Savages Castmates Discuss Movies & More
by scott huver
On the surface, Taylor Kitsch and Oliver Stone might appear to be at disparate points in their career trajectories, but underneath they share a kindred bond: Both seem to love nothing as much as they love making movies.
Kitsch is the 31-year-old actor who, after an impressive stint on the much-beloved TV series Friday Night Lights has emerged as the leading man of the moment. He’s someone the whole of Hollywood clearly wants to make a major investment in, with roles in a trinity of high-profile films this year: John Carter, Battleship, and Savages, out in July. Stone, 65, is the esteemed writer, director, auteur, and perennial agent provocateur with an uncommon talent for cinematically capturing cultural zeitgeists (Platoon, Wall Street, JFK) who’s behind Kitsch’s latter project, a crime thriller more closely related to his Natural Born Killers and U Turn, but embedded with a political message about the pitfalls of American drug policy.
"He’s still as exciting as the young cats—he still comes out from behind that video village with his notepad and his hat and his scarf, excited," Kitsch says about Stone’s unflagging enthusiasm for filmmaking and his commitment to exploring different creative choices. "You could feel his presence when we were shooting. I love that. He still has that energy and talks shop and talks the character. That never went away."
For his part, Stone was struck by Kitsch’s dogged resolve to see his ambitions through, as much as by his acting skill and screen presence. "He told me this story about when he was a jobless actor in New York and he was riding the subway at night to keep awake," recalls Stone. "He didn’t have a shelter, so he was basically homeless and he’s gone through that experience. I was very impressed with that story: the man, the determination to not give up. He told me about situations that seem impossible to me, so my hat’s off to him for his motivation."
Together, they sat down to discuss moviemaking, lessons learned, and the maverick—but always ultimately professional—sensibility that unites them.
How is Savages in line with the Oliver Stone filmography and how is it totally different?
TAYLOR KITSCH: I keep saying how unapologetic this film is, and I think that’s his M.O. I respect him for that, that he’s never changed his process through his whole career. I think that’s a very, very rare thing—a very rare find, especially nowadays. Through my eyes, he does it for the love of the work and he doesn’t do it to succumb or for validation from people outside. I love that because I see quite the opposite happening in my experiences.
OLIVE STONE: I’ve always been drawn to the gangster and the criminal element. I’ve essentially been an anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian person. I have a very strong dislike for central authority. It’s taking an important subject to me, which is drug legalization, but treating it not like a documentary—[and instead] having fun with it. It’s an exciting ride, and you see where the legality of the drug trade rubs up against the dangers. I feel strongly about it, but at the same time it doesn’t need preaching about because it’s well known. We’re showing how the system was spoiled, because everyone in the film—except for the young people in it—is corrupt. It’s a hypothetical, but it could happen.
Was there a crystal-clear moment for either of you when you knew you didn’t just want to be an actor or director, but that you had to be—that you didn’t have much of a choice?
TK: I struggled quite a bit in New York. I don’t know what it was, but there was something there that kept me from quitting. Maybe I’m stubborn. Maybe it’s the challenge. I just loved studying at the time. I loved the exploratory part of it. It was very therapeutic for me for what I was dealing with personally. I love being surrounded by people [who] are going to make you better—you’re going to grow through that experience. That’s a real high for me.
OS: I never thought about movies as a possibility because it was just foreign to me in those days. It was glamorous, but I didn’t know people in the movie business, really. But when I came back from the Vietnam War and a friend of mine said, ‘You can go to college and get a degree in film,’ I said, ‘What? That’s a joke.’ It was only after the war—’68, ‘69—that it opened up. It didn’t exist before. I said, ‘You [can] actually go to college [for that]?’ I could get the GI Bill at the same time, so I went to New York University, which was the closest subway school to the Village, where I was living at the time.
TK: Was it that simple?
OS: In a way, yeah, because I was kind of lost in my life. I said, ‘You know, I’ll figure it out.’ I shot some photographs in Vietnam. I loved the texture of Vietnam, the beauty of it, but it just didn’t seem possible to make [movies]. So before you knew it, one thing led to another and then by the time I got out of film school, there was just no looking back. I just assumed that I could do movies. Of course, I drove a taxi and was a messenger, and I suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and the pangs of disappointment for many years.
You both now lead wildly different lives than before you broke in. How connected do you want to stay to that person you used to be—to not forget those times?
TK: I don’t think that’ll ever be a problem for me. I think having a late start and having a good sense of self before any of this crap, you see things a lot clearer. If I was 21, I could tell you that I could get wrapped up in it. But I think just that struggle makes things a lot clearer. Right now—ironically—I feel like, You’re just going to get better and better, and keep on this track, hopefully, working with great people. I feel like I have so much more to keep offering.
OS: Listen, I’m a lot older than Taylor, so it’s a tough question. They say your cells change every seven years, and so you can’t possibly physically be the same person you were. So sometimes you don’t even remember how you felt back then. You might have a vague idea—think you do, but you may not. That person disappeared seven lives ago. Whether I have a piece of him in me? Probably in my mind, but it’s been tempered by so much life in between. So many different personalities and so many different people have influenced me.
What do you think—or hope—your body of work will ultimately say about you in the end?
OS: I hope somebody remembers it, and if they do it’d be nice if they see the unity, the growth, and express a greater interest in [my] life journey. That’d be nice. To be remembered, first, that would be great, but most people will remember you—if they do—with one or two films and then hopefully they might go a little deeper because that’s the tendency if you like a director. I do that: you’ll go into that body of work. You want to see what else he did, and then sometimes you discover gems.
You’ve got a deep bench as it is.
OS: Thank you on that, but it’s not that much—it’s only 21 directed. I know some of my contemporaries have 30, even 40 and 50, but they work faster. Maybe if I live a few more years and Taylor helps me out I can get a few more done.
TK: He knows that I’m waiting by the phone. I said this a while back: Forty years from now if there’s a young actor coming up and he gets a call that goes, ‘Well, Taylor Kitsch is doing this. The script isn’t completely ready, but he’d like you to be a part of it…’ There are a couple of actors for me where I don’t need to see a script. If they said, ‘X wants you. Will you come do this movie with him?’ I’d go, ‘Yeah, I’m in.’ That’s a great thing, and hopefully when I’m down that road there’s a young cat who goes, ‘Yeah, I know he’ll put everything there is he can put into this film.’
OS: That’s a great way to put it.
Photography by Robert Ascroft; Grooming by Helen Robertson for Chanel/Celestine Agency; Styling by Evet Sanchez at The Wall Group; Stone’s grooming by Jhizet Panosian at Crosby Carter Management using Kate Somerville Skincare; Kitsch’s grooming by Helen Roberterson for Chanel/Celestine Agency
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.