Academy Award® nominees John Travolta and Salma Hayek star as the corrupt drug agent Dennis, and the imperious and ruthless Elena, head of a Mexican drug cartel, respectively, in Oliver Stone's gripping thriller “Savages.”
|Photo courtesy of UIP|
In the film, Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Johnson), a peaceful and charitable Buddhist, and his closest friend Chon (Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry—raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. Life is idyllic in their Southern California town...until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands to partner with them. And so begins a series of increasingly vicious ploys and maneuvers in a high stakes, savage battle of wills.
On both sides of the drug war is Dennis, an affable, manipulative DEA operative. A self-admitted opportunist, he plays fast and loose with Ben and Chon. Travolta was brought on to act the part of the agent who has long eschewed his agency's mission statement. "John was my first choice for Dennis. I've wanted to work with him for a long time," Stone says. "And he projects a good-natured ambivalence, which fits the role of a DEA agent who's AC/DC."
It was as much the story as it was the specific part that attracted Travolta to the production. He says: "I responded to the overall impact of the script. I thought it would be a very cool movie, and I wanted to be involved." Travolta adds that he found Stone to be very welcoming and an appreciative collaborator. "Oliver loved that I have played lots of different characters. He valued my process. That's very inviting, especially since in a supporting role like Dennis—who connects all the dots in the piece—it was important to feel comfortable. Plus, Oliver had a vision for this movie. I knew that when I stepped onboard. `Savages' is quintessential Oliver Stone. It has political messages. It has moral messages. It has complications that are current and relevant."
For her part, Salma Hayek offers that she rarely is considered for a role like Elena. She says: "I don't get offered villains that much, so Elena was so much fun to play. She's strong and lives in a world that is violent and scary, and usually men are in her position. It's daunting and difficult for men but even tougher for a woman, and she's able to handle it. There is something intimidating, almost royal about Elena. Her nickname is ‘La Reina,' which means ‘The Queen' in Spanish. She has to have that presence; she has to command fear and respect. Otherwise the Cartel would never work."
During rehearsals, Stone tested Hayek's mettle. Indeed, any concerns the actress wouldn't be "tough enough" were quickly allayed. The director, typically spare with the takes he requires, tasked Hayek with countlessly repeating a pivotal sequence in which Elena verbally eviscerates her lieutenants. Elena, bewildered, frustrated and furious over a breakdown in her U.S. operation, castigates her men in a fever pitch of mixed English and Spanish insults and threats.
Hayek delivered a bravura performance, as Stone knew she would, and by the end of the sequence, Hayek intrinsically understood Elena's rage and confusion.