ABOVE: TAYLOR KITSCH AS CHON IN SAVAGES. PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES.
Savages, Oliver Stone‘s new film, begins with a drug-dealing trio. There is Ben, the pacifist and brains of the operation played by Aaron Johnson; and Chon, the hard man, the muscle, the stoic, played by Taylor Kitsch.
Then there is Blake Lively‘s Ophelia or “O.” Ben and Chon love Ophelia; Ophelia reciprocates. She’s the MacGuffin, but not in the way that you would think. There is no jealousy, no resentment, no Team Ben and Team Chon merchandizing. Less of a love triangle, more triangular loving. Enlightened, or fucked up (savage?)—it’s a little hard to tell.
Savages completes a trio of high-profile roles for Taylor Kitsch, and the stakes are high. There’s been a great deal of fuss over Kitsch this year—inflated debate over whether he is the next movie star, or doomed to languish in television heartthrob limbo. Battleship and John Carter did not do as well as their studios hoped, but Savages was always Kitsch’s best bet at proving himself as a leading man. The film has promising credentials; it’s based on Don Winslow’s clever book, with an award-winning director, three pretty protagonists, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek as supporting characters, and a role that’s not too far of from Kitsch’s Tim Riggins, manly-man comfort zone.
Here, Interview speaks with Kitsch about typecasting, unconventional love affairs, and training with Navy SEALs. It’s his last day of press, and, while he graciously answers our questions in his Canadian-Texan drawl, we get the feeling that he’s ready to move on. And we’d expect no less; eight months of press sounds pretty exhausting, and if Kitsch is anything like the characters he portrays, talking about himself is not among his favorite activities.
EMMA BROWN: Chon, Ben, and O.’s relationship is a bit unconventional. What do you think is going on between them?
TAYLOR KITSCH: I think at that point in each of their lives, they were receiving what they needed to [from each other] and were comfortable with it. I think it was an ego-less relationship, which is rare. It was acceptance at such a different level within one another. At that point in their lives, it just worked; they didn’t really worry about questioning it and just accepted it.
BROWN: Do you think that their relationship could last?
KITSCH: No. [laughs] Hence the ego.
BROWN: What about Ben and Chon’s friendship; can that last? They are such different people.
KITSCH: Without a doubt. I think it has changed, considering what they went through, but I think, without a doubt, no matter what, they have that bond. That’s all Chon has really, too.
BROWN: You often play very stoic characters; are you more open with your emotions in real life?
KITSCH: I don’t know; I kind of live vicariously through these guys. You would have to ask someone who knows me well to get a good answer of who I am, or who I think I am. [laughs]
BROWN: Chon is an ex-soldier and carries that with him. I heard that you trained with a Navy SEAL before you started filming.
KITSCH: Yeah, I worked real close with a couple of them. It was really great. I think it’s a psychological thing, that’s the biggest thing that I learned from them. They really have nothing to prove, those guys, and neither did Chon. He’s a man who, if he needs to engage, he will. He’ll let that do the talking rather than acting tough or whatnot, which is the last thing you’d see a Navy SEAL do, in my opinion.
BROWN: And you also did all of your own stunts?
KITSCH: You bet. Everything you see is me.
BROWN: Do you generally, or was this an exception because Chon is a particularly physically focused character?
KITSCH: I think any actor will tell you, the more you can do, the better. Hopefully, whatever the action is, it serves a story in the character. Even technically it helps, for the crew, the camera guys, and Oliver [Stone]. I definitely love that part of it, and it’s a huge piece of Chon and who he is, or a lot of [who he is] comes out when he’s in his element doing the heist and that kind of stuff.
BROWN: I like how you have this little band of snipers that seem to be at your beck and call. They’re very convenient.
KITSCH: Yeah, it’s great.
BROWN: This is a bit of an odd and potentially morbid question: but what would you do in real life if you had a little band of snipers protecting you?
KITSCH: Man, hopefully I don’t need them following me, ’cause that means I’m in the shit. So hopefully I don’t have to use them.
BROWN: How was Oliver Stone?
KITSCH: Really good. He was very thorough. He challenges you, and if you react the right way, you can really flourish under him. His vision is very intense, and he demands the best and he really gets the best out of all his actors. They’ll all say the same.
BROWN: Did you watch all of his films before you started filming, or did you purposefully avoid them so you wouldn’t get intimidated?
KITSCH: I had seen so many [already] because they’re very iconic. Born on the Fourth of July is probably one of my top five favorite films of all time. I’ve told him that, too. I may have seen all of them.
BROWN: You had two big films come out before this, did that make you more nervous about Savages? Or are you thankful that it’s over for the year and you can relax? How are you feeling about it?
KITSCH: I think we ended on an amazing note. I am proud of all three of the films, each in their own way. I really wouldn’t have traded these experiences for anything. [But] I’m excited to actually work again, I’ve been doing press since November and this is my last day of it for a while, so I’m excited to actually do what you sign up to do, to act. It’ll be a full year come September that I haven’t been able to work due to press.
BROWN: The film opens with Chon and O. having rather aggressive sex, and I heard that this scene was filmed in the first few days.
KITSCH: Yeah, it was definitely the first week for me and her. I was glad we got it out and it’s not kind of hanging over anybody’s head. It’s a crash course of getting to know someone, I’ll tell you that much.
BROWN: I wonder whether it’s better to do it before you really know someone, sort of less awkward.
KITSCH: I don’t know. I think no matter what it’s going to be awkward because it’s so technical.
BROWN: Did you get time to rehearse before you started filming?
KITSCH: Yeah, we had a very intensive two-week rehearsal process where we were immersed with a lot of [drug] cartel members and we went and visited grow houses.
BROWN: Real cartel members?
KITSCH: Yeah, absolutely. Real cartel members from the ’80s and ’90s that are now in the Witness Protection Program, a lot of people that are dealers, blowers, you know all that kind of stuff… DEA Agents, Navy SEALs.
BROWN: What’s the most surprising thing you learned from talking to all those people?
KITSCH: Just how much we don’t know.
SAVAGES COMES OUT FRIDAY JULY 6TH. TAYLOR KITSCH’S NEXT PROJECT IS LONE STAR WITH MARK WAHLBERG AND BEN FOSTER.