Eastwood's new leading lady shows grit

As a superstar actress, the tattooed Oscar winner (“Girl, Interrupted”) has always had fun tweaking conventional ideas about roles and identity — and people’s expectations of her.

That helps explain how the 33-year-old mother of six and staunch human rights advocate can seamlessly slip from playing the ultraviolent assassin of the summer hit “Wanted” into the heartbreaking role of “Changeling’s” Christine Collins, a single parent whose 9-year-old son vanishes into thin air in 1920s L.A.

Based on a true story, the Clint Eastwood-directed film also examines the nature of identity — the police insist that a runaway found in Illinois is her son, although he’s three inches shorter — and the role of the distraught mother proved to be a perfect fit for Jolie. Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer approached Jolie “very early on, and once Clint was interested, I called her and that’s all I had to say,” he recalls. “She just said, ‘Let’s go.’ She was extremely enthusiastic. It wasn’t any gigantic producing skill on my part.

“It’s a tour de force for an actress, and many actresses wanted the part, because it’s appealing on so many levels,” he adds. “We spoke to Angie first, and she’s the one we wanted, because she has it all. She has credibility, intensity and evokes empathy, and that’s what you need in this character. She’s also very attractive and appealing, and that matters, because what’s going on in the film is so horrific.

“It’s such a tragedy and such a brutal role that in order for an audience to get through it, you not only have to have tremendous screen impact and presence, you have to have that sexual or female appeal, and Angie has all that.”

Once shooting began, Grazer was immediately “very impressed” by Jolie’s on-set demeanor.

“She’s enormously committed and dedicated, both as an actress and a mother,” he notes, “and so this project was right in the nexus of what is primordial to a woman — her relationship with her child. So the protection she’d naturally offer her kids in real life, coupled with her critical awareness of her own childhood and introspective observations of that, all contributed to her personal interest in the role. I marveled at her ability to connect with this character.”

Grazer also was amazed at Jolie’s ability to focus on the task at hand, “even while hundreds of paparazzi were often trying to take pictures,” he adds. “It never seemed to distract her, or from her complete connection to Clint and their relationship on set. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Coming attractions

Jolie is attached to “The Mercenary: Love and Honor” from writer-director Randall Wallace, about the life of Russian dictator Catherine the Great.

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