It’s arguably one of Oliver Stone’s most gritty, sexual, and violence filled movies to date, and, quite honestly, one of the least politically driven if you don’t heavily factor in the discussions of legalizing marijuana and the drug wars in Mexico. Savages is in fact layered with some of the most complex characters and relationships and is nothing close to your typical Fourth of July theater fare.
Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass, Albert Nobbs) are two pot-growing best friends, Chon and Ben respectively, who share one girlfriend named O (short for Ophelia), played by Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively. And just so there’s no confusion, the word “share” is exactly what you’re thinking.
But their modern day relationship is interrupted when the head of the Baja drug cartel, Elena ‘La Reina’ Sanchez (Salma Hayek), decides she wants in on their business – sending in her men to handle the deal, which includes her lethal enforcer Lado, played brilliantly by Oscar® winner Benicio Del Toro. Throw in O being kidnapped and a corrupt DEA Agent (John Travolta) and the complications and drama filled thriller is just getting started. Adapted from the Don Winslow novel of the same name, Savages is one hell of a ride for audiences, and for the actors themselves it was an experience to remember. Especially for Kitsch and Taylor-Johnson who had to take on two very different characters who somehow find a bond in each other and a trust to share the same woman.
Your characters are best friends and share a girlfriend. How did you come to understand these two guys, and do you think that’s really possible to share a girlfriend without any jealousy like that?
Taylor-Johnson: No, I don’t think it is [laughs]. Yeah, I think that says a lot about these guys that there’s no shame in their relationship, no jealousy, and it’s a bond that’s stronger than that. It’s sort of a three-way friendship that is based on a lot of loyalty and trust.
Kitsch: I agree. I think it’s more of the trust thing. For us, I think it was more of a brotherhood. It really does come down to the trust and that was such an integral part of the movie because we have barely any scenes with her so we had to get it basically in one scene. In one scene we had to show this connection between three people that would literally die for each other. So there was more at stake than just showing that we can do it and make it work.
Taylor-Johnson: I think we’re really a yin and yang because Chon’s this ex-Marine, a kind of fighter, and my character’s a more sensitive, hippie kind of guy. So we were that balance that she looks for. I think she’s just fucking greedy, to be honest [laughs].
How did you prepare for the more sensual scenes with Blake? Did you have to have safe words?
Kitsch: A lot of sexual improv was going on there [laughs]. You block it out. With Oliver, we had two weeks rehearsal, so we talked until we were about to pass out. Then on the day, I mean, I knew Blake I think three days, four days, before we shot. That was the first week of shooting. So it was just trusting Blake and Oliver like you do on any set. I was just glad it was over with, to be honest. It’s very awkward to do. It’s such a big part of Chon, who he is, and that’s how you meet him. So it’s a pretty intense reveal, no pun intended. It’s all part of it and I was glad it was in the first week.
Considering the bond your characters have with Blake, what do you think of Salma’s line that if they really loved her they would have fought each other over her, not allowing each other to share her?
Kitsch: I think it’s almost un-debatable that you can tell how much we love O. I think it’s more of playing the higher card rather than making it about us, of who loves her more, rather than both of us dying for her more or less, or doing whatever it takes. I think our actions will speak a lot louder than us debating who loves her more.
Taylor-Johnson: I think she carries that spirit in her that is my guys are coming after me. I think it’s just a part of the game Salma has with her.
Both of you have great scenes with great actors like John Travolta and Benicio del Toro? How did you prepare for that, lots of prep like with Blake?
Kitsch: I think that’s just what they are as well. And why they are who they are is just because they’ve come on as an actor. Obviously, it’s John Travolta and Benicio and you just respect those guys. They’re icons for a good reason.
Taylor-Johnson: There was a lot of room to play around as well. I think you get that opportunity with those guys. They’re just free to kind of experiment and they’re not afraid to. And Oliver’s not afraid to allow that kind of creativity to happen. So you get more out of it and we get more out of it. I think that was great. And also, we’d never really know. So coming up to those scenes, it was still sort of figuring out, “How strong do we come in on that?” Oliver was, “Does he come in and stab him in the hand?” He would play with it, so we’d talk about it a lot. I think that’s what Oliver is like. He needs to get the sensitivity right and the balance right so it doesn’t become overwhelming or too surreal. There was a reality barrier that we always were trying to juggle and I think that comes across really well in the film, that you never doubt anything. The situation that they’re in, you don’t ever find it unbelievable.
Kitsch: I think it takes a special actor as well, which they are, just to give you that scene in that way. I’ve worked with obviously lesser actors and what-not that are more worried about how they’re going to come out of the scene than the scene itself. So I think it just says so much about Benicio and John that they’re just like, “Yeah, let’s make this scene incredibly memorable and let it just serve the script and not selfishly our characters, ourselves.”
During Oliver Stone films, the devil’s in the details. Was there a lot of paying attention to that?
Kitsch: I think you’re always conscious of that. That’s where the prep, rehearsal [comes in]. I shadowed a Navy SEAL for a long time, and working with those guys, I felt quite set, even in rehearsals. So I practiced an enormous amount and so does Johnson. The rehearsals were quite intense, so you were quite set. You felt quite good on the day because you had it out. So many of our questions were done and dealt with in rehearsal and then you go and play. He’ll call you out when necessary and you collaborate like anything else. I just loved that he holds you accountable and I just think that gets the best out of you.
When you tackle a project like this based on a book, how much is that an influence or do you just focus on the script?
Kitsch: Chon says maybe two lines in the book [laughs], so… And I definitely thought about it. I love Chon in the book, I think everyone does. I wish we had a couple of those scenes selfishly where he goes into the sailboat in the book and does that thing. I think it’d be incredibly boring to watch me not say a word and not really do much and then shoot the odd gun. One of my favorite scenes is in the car after we switch cars and they take the money, that’s just verbally where we’re both at, and I just love that scene. That’s really who Chon is to me.
Taylor-Johnson: I think in the film it plays a lot more into our dynamic. It puts our relationship on the line because of the circumstances that we’re in. I think in the book, there was a longer journey to where they were getting to. But I think Oliver found the right pace for this movie and I think sometimes there has to be a big decision to make a cut at some point to tell the story. I think that’s what a good director is, someone who can tell a story. In a book, you want a book to carry on going. There were some great scenes in there that we kind of just tried to push into one. We’ve got a couple heists in there that do just the same thing. I think everything has an answer for what we’re doing so that you don’t ever doubt it. I think with the book, there’s that point where they’ve done one too many heists and you think, “Why hasn’t the cartel got a clue on what’s going on here?” And I think it pushes the boundary a bit too far that I think in the film world, you wouldn’t want to start questioning that.
Savages is in theaters Friday, July 6, is rated R and runs 130 minutes.