In Hollywood, there’s always a new crop of actors ready to blossom into super-stardom. A couple of the biggest names on the scene are Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson. When they’re brought together alongside veteran actors and a seasoned director, it gives us Savages.
Savages is a dark tale dealing with drugs, international cartels and horrible violence. The movie is based off the book written by Don Winslow and the juicy material within those pages was too hard to ignore. So when we spoke with the film’s lead actors, they discussed their familiarity with the novel. They also talked about working with Oliver Stone, training for their roles and the art of sharing a girlfriend.
When you got the call from Oliver Stone, what was your reaction? And Aaron, as a native Brit, how did you research your role to become an Orange County surfer guy?
Taylor Kitsch: I just told Oliver how lucky he was [laughs]. It’s just an amazing accomplishment and I hold a lot of pride within that to be working with these guys – John and Oliver. It’s something that you’ll have for a long time. It was amazing.
Aaron Johnson: It was great for me to kind of embrace the South Cali. We did a lot of preparation on this. We had to learn a lot about the marijuana business and go in the grow-ops and see the most fantastic plants. It was a slow build, but Oliver wanted to give it a lot of subtext and he loves to go deep into the background. My guy studied at Berkeley and this whole science behind the medicinal marijuana. It was all of that, so it was so much to kind of grasp. We had meetings with DEA agents, and the situations on the kidnappings and cartel. It was really quite intense and some really dark stuff that we had to take on board. You open your arms to that and grasp as much knowledge as possible and use it in your preparation and kind of throw it away when you’re on the job. It was good.
With Oliver Stone films, the devil’s in the details. Did you pay a lot of attention to the little things?
Taylor 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.
Your characters are best friends who share a girlfriend. How did you come to understand these two guys and do you think that type of open relationship is possible?
Aaron 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. 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.
Taylor 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… 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.
Aaron 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 f–king greedy, to be honest [laughs].
When you tackle a project like this based on a book, how much does that influence you?
Taylor Kitsch: Chon says maybe two lines in the book [laughs], so… 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.
Aaron 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. 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.
Taylor, earlier this year, you did some big science fiction films. Was this a chance to dig into some meatier material?
Taylor Kitsch: Yeah, it was exciting. I kept pitching Aliens to Oliver, but he wasn’t buying it [laughs]. No, it’s back to being just mano y mano, working with actors and not green screen. It was very refreshing. Both of those films taught me an immense amount of patience and I think I really brought that over to Savages. Man, I tell you, I really love being on these sets with these actors and being a part of it, not that I didn’t with the others. But just to make it as raw as this film is, to get back to what it is, just going off another actor and really searching, creating and collaborating. That way is refreshing and I’ll stay on that track. No green screen for a while.
Savages opens in theaters June 6.