Noyce: Hollywood’s Rebel

17 August, 2010 by IF

By Brendan Swift

It’s been a long time since Phillip Noyce turned his back on Hollywood.


It was June 2000 when the Australian director, whose last five films had each grossed more than $US100 million, made the decision.

The choice? Direct Harrison Ford in another Jack Ryan spy-thriller – The Sum of All Fears – or return to Australia for a small indigenous-themed film called Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Despite its small budget and lack of stars, it was the latter which won the day, proving to be the perfect antidote to the Hollywood machine.

“Working outside the system was great,” Noyce tells INSIDEFILM. “It freed me in terms of the stories that I could make but it imposed other huge obligations like having to work to find audiences and not working at all.”

The past decade has seen just two films follow Rabbit-Proof Fence: political thriller The Quiet American (2002) and international drama Catch a Fire (2006). Neither were box office hits while other projects, including adaptations of the novels Dirt Game and American Pastoral, stalled in development.

“So when the Hollywood system came calling with a blockbuster, as you described it, a movie that was all ready to go – as long as we could find the right actor or actress – I sort of felt maybe it was wise to say yes, particularly as maybe I wouldn’t get asked again as I’d turned my back on that whole machine, declared my independence and decamped from Los Angeles and returned to Australia.”

It was a spy thriller, then called Edwin A. Salt, which lured him back, after an assistant in Los Angeles, who was still reading film scripts on his behalf, came across the story.

“It was about a male who is accused of being a Russian mole and she loved it,” Noyce says.

“The story was the story of someone’s journey to discover themselves in a way. I loved it, first of all, because she sent me something to read and I loved that, but I also loved it because I was attracted to this concept of super spies.

“It’s a weapon – a human weapon that I’ve been interested in for decades. I find a deep cover mole to be a very interesting human being because they’re the ultimate actor.”

It is a recurring motif in both his work – The Saint (1997) as well as the Jack Ryan films – and personal life – Noyce’s father was a military spy in Australia’s Z Force during World War II.

(Noyce was originally set to direct Australian film Attack Force Z in 1979 before disagreements with the producer resulted in him being replaced by Tim Burstall.)

Salt continues the theme although the story underwent its own twists with Tom Cruise originally set to play the lead role before deciding that his Mission Impossible character Ethan Hunt was too similar.

Salt opens in Australian cinemas on August 19. Check out the September issue of INSIDEFILM magazine for the rest of this feature.