Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Aaron Johnson), a peaceful and charitable marijuana producer, and his closest friend Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry—raising some of the best weed ever developed. Independent, fair minded impresarios with a mind-blowing product, they
are local heroes providing a product that people want. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with the extraordinary beauty Ophelia (Blake Lively). Life is idyllic in their Southern California town…until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in, demands that the trio partners with them, and a high stakes, savage battle of will ensues.
At the press day for Savages, MoviesOnline sat down with Johnson and Kitsch to talk about what it was like playing best friends and sexy drug dealers who share the same woman in the intense and highly entertaining Oliver Stone thriller. They told us about the unusual bond of friendship their characters shared with Blake Lively’s character, how they approached shooting some of the film’s most intimate scenes, what the directing process was like with Stone, how the extensive research they did helped to inform their characters, and how it was working opposite terrific actors like Benicio del Toro and John Travolta. They also discussed how the film evolved from Don Winslow’s best-selling crime novel and to what extent the book inspired their characterizations.
Q: Your characters are best friends and they share the same woman. How did you come to understand these two guys and do you think it’s possible to share a girlfriend without any jealousy?
Aaron Johnson: No, I don’t think it is. I think that says a lot about these guys that there’s no shame in their relationship and no jealousy and there’s a bond that’s stronger than that. It’s sort of a three-way friendship that’s based on a lot of loyalty and trust.
Taylor Kitsch: I agree. I think it’s more of the trust thing. For us, it was more of a brotherhood. It really does come down to the trust and that was such an integral part of the scene and the movie as well just because we have barely any scenes with her so we have to get it. Basically, in one scene, you have to show this connection between three people that they’ll literally die for each other. So, that was more at stake than just showing that we can do it and make it work.
AJ: I think we’re really a ying and yang because Chon is this ex-Marine and fighter and my character is a more sensitive, hippie kind of guy so we’re kind of that balance that she looks for, and I think she’s just f*ckin’ greedy to be honest.
Q: How did you guys and Blake prepare beforehand for some of the more sexually intimate scenes? Did you have to have a safe word or did you just go for it?
TK: Safe word! A lot of sexual improv was going on there. You block it out completely. With Oliver, we talked it. God knows, we had two weeks of rehearsal so we talked it until we were about to pass out. Then, on the day, it’s just…I mean, I knew Blake (Lively) I think three days, four days really before we shot that. That was the first week of shooting. So it was just trusting Blake and Oliver like you do on any set and 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.
Q: Is talking before sex scenes considered foreplay?
Q: Both of you have some great scenes with great actors like John Travolta and Benicio del Toro. Did you discuss scenes beforehand in the same way as you did with Blake?
TK: I think that’s just what they are as well and why they are who they are. It’s just because they’ve come on as an actor. Obviously, it’s John Travolta and Benicio, and I mean, you just respect those guys and they’re icons for a good reason.
AJ: There’s a lot of room to play around as well. I think you get that opportunity with those guys. They’re just free to experiment and they’re not afraid to and Oliver is 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. Also, we never really know coming up to those scenes and we’re still figuring it out. Like, how strong do we come in on that? Oliver was does he come in with stabbing him in the hand or … He would play with it so we would talk about it a lot. That’s what Oliver is like. He needs to get the sensitivity right and the balance right just so it doesn’t become too overwhelming or too surreal. It was a reality barrier that we were always trying to juggle and I think that comes across really well in the film. You never doubt anything about the situation that they’re in. You don’t ever find it unbelievable. It was great.
TK: I think it takes a special actor as well, which they are, just to give you that scene in that way. I worked with obviously lesser actors that are more worried about how they’re going to come out of the scene than the scene itself.
AJ: They’re very giving.
TK: I think it says so much to Benicio and to 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 or ourselves.
Q: Taylor, when you got the call that Oliver Stone wanted to cast you in his film, what was your reaction?
TK: I just told Oliver how lucky he was. No, I mean, it’s something that you can never take away from. It’s just an amazing accomplishment. I hold a lot of pride within that and to be working with these guys and John and Oliver. It’s something that you’ll have for a long time. It’s amazing.
Q: Aaron, being from England, how did you research this role and come up with the look for this Orange Country surfer who’s a free-loving guy?
AJ: It was great for me to embrace the South Cali and we did a lot of preparation on this. We had to learn a lot about the marijuana business and going to grow-ops and seeing the most fantastic plants. It was a slow build. Oliver wanted to give these characters a lot of subtext and loves to go deep into their background. Like I studied at Berkeley and there’s science behind the medicinal marijuana. It was all of that. There was so much to grasp. We had meetings with DEA agents and situations on the kidnappings and the 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 then throw it away when you’re on the job. It was great. It was good.
Q: In Oliver Stone films, and especially this one, the devil is in the details. Was there a lot of stuff on set as far as paying attention to the non-verbal stuff and how things appear when loyalties are questioned?
TK: I think you’re always conscious of that and that’s where the prep and rehearsal [helps]. I shot with a Navy Seal in Texas for a long time, and working with those guys, I felt quite set even in rehearsals. I think prep is an enormous amount and so does Johnson. The rehearsals, like you said, man, were quite intense. So you were quite set. You felt quite good on the day because we 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 love that he holds you accountable. I think that just gets the best out of you.
Q: What do you think about how the film ended?
