The drama Savages, from three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone, follows entrepreneurs Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively), who run a lucrative business raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. But, the legendary weed of these Laguna Beach heroes soon catches the interest of the Mexican Baja Cartel, headed by the merciless Elena “La Reina” (Salma Hayek). Along with her brutal enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and her head attorney Alex (Demian Bichir), Elena demands a partnership which she ensures by kidnapping that which they love most, and what was once a peaceful and easy lifestyle becomes a high-stakes battle of wills. For more on the film, here’s six clips.
At the film’s press day, actor Aaron Johnson spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how Oliver Stone wanted him for the film but didn’t immediately know for which role, how he enjoyed being challenged by the director, and the journey he went on with co-star Taylor Kitsch. He also talked about the type of roles he wants to play, having read the Kick-Ass 2 script, which he says is definitely a hard R and that he expects will go into production in the Fall, and he addressed the recent statement that American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis made on Twitter about how he would be a good choice for the male lead in the film adaptation of the much-talked-about erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
AARON JOHNSON: Yeah! There were great qualities about either guy, but I think we found the right place. It just fell into place that Ben was where we were heading with me, and they found a great actor for Chon. I can’t think of anyone better. I’ve gotta give it to the man. It’s very rare that someone will play that card. It’s a ballsy risk, but he’s someone who goes by their instincts and their gut feeling. There was a lot riding on that, so I didn’t want to let him down that he made that big choice quite early on, before he had the rest of the cast and had funding. That was a bit of a process too, to get the financiers to agree on me. When you have an all-star cast of Benicio [Del Toro], John Travolta and Salma Hayek, it really builds that bridge. I had another job offer, for a big opportunity with something else, that I don’t regret turning down. Even if this didn’t happen, I was willing to wait for something that was worth doing and that was worth risking my career on. I’d put that on the line, totally, to do a Stone movie and to play this character, or one of the characters, at the time. I’m really grateful for that.
JOHNSON: Yeah, I think you need someone who’s just going to push you, and constantly ask questions and ask the right questions, and make you try to figure it out for yourself, too. He always wants you to back your answers up, and I think that’s great because you’re never not on the ball. The thought process that you need, when you’re in heavy scenes like the situations that we’re in, in this film, you need to be on your feet and thinking about every move and everything that you say. You’ve got to believe it, 100%. I think it was his goal to make it all authentic and make it feel as real as possible. We didn’t just pretend that we knew what it was like to be marijuana dealers with some corrupt DEA guys. We actually went the full way and met with these people and immersed ourselves in that world. We went to grow-ops and I learned how to grow medical marijuana and how to pull a higher strain and the lights. It was so much in depth that it was something that we could literally speak of.
So much of this film is really about keeping your emotions inside and internalizing what you’re going through. As an actor, do you enjoy doing the more intense type of scenes, or do you prefer the quieter and more internal moments?
JOHNSON: Oliver really throws you into the deep end, and you’ve gotta get to the side and pull yourself out, and contain all of that with the emotional depth. What I love about this is that everyone is always containing their emotions and they’re always being put on the spot. There’s always this interrogation, or they’re really trying to suss each other out, and there’s this poker game where everyone is trying to bluff one another. It’s about manhood and containing that emotion, and Oliver can keep all of that below the surface. It’s good that you noticed that. It’s all pent up anger and frustration and love. It’s all there, but it’s got to be brought back ‘cause they can’t allow themselves to get carried away with how they’re feeling. They’ve just gotta go ahead and deal with it.
JOHNSON: Yeah, it really was a journey. The more that we had these intense scenes that we were both going through, the more we realized that the dynamic in our relationship and our brotherhood was being tested and being pulled apart. That thing that they both could find, in the end, that they could both agree on, was that they were doing it for O (Blake Lively). Through that journey of going in that deep, they found out that they love each other just as much and that they’d do anything. They put their lives on the line for each other, just as much as for O. It’s a love story, in the end. It’s what you’d do for love and how far you’d go. My character is totally torn because it was completely against what he believes in. He’s that Buddhist, spiritual guy who is trying to do everything the right way and doesn’t believe in violence and wants to stop the corruption, and then he has to turn to do what he thinks is the right thing to do for the one that he loves. Love is a stronger power than any of it, really.
