Though he’s hit a bit of a slump lately with films like W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and World Trade Center, director Oliver Stone is still as exciting as ever. Looking to return to form, he’s bringing us the explosive drug cartel thriller Savages, which has an all-star cast and is based on Don Winslow’s fantastic novel of the same name.
Boasting names like Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, John Travolta and Salma Hayek, among others, the film is arriving in theatres on July 6th. From everything we’ve seen, it really does look like Stone is back and I, for one, cannot wait to see the reception that the film receives. I’m really hoping the director hits a home run both with critics and at the box office.
On that note, Stone and his cast assembled in L.A. a few weeks back for the film’s press day, where we were on hand to hear what the gang had to say. We’ve posted some of the material below for your viewing pleasure, so if you’re interested on getting the scoop on Oliver Stone‘s Savages then read on!
For those that have read the novel, you’ll know that it’s a thrilling tale which you literally cannot put down. As good as it is though, Stone did have to cut quite a fair bit of it in order to fit in all on screen. In fact, for those who are very familiar with the book, you may find a lot of differences between the book and film.
“We cut a ton. The book was 120 scenes and in the movie we only had about 30 scenes, said Oliver Stone. “We had to make decisions in the script and in the editing. We had to consolidate so much. And we did a lot of things differently from the book. The book did inspire me though, Winslow did a great job of writing it. We have some great deleted scenes that you’ll see one day that were a lot of fun to shoot, but they had to go.”
Star Aaron Johnson goes onto explain that like Stone said, there were a number of cuts made for the film but it was necessary to find the right pacing.
“In the film, the story plays a lot more on our dynamic. It puts our relationship on the line because of the circumstances that we’re in. In the book, there was a longer journey to where they were getting to,” said Johnson. “With Oliver, we found the right pace for this movie and sometimes there has to be a big decision to make cuts to tell the story. And that’s what a good director does, tells a story.”
Stone is no stranger to controversy, and when filming Savages, that was something he kept in mind. Savages is no light-hearted film and the director realized that by going to some dark places, he may come under fire. But, as he puts it, you can’t “sanitize a situation that has become extreme.”
“I think people are fairly reasonable and they understand the reality of the situation. We’ve shown some of the cruelty, not all of it because it’s too rough, but certainly, you have to deal with it. Otherwise you’re just sanitizing a situation that’s become extreme,” said Stone. “As to having made several movies about drugs, including Scarface…it’s funny, when I made Scarface you would have thought that’s a cartoon. But they modelled themselves after him. The Scarface character became a bit of a cliche but so many of them acted like him. What I see in Mexico is larger than life, no rules apply. We’re in an era of no rules it seems.”
Johnson compliments Stone’s comment by telling us that the director deals with the subject material well, stating that Stone never makes the film too “overwhelming or surreal.”
“Oliver gets the sensitivity and the balance right,” says Johnson. “It never becomes too overwhelming or surreal. There was a reality barrier that we tried to juggle. And that comes across really well in the film. You never doubt anything and you don’t ever find the situation that they’re in unbelievable.”
Speaking of controversy and not holding back, the film isn’t exactly tame when it comes to sexuality. Star Taylor Kitsch reflects on shooting some of the more explicit scenes and what that was like for him.
“A lot of sexual improv was going on there. [laughs] You just block it out,” said Kitsch. “We talked with Oliver at length about it and then on the day…I think I knew Blake three or four days before shooting those scenes…so it’s just trusting Blake and Oliver, just like you do on any set. When it was finished I was just glad that it was over with to be honest. It’s very awkward to do. It’s all part of it though and I was glad it was in the first week of shooting.”
Blake Lively recalls that some of the above mentioned scenes weren’t much easier for here either.
“This movie was terrifying for me in so many ways. It’s so graphic and violent and the character experiences such an arc,” said Lively. “It’s challenging as both an actor and a person. I’ve got a family and nieces and nephews and a young audience from my show and that plays into it to. It was a strange situation to be in while making this movie but the most important thing all along was telling the truth and telling the heart of the story. But it was definitely very challenging. You’re on a set with 40 people and the boys [Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch] are standing their naked, so that’s always a little awkward.”
Lively goes on to talk about her character and how different it is than anything she’s ever done. She tells us that what appealed to her about it was the challenge of it.
“I feel like all I’ve done is play sexually charged drug addicts lately. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. [laughs] I need to go to Disneyland more and get more excitement.
