Warren Betts of Warren Betts Communications.

Pictures where noted by Janet Walker courtesy of Pulse Point Productions, Inc.

Other images courtesy of Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures and Google Search.

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