AJ: I think it leaves a lot to the audience’s imagination. You kind of take home what you want from it. I think you’ve been on such a rollercoaster of a journey at this point that your adrenaline is just pumping through you that you accept it. It’s what you want to take home with you really. My view on it is it’s very split in that there’s never really an outcome that ends it in a way that it visually might show you. It just leaves a lot to play on the mind and you take home what you will from it.
TK: I think it just reveals so much in different ways. That’s the beauty of it to me. Of course, it’s like you said, we got you. Hopefully we got you. It’s quite intense. We had a lot of fun shooting that. We’re shooting in the middle of nowhere with all these guys and you know it’s going to be that kind of ending. So, we could just go for it. I had a lot of fun doing that.
Q: Considering the bond that both of your characters shared with Blake’s, how do you reconcile Selma Hayek’s line that if they really loved her then they would have fought each other over her?
TK: I think it’s almost undebatable you can tell how much we love O. 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.
Q: Is that why she didn’t fall for it? In the movie, Blake’s character doesn’t seem to be affected by Salma’s assertion.
TK: I think there’s also lines of “I told you so” more or less. They’re coming. We’re coming.
AJ: Yeah, I think she carries that spirit in her that my guys are coming after me. Like anyone, she’s taken aback and affected by someone who can … it’s just a part of the game that Salma has with her that’s still on in a threatening way.
TK: Any of those videos too would reaffirm it. You’re lying. We have her daughter in a freezer. We ain’t screwing around.
Q: When you tackle a project that’s based on a book and the script is slightly different, how much do you use the book to influence your characterizations, or do you throw it out and just concentrate on the pages of the script?
TK: I’ve got a good answer for that one. Chon says maybe two lines in the book. I definitely thought about it and I loved Chon in the book. I think everyone does. I wish we had a couple of those scenes, selfishly, where he goes under the sailboat in the book and does that thing that he does. But I think it would 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 and we’re going. That’s just verbally where we’re both at. I love that scene and that really is what Chon is to me.
AJ: I think in the film it plays a lot more on our dynamic. It definitely pushes us into it. It puts our relationship on the line because of the circumstances that we’re in. In the book, it was a longer journey to where they were getting to. I think Oliver found the right pace for this movie and sometimes there has to be a big decision to make a cut at some point to tell the story and I think that’s what’s a good director, someone who can tell a story. In a book, you want a book to carry ongoing. But yeah, there were some great scenes in there that we tried to push into one. There are a couple of heists in there that do the same thing. I think everything has an answer for what we’re doing so you never doubt it. 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 as to what’s going on here. I think it pushes the boundary a bit too far. In the film world, you wouldn’t want to start questioning that. You don’t want to be taken out of the piece.
Q: In the movie, we see Ben and Chon relate to each other through O and the business, but otherwise the characters are really polar opposites. Where do you think the characters connect personally with each other?
TK: I think, for me, it’s acceptance. I don’t think it made it in, but Chon’s father beat the crap out of him a lot and they had some of that in there, and I think with O and especially Ben’s character, for Chon it’s more of this guy accepts Chon for who he is. With any relationship, that’s everything. And that’s the one person that Chon will do anything for. To protect Ben, and O for that matter, is Chon’s purpose. His purpose is lost with being out of the war so he’s given him purpose. And, for me, that was everything. That’s why he would do what he did to protect them.
Q: Taylor, earlier this year you did two big science fiction movies and I’m sure those had their own challenges too but with this…
TK: Oh, those were so easy.
Q: Was this an opportunity to dig into some meatier material?
TK: Yeah, it was exciting. I kept pitching aliens to Oliver but he wasn’t buying it. No, it’s just back to being mano a mano and working with actors and not green screen and that kind of stuff. It was very refreshing and both 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 loved being on these sets with these actors and being a part of it, not that I didn’t with the other. But just to take it as raw as this film is and to get back to what it is, just going off another actor and really searching and creating and collaborating that way is refreshing and I’ll stay on that track. No green screen for awhile.
Q: Some people say that legalization should be the way to get rid of drug trafficking and the violence. What is your opinion?
AJ: I think that’s quite a heavy, loaded question. It’s kind of strange because I’m British, so for me, to talk about this situation going on in Mexico and the political sense of it with the States, it’s weird to ask me.
TK: I’m Canadian. We’re not violent. The better guy to ask is Eddie (?)
AJ: Or Demian (Bichir).
TK: Yeah, those guys. It’s not a yes or no or black or white answer. It’s not. You’re not going to all of a sudden take the violence out of what’s going on right now. And that’s fact. It’s not just marijuana they’re fighting over as well. I think to regulate it and to sanction it and to do it, that would take years to actually do it right in my opinion from what I learned on this film which isn’t a ton for me to have a professional opinion of what should happen. I think, if done right, it could work and aid in the process. I just don’t think it’s that simple. There are seven cartels right now. Just legalizing it, it’s not the answer, but it may facilitate it.
Q: Aaron, you reminded me of Michael Corleone in The Godfather with your character that starts out so idealistic and then begins to make that descent down into becoming more and more involved with the cartel.
AJ: Wow, that’s flattering.
Q: Did you see any of that?
TK: Well he would tell me sometimes that this is his Corleone movie.
Savages opens in theaters on July 6th.