CAST: Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Phillip Noyce.

BACK STORY: Jolie wasn’t always slated to play the lead in this action thriller. Tom Cruise initially had the part before dropping out in a highly publicized split -- and it was more difficult than producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura imagined to adjust the script for a woman.

“I thought, ‘That’s not gonna be that hard.’ But it was actually a far more complex exercise than I expected,” he says. “But we still had Angelina -- the only female movie star taken in an action element as no different than a man.”

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer charged with being a Russian sleeper spy by a defector. To prove her allegiance to her country, Salt jets off on a mission during which she must constantly escape capture.

The adventure required Jolie to perform a number of stunts, for which she spent much time training, Di Bonaventura says. “She is so prepared and so ready and gung-ho, she’ll do any stunt. We had her jumping out of helicopters, shooting, jumping off of all sorts of things and infiltrating places that are impossible to infiltrate.”

FILM CLIP: More than 150 paparazzi showed up for the New York City shoot trying to snap a coveted shot of Jolie. “It requires a lot of prep knowing they’re coming and figuring out how to create enough space for us to shoot the movie so they can’t get into where we’re shooting,” the producer says. Costar Schreiber admired Jolie’s grace under that pressure. “She’s incredibly smart and pretty easy on the eyes -- what’s not to like? You expect her to be this megalomaniac, but she’s not.”

-- Amy Kaufman

NEXT: “Shutter Island”