When you do something like this, with so much talent in front of and behind the camera, how do you decide what to do next? Does it make you pickier about the type of roles and projects you want to do?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I think it’s got to be original, or something that you’ve never played before. I’m always looking for something that’s versatile from the last. There are so many elements that make a good film. You need a great director, who’s driving it. I think Oliver really put his stamp on Savages. He’s put a lot of energy into it, and he really went back to his old way of working. It’s great to be a part of that. We were just lucky to be on that one that he knew, really well.
Since there’s been talk of it again, will there finally be a Kick-Ass sequel?
JOHNSON: It’s pretty much set to go, this Fall. I think now Chloe [Grace Moretz] and Chris [Mintz-Plasse] are on board. I’m certainly set up to do it. Jeff Wadlow is to direct. Yeah, I think it’s going to happen.
JOHNSON: Yeah, I have.
Will it be a hard R, as far as the rating goes?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah! It keeps the standard, from the first film.
Are you surprised at how much people have been asking for a sequel to that film, really since the release of the first one?
JOHNSON: Yeah, and I think that’s why Matthew Vaughn has got his name all over this one, as well. The only way he was ever going to make a sequel was if it could be anywhere close to the first one, and keep that class and that quality and just maintain something original and new and refreshing. And this script delivers all of that, right now. I’m excited to get back in the suit.
Have you heard the recent talk about American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis vying on Twitter to do the screenplay adaptation for 50 Shades of Grey, and that he said he’d love to have a real actor, like you or Ryan Gosling in the lead role, with someone like David Cronenberg directing? Is it surreal to know that you have a certain level of visibility now that someone like Bret Easton Ellis respects your work and is thinking about you in that role?
JOHNSON: You can only be very grateful. It’s great when talented people in the world, in the same business, can see your work and compliment you on what you’re doing and take a strong interest in your movements in your career. It is very great to see that. At least it keeps the studio heads thinking, as well. Maybe it makes you a bit more bankable. I don’t know.
Do you have a dream role that you’d love to do, if given the opportunity?
JOHNSON: It’s funny, if I saw a film like this, I’d go, “Fuck, I wish I was in a film like that! I wish I’d get to work with Benicio [Del Toro] and John Travolta, and have to tackle scenes like that. I wish I could be directed by Oliver Stone.” But, here I am. I don’t really know what the dream role would be. That’s a hard question to answer. You never really know, until you’re immersed into something, how passionate you feel for it and how it unravels. It’s an art form, at the end of the day, and it’s collaborative. It relies on so many pieces – the editing, the other actors, the director.
In this circumstance, it’s something I’m really proud of and that I enjoyed. That’s not just coming from one standpoint, or a vanity or ego situation. Everyone has actually been fucking impressed by the outcome of the movie, and everyone is just thrilled because that doesn’t happen that often. There are films that I’ve done that I fucking don’t even want to mention and that I haven’t even seen. It doesn’t bother me how it does at the box office. I don’t give a fuck about that. If people see it, they see it and that’s great. I don’t have any regrets. I was just happy to be a part of it and put something out there that I believe in and gave my best to, but I don’t think I could have gotten to that place without Oliver. In the moment, you think, “What the fuck am I doing? What path is he leading me down?” With someone like Oliver, you just let your guard down and you give him everything, and you just allow yourself to be as vulnerable as possible because you just try him. You give him everything you’ve got, so that he can play around with it, at the end of the day. He gives you a challenge, and you’ve gotta fucking hit that mark. He really pulled out something that I didn’t feel like I could do. It really is down to the director, I think.