Savages: Interview with the Cast (Part 1)
Oliver Stone’s “Savages” features an all-star ensemble cast including Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Sandra Echeverría, and Demián Bichir. The film is based on Don Winslow’s best-selling crime novel that was named one of The New York Times’ Top 10 Books of 2010.
Narrating the film is Lively as O. O is short for Ophelia. She is a unique spirit, as are her housemates—Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Johnson) and Chon (Kitsch)—an extraordinary trio who share a one-of-a-kind love. They enjoy a quiet, well-appointed, free and easy lifestyle, made possible by Ben and Chon’s lucrative business: raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. Independent, fair-minded impresarios with a mind-blowing product, they are local heroes providing a product that people want.
Ben and Chon’s company, naturally, does not remain off the grid for long. Their legendary weed and innovative business model have attracted the keen interest of the Mexican Baja Cartel, headed by the merciless Elena “La Reina” (Hayek), her brutal enforcer, Lado (Del Toro), and her unscrupulous head attorney, Alex (Bichir). Elena demands a partnership with Ben and Chon, and nobody refuses La Reina without sacrificing something they hold dear.
But the Cartel underestimates the unbreakable bond among these three remarkable friends. Ben, Chon and, in her own way, O, wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the drug empire with the reluctant assistance of a dirty DEA agent named Dennis (Travolta) and a crafty accountant called Spin (Hirsch).
Kitsch: I had read the book before it had been announced that Oliver was involved, but there were rumors that he had optioned it. I thought, “Man, I would murder to play this guy.” When I found out that Oliver was attached, well that was it. I felt that I would be a great fit.
Lively: [My character] is the one thread that ties everyone together. It was amazing because I got to exist in each character’s world, from this privileged life with the boys in Laguna to being tortured and in cages and being shipped off to Tijuana. It was a challenge to experience so much in a film on so many different levels—from ultimate happiness to ultimate pain.
Johnson: Oliver’s one of my heroes. He is a fantastic writer and filmmaker and amazing at putting all the pieces together in original ways. It was incredible to be a part of that puzzle. I’d never played a role close to this, but I had complete trust in Oliver. He is very challenging. He pushes you to do your best, to get to the next level and he always looks out for you. For a part like Ben, where there is a lot of emotional work along with heavy testosterone, Oliver helped me find that balance and strength.
Hayek: I don’t get offered villains that much, so Elena was so much fun to play. She’s strong and lives in a world that is violent and scary, and usually men are in her position. It’s daunting and difficult for men but even tougher for a woman, and she’s able to handle it. There is something intimidating, almost royal about Elena. Her nickname is “La Reina,” which means “The Queen” in Spanish. She has to have that presence; she has to command fear and respect. Otherwise the Cartel would never work.
Travolta: I responded to the overall impact of the script. I thought it would be a very cool movie, and I wanted to be involved. Oliver loved that I have played lots of different characters. He valued my process. That’s very inviting, especially since in a supporting role like Dennis—who connects all the dots in the piece—it was important to feel comfortable. Plus, Oliver had a vision for this movie. I knew that when I stepped onboard. “Savages” is quintessential Oliver Stone. It has political messages. It has moral messages. It has complications that are current and relevant.
Kitsch: Chon is a guy who has been jaded from day one. He’s seen so much shit in Afghanistan that his first reaction is always to go to violence. You’ll see a different guy when he’s with Ben and O. He can let his guard down with them, maybe even laugh and joke, and that’s rare for Chon. His real purpose in life is to protect Ben and O, and he will kill to do that.
Lively: One of the main reasons that I felt that Ben, Chon and O were together is that they were each other’s family. They were each other’s everything. None of them had real families. They did not have anyone to learn from, no one who was there for them through thick and thin. And they found that in each other.
Travolta: It was a matter of what can I do to make [my character] understandable, because he is double-dipping in an underhanded way between the U.S. government and the Cartel. But he finds a way to justify the bad things in his life. Like the other characters, he has a vulnerability and a duality to him. Yes, he was doing bad things but he was a human being and sentient, to some degree.
Hayek: [My character] suffers a profound personal dilemma that reveals her one weakness, and there are aspects to her that we can identify with. Her Achilles’ heel is her estranged relationship with her daughter, so when O comes into her life, it is a fragile, emotional time for Elena. O brings new light to her life, even though the circumstances that bring them together are not ideal. She’s not completely divorced from humanity, as strong and bad and as cold as she is. That is great to find in a character. If you add to that the privilege of working with a director like Oliver and a great cast, it was a no-brainer.
Lively: O’s a free spirit. Maybe that’s why she’s in love with two men, because she wants to be free and open and not close-minded. She’s experienced a lot of privilege, but she’s also experienced a lot of pain. I wanted to see that in her tattoos because she needs a reminder to smile every day.
Bichir: I’ve always believed that human beings have good and bad things about us. We can be amazingly wonderful or terrible. We all have that in our genes, and it’s hard to get rid of it; there’s a savage in every single human being. Some of us develop that a little more, a little deeper or tougher, and other people prefer to stay away from that side. Often, we don’t care about our neighbors in our own buildings, and we hardly say hi to each other in the elevator. We can live in our own bubbles, and that’s exactly what makes us savages.
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