I love that though, I love that this role is so different from anything I’ve done before,” said Lively. “I like that challenge and I like exploring worlds that are so unknown to me and having somebody like Oliver made it such a great experience. He gave us so many opportunities, he gave us all the knowledge and information we needed. We met DEA agents, people in all areas of the marijuana field, even a girl who had been kidnapped by the cartel.
There are so many complex relationships that occur in this film and we all just sat down with each other and there was such unity in that. This environment was great like that. For instance, I didn’t even have a scene with John Travolta but we sat down and spoke for an hour about our roles. We’re a movie that’s coming out with all these summer movies but we don’t have a cape, so we’re at a big disadvantage. We knew we were a black sheep.”
Oliver Stone follows up Lively’s comment by talking about how he changed her character, O, and how Lively played a big part in shaping his new vision of the character.
“Every actor is the best advocate for their own defense,” said Stone. “A good actor will be thinking, feeling, questioning and Blake was one of the most aggressive in the questioning of everything in the script. Her character was different than the concept in the book. She was more of a flower child than the girl in the book, who was more punk rock. Blake always wanted to emphasize the heart and the hope, but I liked that. She reminds me of a Meryl Streep at that age. If events are good to her, she could go all the way, she’s got the chops.”
For Taylor Kitsch, working on an Oliver Stone film is a big deal. Though the actor has already released John Carter and Battleship this year, he’s still a relative newcomer and to work with a director like Stone, well, that’s something very special for him.
It’s an amazing accomplishment and I hold a lot of pride within that,” said Kitsch. “It was great to be working with guys like John [Travolta] and Oliver [Stone]. It was amazing and it’s something that you’ll have for a long time.”
Demian Bichir is another actor who is still something of a newcomer, to the Hollywood scene at least. After breaking out last year with his performance in A Better Life, the actor is now starting to earn more recognition stateside.
For him, the chance to work with Stone was all he needed to sign on for Savages. That coupled with the fact that Winslow wrote an amazing book, made him want to be part of the project, despite what role he had.
“When I read the novel I was really impressed with not only the way Winslow tells a story but how accurate everything was. This is one of those stories that you would play any role in, you just want to be a part of it. All the characters are so great,” says Bichir. “When I first met with Oliver, we talked about the character Alex and it was a chance for me to go in a whole different direction from what I did in A Better Life. That’s what you want as an actor, sometimes you have to say no to roles because they’re too similar to what you’ve played before. But of course, if Oliver Stone calls, you say yes, and that’s that. You don’t even ask.”
Co-star Benicio Del Toro agrees with Bichir as he tells us that working with Stone is the kind of thing that makes him want to get up and work.
“I feel similar to Damien,” says Del Toro. “The story is fantastic and the satire of it for me was something different too. I’ve done stuff like this but this is Oliver Stone! Couple that with the cast and the story, this is just stuff that makes you want to get up and work.”
Kitsch and Johnson play Chon and Ben in the film, two characters that have a very special relationship, one that runs very deep and is based entirely on loyalty and trust, especially since they share the same girlfriend. It’s a unique relationship and one that the film explores particularly well. For the two young actors, it was important that audiences understood the connection between the Ben, Chon and their girlfriend, O.
“I think that says a lot about these guys, that there’s no shame in their relationship. There’s no jealousy. They have a three way friendship that is based on a lot of loyalty and trust,” said Johnson. “The two characters are kind of a ying and yang. Chon is an ex-marine, fighter and my character is more sensitive and a hippie kind of guy. We’re the balance that she [Blake Lively’s character] looks for. I think she’s just a bit f**king greedy though to be honest.” [laughs]
I agree. For us, it was more of a brotherhood,” says Kitsch. “It really does come down to the trust. That was such an integral part of the movie just because we barely have any scenes with her [Lively] so you have a small amount of time to show this connection between these three people that would die for each other.”
It was great for me to be able to embrace this character. We did a lot of preparation on it too. We had to learn a lot about the marijuana business and we went to grow-ops to research. Oliver wanted to give these characters subtext. He loves to go deep into their backgrounds,” says Johnson. “There was so much to kind of grasp. We had meetings with DEA agents too and it was quite intense. You open your arms to that though and grasp as much knowledge as possible and use it in preparation.”
“Working with actors and not green screen was very refreshing. Both Battleship and John Carter taught me an immense amount of patience and I think I really brought that over to Savages,” says Kitsch. “I really loved being on this set though, just going off another actor and creating and collaborating that way was just refreshing and I’ll stay on that track, no more green screen for a while.”
That concludes the interview but we’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to check out Savages, when it hits theatres this Friday.