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The Stunts: Angelina Jolie in ‘Salt’

Angelina Jolie and stunt coordinator Simon Crane share a shorthand developed over six movies in which the petite, 34-year-old actress has spent almost as much time harnessed to cables as she has sitting in the makeup chair.

“We know how to write an action sequence that plays to her skill set,” Crane says by phone from Venice, Italy, where he’s now working with Jolie and Johnny Depp on “The Tourist.” “She’s probably more opinionated and stubborn than when we first started. But then, that’s my job — to tell her what is possible and what is not.”

Judging from the trailers for Jolie’s new espionage thriller, “Salt,” which opens July 23, we have to wonder if Crane — or Jolie herself — ever thinks any stunt is beyond the realm of possibility.

“Simon is the best stunt coordinator in the business as he brings each character’s unique personality into the fight scenes,” Jolie says in an e-mail. “We call him ‘Dr. Crane’ because he’s the fixer. He’s the man we all call when we need something difficult done.”

“Salt” takes its name from Jolie’s CIA agent, a woman running from all kinds of trouble after being labeled a Russian sleeper spy. Over the course of the movie, Jolie makes like Dr. Richard Kimble, eluding her pursuers by jumping off bridges, hopping across high-rise ledges and leaping out of a helicopter.

“She’s absolutely fearless when it comes to high places,” Crane says. “That’s a fantastic asset to have. You can use her confidence with heights to put her in all kinds of dicey situations and know that she’s going to be convincing pulling it off.”

One example can be glimpsed in the movie’s trailer where Salt, cornered by CIA agents who refuse to listen to her, takes a flying leap, lands on top of a speeding container truck and then jumps from moving truck to moving truck before pushing a motorcyclist off his bike and escaping in a roar of engines. Through the use of cables, harnesses and safety padding, as well as the magic of post-production digital erasing, Jolie made every one of the leaps herself.

“It seems crazy, but it’s true,” Crane says. “We rehearsed everything with doubles, but Angelina was really game.”

Crane calls the bridge jump an “emotional leap” for the character. “No one in her right mind would make that jump,” he says. From there, Salt ditches the French braid and golden blond hair color for basic black, transforming herself into another kind of woman entirely.

That radical shift seems appropriate since “Salt” itself began its life several years ago as a vehicle for Tom Cruise.

“It feels a bit fresher doing all this with a woman,” Crane says, “especially a woman like Angelina, where you can make the action down and dirty. Give her a gun or a grenade and there’s no one better.”

calendar@latimes.com


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