Over the course of Oliver Stone‘s career, we’ve seen him tackle a number of heavy-hitting topics. He’s taken on Wall Street and some of our nation’s most tragic events. He’s a director who doesn’t shy away from dark material. In fact, Stone thrives on making movies like his latest, Savages.
The film centers on two friends, Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a couple of the wealthiest men in Southern California. They have a powerful and popular brand of marijuana, which has made them very rich. They have it all, including a carefree and mutual girlfriend O (Blake Lively). But their happiness hits a snag when a Mexican drug cartel tries to buy them out. When they refuse, they kidnap O and force them to meet their demands or else she’ll die. Now it’s up to Ben and Chon to take back their girl and show the cartel who’s boss.
Loceras is a Mexican cartel from Mexico and they’re involved in horse races. It seems they’re getting close. Is there, in the movie, a fear of showing what’s really happening?
Oliver Stone: It’s prophetic. I did go to Mexico and did talk to a few people who are heavy down there, on both sides of the fence, legitimate and otherwise. We had a DEA agent, and we had computer consultants. This is a hypothetical fiction. This is not Traffic. Traffic [is a] wonderful movie, but it’s much more documentary-like. This is a hypothetical situation. It hasn’t happened yet and it allows us to imagine. You can imagine the worst… It’s in the interest of the Mexican cartels to keep it south because if they start to move here they’re going to get a lot of bad publicity in there’s going to be a lot of consequences. They are here, they are growing, and we know that. There’s been buzz and we know that they have Indian land. We know they’ve grown and they may have deals here in California because this is a natural…the best laboratory in the world is now here. All these possibilities exist, but quite frankly from all my research I couldn’t find. No one was talking about that.
What about the smaller legitimate growers in California?
Oliver Stone: We do have an independent growers market here, which is like a boutique business and they’re very good people. They grow great stuff; best I’ve ever had in 40 years. It’s like Wal-Mart coming to town like [John]Travolta says. If that does happen, Wal-Mart will definitely be interested in making good product because they’ll take the niché business and they’ll bring it up. Mexican weed’s s–t as we said in the movie, but they would be interested in growing better weed because there’s money in it. We don’t know the answer yet, but right now I think it’s hypothetical. Let’s keep it that way and I think also by the way in that vein I think that Taylor Kitsch has a very good argument in the movie. A third of the way, he says to Johnson, he says that you should’ve done what I said, ‘Take them on at the beginning we would’ve killed a few of the f–kers and we wouldn’t be in this f–king mess we’re trying to negotiate out of.’ And it became a mess because Ben [Johnson] did take the negotiation pacifist view of this thing, no violence. I think maybe Aaron was right ’cause they wouldn’t have risked the heat that they would’ve gotten with murders here in the United States.
In this movie you have so many layers between the story and each character. As a filmmaker, how did you prioritize what had to be there? What kind of play room did you give yourself?
Oliver Stone: Oh we cut a lot; the book is one hundred and twenty scenes. I think we only in the movie have 30 scenes to play. We had to make decisions in [the] script. We made decisions in the editing. We had to consolidate so much and there’s so many things different in the movie than the book. You have to read the book to understand that. But definitely the book inspired me. Don Winslow did a great job of writing it and knew that world and it really gave me the desire to make a movie about it that was fresh. But ruthlessness in terms of — we have some good deleted scenes that you’ll see one day that are fun, but they had to go. Benicio’s [del Toro] home life among them.
Blake Lively said you like your actors to argue with you.
Oliver Stone: I do!
As far as their roles and how they see it, do you like that conversation with the actors?
Oliver Stone: I’m glad she thinks I did like it because I was smiling funny. No, I think it’s good that every actor is the best advocate for his own; he’s a lawyer for his own defense. And a good actor will be thinking, feeling, questioning, and Blake was one of the most aggressive in terms of questioning everything in the script. She was different than the concept in the book. She was more of a flower child than the girl who was more punk rock in the book. She always wanted to emphasize the heart and the hope that she had and I liked that and I liked what she did very much. She’s very elegant, sophisticated, reminds me frankly she has a concept of script, she reminds me of a very smart like a Meryl Streep at that age. I knew her when she was starting out. If events are good to her she could go all the way. She’s got the chops.
I wanted to ask about casting and working with Salma Hayek. She said you were very generous as far as allowing her to have some freedom with her look. Were there any times where you had to reign her or the other actors in?
Oliver Stone: I had no choice… She’s a tough — she came from Mexico and she just propelled herself to Hollywood. I guess she didn’t speak much English when she got here. I met her years ago when I did U-Turn and [the] first time I met her she said, ‘You son of a bitch. You didn’t even see me for…you gave it to Jennifer Lopez!’ I was stunned you know. I didn’t know her, but you know what, 15 years later I went right to her. I said this is the one. I didn’t even see another actress, maybe one, but I never saw another actress, and I wanted Salma. I wrote her a note in Europe and I just said you’re the one. She didn’t remember that story I don’t think. When Universal said is she tough enough I said sweetheart she’s tough! Now Jennifer Lopez is going to come in after me. She’s got a heart in the movie though. She has this strong, Latin fixation for family and I think when she tells that story about her husband and her children I think she really puts her heart out there and transfers it to Blake in a way, but still ruthless.
You mentioned this story hasn’t happened yet. How concerned were you with avoiding some of the common stereotypes found in drug trafficking films?
Oliver Stone: Well, we’re going to Mexico right after we open here. That’ll be our first country and we’ll find out. I think people are fairly reasonable and understand the realities of the situation. I think we showed some of the cruelty. We didn’t show 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 gotten extreme. As to having made several movies about drugs including Scarface…It’s funny, when I did Scarface you would’ve thought that it was a cartoon. But they modeled themselves after him then the Scarface character became a bit of a cliché. But it’s so many of them acted like him. What I saw it in Miami with my own eyes, [he] is larger than life. And what I see in Mexico is larger than life. I’ve met quite a few of the growers here, grow ops in California, it’s an interesting time. The world is living in a larger life fashion in general. We are seeing entertainment become politics and we’re seeing people acting out in ways that are extremely violent and destabilizing including bankers. No rules apply. We’re in an era of no rules now it seems.
Savages opens in theaters June 6.