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, co-stars Blake Lively and Salma Hayek talked about what they brought to their characters, preparing for such gritty roles, how many times they had to spit in and slap Benicio Del Toro’s face, respectively, and the fascination with a woman like Elena who has so much power. Lively also talked about shooting her CW drama series Gossip Girl simultaneously with Savages, while Hayek talked about her love of swearing in Spanish. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: Salma, we’re used to seeing drug cartel lords being these cold-hearted, macho men. Your character is not only obviously a girl, but she has a lot of layers going for her. Did that come from the book, or was that what you brought to the role?
SALMA HAYEK: The character was much smaller in the book. That was (director) 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: Oliver 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.
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?
LIVELY: I feel like all I’ve done lately is play really sexually-charged drug addicts. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve gotta go to Disneyland more and get more excitement. 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 made 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, did being a mom personally help you bring in the tenderness of this woman?
HAYEK: That’s what you would think, but being a mother can make you find the toughest part and the inhumanity of the character. As a mother, for your children, you are willing and capable of doing anything. You can justify it. I don’t know about some other mothers, but Mexican mothers will do anything for their children. That is where this character turns. Everything I justified, I was okay with doing it. It didn’t matter because I did it for my children. If I didn’t take over, they would have given it to my other child, and he was weak. They would have killed him. I had already lost the twins and my husband. So, yes, it helps you find the vulnerability, but it also helps you find the fearlessness.
How did you go about having 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?
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. I’m not going to name them, but it’s a smart observation because I took a collection of traits and created it. 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.
Blake, you had to spit in Benicio Del Toro’s face. How many times did you have do to that?
LIVELY: A lot of this movie just kind of happened, with so many of the key moments. When I spit in Benicio’s face, that was something where Benicio and I were talking about this character, after a take or two, and he said, “If you feel so angry at me, spit in my face!” I was like, “I can’t do that!,” and he was like, “No, hock a loogie in my face.” I was, “This is the greatest day ever! I get to do that to someone?” I was like, “Okay, he’s asking for it. I’ll spit in his face.” So many of the big moments in the film were something that weren’t on the page. They just happened there. We were lucky to be in that sort of environment, where we could create and where it wasn’t just all hammered out. We rehearsed so much, and yet it didn’t make it manufactured. It just gave us the freedom to let the story tell itself.
Salma, how many times did you have to slap Benicio?
HAYEK: You know, its funny, I slapped him a lot. It was the strangest thing because I was nervous, but Benicio was like, “Hit me! Hit me! Come on, do it harder!” And I was like like, “Are you sure?” So, I did it one time and he was like, “Okay.”
LIVELY: We all felt it, standing around.
HAYEK: What was really uncomfortable about it was that this was the day my husband came to visit the set and he was like, “What are you doing?! How many times are you going to slap him?!” He was so worried for Benicio because he was red. I said, “ I need to stop. My hand hurts.” The strangest thing was that, with every other scene, Oliver wouldn’t let me do again. I did one take, which was very frustrating. But, this scene where I slapped Benicio, we did it 20 times.
Blake, this role is such a great departure for you. Were you nervous at all, going into some of the more intimate or graphic scenes?
LIVELY: This movie was terrifying, in so many ways, because it’s so graphic and so violent. She experiences such an arc that it’s challenging, as a an actor, and it’s also challenging, as a person. I’ve got a family. I’ve got nieces and nephews. I’ve got a young audience from my show (Gossip Girl). That plays into it, too. You have a responsibility to your personal life, too. It was a really strange situation to be in, in making this movie. But, the most important thing, all along, was telling the truth and telling the heart of this story. I think that she’s very much a modern young girl. She comes from new money, living in Laguna Beach. Her mom is off with her eight different husbands. It’s a shame that you will miss that, in the movie. It was really beautiful stuff with Uma Thurman, and I think it really told a lot more of how a girl could end up this way. She’s the modern girl. Divorces are so much more common now than they were. Love is very untraditional, and these are three people who don’t have a family, creating a family within each other. What I was really drawn to in this story was all of the love – the love between my character and the boys, between the boys and each other, and between my character and Salma – and its complexities and tensions. But, it was definitely really challenging because you’re on a set with 40 people and the boys are standing there naked. That’s always a little awkward.
What did you think of your character’s look?
