EXCLUSIVE: I was bruised and battered – Phillip Noyce

Australian director Phillip Noyce says he’s happy to be back in the Hollywood “selling machine” with his latest spy action thriller Salt, instead of having to find an audience for his films.

“After 10 years, I was feeling bruised and battered by having to work to find audiences for those [independent] films. It was almost like finding each audience member one by one, at each cinema, around Australia and the rest of the world,” Noyce told Encore.

Noyce said that it wasn’t the making of Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American and Catch a Fire that left him bruised, but convincing people to see them.

“That’s Hollywood’s greatest achievement; getting people to see the movies they make. I was happy to be back in that selling machine; the chance to jump on a moving rollercoaster was irresistible.

“I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve been out of the circus ring that is the mainstream Hollywood movie-making machine for 10 years, and I thought ‘if they’re inviting me back maybe I should say yes, because I might not get invited to another party again,” he admitted.

The director – whose last USfilm was The Bone Collector in 1999, with a young Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington – said he wanted the chance to work at that level again.

“I wanted that level of support that you get from a studio; once they decide to make a film, they go hell for leather in terms of supporting the filmmaker,” he said.

Noyce’s U$110m Salt stars Angelina Jolie as an agent who is accused of being a Russian sleeper agent – a subject that Noyce says he’d been interested in for a long time. But Salt is stylistically very different from the spy movies Noyce made in the 1990s, starring Harrison Ford and based on Tom Clancy novels.

“The kineticism of Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) and the necessity for your action heroes to actually engage you emotionally were the two precedents that changed this kind of movie. I knew the audience would demand at least that much from Salt, so we had to pick up where those directors had left off, and then go further,” he said.

And how did he ensure he’d be up for the challenge?

“It’s like a baton passing from one director to another, and we all work off each other’s examples. How did I do it? Just by watching what had come before, and sitting amongst audiences and enjoying those filmmakers movies and knowing that I’d have to exceed them – or try to, anyway.

“Ten years ago I was clearly her teacher, and when she came back for this project I was humble enough to admit that she now had a lot to teach me, particularly in the area of action films,” said Noyce.

Salt has earned U$162m worldwide since its release on July 23, and it will be released in Australia by Sony Pictures on August 19.


Although he had more than U$100m to create Salt, Noyce says he still remembers what it felt like to be given his first opportunity.

“When I first turned up on the set of Newsfront back in 1977, outside the State Theatre in Market St, Sydney, and saw all those vehicles and extras and crew members, I thought that there was some other movie shooting, not mine, because I could have never imagined that I’d be the one to say ‘Action!’ to all those people and use all that equipment.

“Growing up in Australia at a time when there was almost no Australian film industry, and no expectation that you would ever be actually paid to make movies, it’s all been a gift. It’s all been completely unexpected, from the beginning right up until now, so making a Hollywood movie was a gift, but so was making any movie, coming from this country and this film culture,” explained Noyce.

He currently has two Australian projects in development. The first is the long-awaited adaptation of Tim Winton’s Dirt Music; originally conceived for Heath Ledger, the director hopes the character will now be played by Russell Crowe: “We’re in the process of reworking the script for a slightly older central male character.”

Noyce is also producing Indigenous director Darlene Johnson’s first feature, Obelia, based on her mother’s experiences during the 1950s as a circus performer. It’s currently in financing stage.

“It’s sort of a reverse stolen generation story. Darlene’s mum gave her up for adoption but then stole her back from the NSW welfare system and went on the run as a fugitive, carrying her baby with her,” explained Noyce.


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