Angelina Jolie And Denzel Washington's The Bone Collector Roles Came With A Stipulation

Following the success of Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs" in 1991, Hollywood released an eight-year-long tidal wave of serial killer thrillers, each one pulpier than the last. This was the era of "Seven," "Copycat," "Along Came a Spider," "Jennifer 8," "See No Evil," "Eye of the Beholder," "Sliver," "Knight Moves," and any number of others. Right at the end of the decade came Phillip Noyce's 1999 thriller "The Bone Collector," based on the airport novel by Jeffery Deaver. Deaver's original novel was the first of the long-running Lincoln Rhyme series, a series that saw its 16th installment published in 2023. Lincoln Rhyme, thanks to a spinal accident, could not move his body below his neck, and fought crime from his bed, deducting details, looking at pictures, and relying on his team. 

In the film adaptation, Denzel Washington played Lincoln Rhyme and Angelina Jolie played his plucky crime fighting partner Amelia Donaghy. These were some notably high-profile actors for such pulpy material. Luckily the actors were immensely appealing (as they always are) and Jeremy Iacone's script was tight and good. Made on a mid-budget of $48 million, "The Bone Collector" made $151 million worldwide. It's a pretty good flick. 

Both Washington and Jolie were busy and in-demand in 1999. Washington would appear in "The Hurricane" later the same year, and receive an Oscar nomination, while Jolie was to win an Oscar for her performance in "Girl, Interrupted" released the following month. How, one might ask, did the makers of a mid-budget thriller like "The Bone Collector" manage to secure the talents of two of the hottest actors in Hollywood? 

According to an article from SyFy, Noyce arranged an unusual financial deal. 

Noyce? Noice!

The path to get to Washington and Jolie is not as straight as one might think. It seems that in early stages of the development of "The Bone Collector," Al Pacino was to play Lincoln Rhyme, as producer Martin Bregman was good friends with the actor, having produced "Serpico," "Scarface," "Carlito's Way," and "Dog Day Afternoon." Pacino was poised to do "The Bone Collector," but he would instead (perhaps wisely) choose to appear in the Academy Award darling "The Insider," Michael Mann's whistleblower drama. 

After Pacino left, the studio uncreatively began tossing out the names of giant stars, just to see which ones Noyce would be okay working with. According to the SyFy article, Universal suggested that Sean Connery or Harrison Ford play Lincoln Rhyme, while Demi Moore or Nicole Kidman play Donaghy. Snore. Not that those actors aren't impressive, or incapable of playing the roles in question, but they do seem uncreative. Noyce rejected those suggestions, however, wanting Washington and Jolie specifically. Universal, it seems didn't like those two, likely because they weren't considered "bankable" enough, or perhaps merely didn't appear in enough studio blockbusters. 

Whatever the reason, Noyce had to put his foot down and insist on the actors he wanted, and came up with a clever financial arrangement: if "The Bone Collector" went over budget, Noyce would pay for any overages personally out of his own pocket. If, however, he came in under budget, Noyce would be allowed to keep half of whatever he saved. It seems that Noyce gained a sizeable bonus with this approach. He was quoted: 

"We came in under the figure that they nominated, almost by $1.5 million dollars. [...] So there was a nice bonus at the end of the movie, which we extracted from Universal with glee."

Why Washington and Jolie?

Why did Noyce want Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie specifically? Frankly, it's because he thought they were excellent actors, an asset he felt was necessary to make a film like "The Bone Collector." Noyce was well-aware that his film was only the latest in a long series of similar genre films released over the course of the decade. And after films like "Seven," which was critically acclaimed and financially successful, a certain predictable banality began to creep into the era's dour crime pictures. Noyce said: 

"What I thought would distinguish the film would be fine acting ... I felt that the basic horror beats of this film were rather mundane compared to those other movies. And so, we needed to go further in other areas."

The serial killer/kidnapping story in "The Bone Collector" is indeed less interesting than the chemistry between Washington and Jolie, and it's their daring an tenacity that makes something like "The Bone Collector" interesting, not the nitty-gritty of the story. Although "The Bone Collector" was a hit, Universel decided not to make additional Lincoln Rhyme movies. In 2020, however, there was a TV series based on the book called "Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector" starring Russell Hornsby as Rhyme and Arielle Kebbel as Amelia. That series only ran for one season, however, and wasn't as good as Noyce's feature film. If the Lincoln Rhyme film series was to be resurrected at this late date, a reboot would be required.