Many male faces grace the poster of Oliver Stone‘s Savages, but the two who hold the most power throughout the film are Blake Lively and Salma Hayek. Both of their characters struggle to stay afloat in a world filled with drugs, betrayal and violence. The story follows O (Lively), a carefree girl from Southern California who’s the lover of profitable pot growers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Unfortunately, their paradise is short-lived when a drug cartel, headed by the powerful and vicious Elena (Hayek) comes in and kidnaps O. Only then, does the struggle for dominance between the two men and the Mexican drug cartel begin.
A couple weeks ago, we talked with Hayek and Lively about getting into their roles, their research and working with a veteran director like Oliver Stone.
Salma, we’re used to seeing drug lords portrayed as macho men. Not only is your character a woman, but she has lots of layers. Did that come from the book, or was it something you brought to the role?
Salma Hayek: The character was much smaller in the book. That was Oliver [Stone], who started the whole process. He was incredibly generous because we really did work as a team, all of us. He really welcomes your input on the character. He actually will not like you, if you do not have something to give. He wants you fight with him, and he wants you to bring something to the plate. We worked really well together, designing the character, but it originated from him. He made that character a little bit more interesting than in the book. I think he did that with all of the characters.
Blake Lively: He also really gave her the freedom to do it. I remember when I was rehearsing with the boys, he was getting images of Salma at home, trying on different wigs and saying, ‘What about this look?’ It was all vastly different.
Salma Hayek: Yeah, I did my own look. He questioned everything and every choice but at the end, he really gave me a lot of freedom to decide the look.
Blake, your character is involved in this dark and intense world. How did you prepare for that, since you normally do more girly roles?
Blake Lively: I love that it’s so different from everything that I’ve ever known or seen. I love that challenge. I love exploring worlds that are so unknown to me. And having somebody like Oliver make it such a great experience because he gave us so many opportunities. He gave us all the knowledge and information we needed. He brought people in, like DEA Agents. I met a little girl who had been kidnapped by the Mexican drug cartel. We met people in all areas of the marijuana field. Then, we also sat with each other – each character – and really rehearsed this movie. There are so many unexpected, complex relationships that occur in this film. I’m in love with two men, but then there is also a love story between the characters that Salma and I play, with my need for a mother and her need for a daughter. And so, we all just sat down with each other, and there was such unity in that. This environment was really great like that. I didn’t even have a scene with John Travolta, but we sat down and spoke for an hour. We’re a movie that’s coming out with all of these summer movies. We don’t have a cape in this movie, so we’re at a big disadvantage with that. We knew that we were this black sheep, and we were excited to do this movie that was not only challenging for us, as actors but it really challenges the audience. That was really exciting.
Salma, how you go have your character instill fear and exude power? Did you take bits and pieces from a fictional character or a real person in creating this woman?
Salma Hayek: Actually, I took a collection of different characters that I have met, throughout my life. I will not say names. Some of them are absolutely fascinating, and I adored them. There was somebody that I got to be friends with that was a very, very, very strong, very powerful woman in Mexico. She has passed away now. She came from a different generation, and when I was working, I got to spend some time with her. There have been a couple different ones. There were some iconic ones. Oliver said, ‘Why do you always want to wear the same hair and the same necklace?’ And I tried to explain to him that these women know they are going to be an icon and they create a character. These women design themselves. They don’t want to be versatile. They want you to always remember them. It’s a very stupid thing. I said, ‘Okay, I have to design her in such a way that somebody could dress up as her for Halloween.’ It had to be so identifiable that you could actually impersonate her. I noticed that the people I had met would do that. That’s what was behind it.
Why do you think there is such a fascination with a woman with such power? Do you think that in the structure of cartels, is it possible to have a female leader?
Salma Hayek: In the research that I did, I actually talked to some people involved in the cartel that described – in two different occasions — women that have gotten quite high in the cartel. As a matter of fact, they are incredibly efficient, much more so than men. He described a situation where with one of them, the husband went to jail and she took over, and things went really well. Somebody messed with her and betrayed her and they took a loss, but she took it and just continued, and the business continued to go really well. The husband came out and was like, ‘No, that debt has to be taken care of because otherwise, we don’t get respect.’ So, he went and took care of that, and then he got killed. The women are actually colder. The guy gets angry and thinks he has to do something, and the women are not like that. They are all about the business. They’re not about the vendetta, or who is more macho. They’re about getting things done. Actually, that’s why they’re not as visible. Some of them have actually managed to get away and stay clean. I found that absolutely fascinating.
Blake, you have Gossip Girl and you are doing all these movies. How do you balance all of that?
Blake Lively: We’re finishing our last season. We started in June. This was actually the hardest because normally, we have about a two-month break from Gossip Girl every year, and that’s when I do a movie. But this one started exactly when the Gossip Girl season started, so for four months I was flying back and forth between New York and L.A. I shot seven-day weeks and I was going from red-eyes to set. That was a hard balance. That wasn’t a balance. That was just a landslide.
Salma Hayek: She was so professional. It was shocking! She wouldn’t whine. I was like, ‘My God, she’s like the perfect woman!’ She would show up and still have a fight in her. She did such a good job with every take. It was really moving to see not a day off.
Savages debuts in theaters June 6.