LIVELY: I loved the clothes. One of my favorite parts is always designing the character. But the hardest part for me is that, when I play a character that is so different from me, I love to hide behind them. It’s actually really a good secret, if you don’t look like her or talk like her. You can disappear. But, when you look like her and talk like her, and you’re from Southern California, and you wear clothes that you went shopping for at Topshop and said, “Oh, I think this would be a good idea,” and you bought one for yourself, then it gets to gets to be a little messy and like, “Oh, I don’t want people to think this is me.” So, it was a really weird personal challenge, shooting this.
How did you determine the design for the tattoos that you wear in the movie?
LIVELY: It was one of my favorite artists, Sage Vaughn. In the book, [the character] has a dolphin tattoo with a sea nymph. I said, “What’s the significance?,” and they said, “‘Cause she lives in Laguna Beach.” I said, “We’ve got that, from everything else. Let’s make this mean something.” This artist, Sage Vaughn, that I love, creates this beautiful, pure, colorful nature with butterflies or birds on barbed wire and picket fences, and these man-made structures. I just thought it was such a perfect example of this girl, who is pure, free and hopeful, but who has been really broken and torn by her life and society. I think, if you are going to get a tattoo, it should be significant, especially when it’s all the way up your arms and your body. I thought that would be more significant for her.
Why do you think there is such fascination with a woman who has such power and who is the head of something as ruthless as the cartel? Do you think that, in the structure of cartels, it’s possible to have a woman in power?
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.
Salma, you play the villain, but she’s a likeable villain. Is it more fun playing this type of character?
HAYEK: I don’t care if you hate me or if you like me, as long as somebody gives me a character that is really a character to play. It’s fun to be able to have a character and have a director that can direct you into a character. I’m just so happy that I got a good role. I don’t care if it’s bad or if it’s good, and I don’t care if it’s drama or comedy. They are just so rare to come across.
Is it more fun to play a villain?
HAYEK: It doesn’t matter. It’s more fun to play a good character with a good director and good actors around you. That’s what makes it fun. The more variety, the better. I loved this one.
Blake, you have Gossip Girl and you are doing all these movies. How do you balance all of that?
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.
HAYEK: She was so professional. It was shocking! She wouldn’t wine. 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.
Salma, is it strange for you to play the mother of an older daughter?
HAYEK: Not really. I’m 45. It would be very easy for me to have a 23-year-old girl. She was so lovely. She’s really wonderful. I really did have a great time bonding. The men in this movie are amazing, but the best thing about it, by far, were the girls. She is so sweet and pure, and it was very exciting for me because she’s also very talented. She’s starting out, like I started out. She comes from Mexico, from the novellas. We know the same people. It reminded me of me. Of course, I didn’t come with an Oliver Stone movie, and she speaks English, and I think she has a green card, so she is way ahead of me and she is way ahead of the game. But, it was so lovely. It brought me back home and it helped me a lot, for all that part about Mexico. And she’s a singer. She would play me her mariachi music because she sings mariachi. It was such a wonderful privilege to be able to work with her, and it was not strange. I could have a 23-year-old.
Salma, what was it like to mix both English and Spanish with some of your dialogue? Was it like that, in the script?
HAYEK: I have to tell you, Oliver would never use English because it’s for the market. Not Oliver. If it was the right thing to do the whole movie in Spanish, he would do it in Spanish, in a heartbeat, and he would fight for it. Funny enough, the cartel people that work in the United States, that are of Mexican descent, speak in English. When we’re in Mexico, I’m speaking in Spanish. But, when I’m on the phone with the people here, it’s mostly in English. Even the people that have kids who have grown up in the United States, those kids don’t want to speak Spanish. He was very, very careful about that, and asked a lot of questions and did the research. It’s funny, when you’ve lived here long enough, and I see it even with myself, sometimes I start talking to Valentina (her daughter) in English and I go, “What am I doing?!,” and I switch. The people that work here speak in English. However, when I start cursing, you cannot beat the beauty of the variety of the sounds and images that come from Spanish and Mexican cursing. So, I curse a little bit in English, and it comes in Spanish.
LIVELY: The scene was actually written in English because it made sense for it to be in English. And then, you throw Salma out there, and a lot of curse words that I didn’t understand were thrown into the scene.
HAYEK: Yes, but with the encouragement of Oliver. Oliver likes it when you talk dirty.