By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Blake Lively burst onto the Hollywood scene in 2005’s big screen adaptation of the perky young adult novel “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” She went out to become a household name playing Upper East Side socialite Serena Van Der Woodsen on “Gossip Girl,” also based on a series of young adult novels.
Now the lovely Lively gets down and dirty as a pot-addicted poor little rich girl, who gets caught up in a brutal drug war in Oliver Stone’s “Savages,” based on Don Winslow’s bestselling novel.
The 24-year-old actress recently spoke about taking on the darker role, where her character is in love with two best friends (played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) who run a successful marijuana distribution ring from the tony seaside Southern California town of Laguna Beach. The friends are so close they don’t mind sharing their mutual girlfriend Ophelia (better known as O), played by Lively. The young entrepreneurs’ idyllic world is upended when a dangerous Mexican drug lord (Salma Hayek) wants to take over their operation. When the boys refuse, Lively’s O is kidnapped by the drug lord’s sadistic henchman (played with animalistic menace by Benicio Del Toro).
Lively, who is wrapping her final season of “Gossip Girl,” tells what it was like to act in an Oliver Stone movie and what’s ahead career-wise.
Front Row Features: You’re character is involved in this dark and dangerous world. How did you prepare for that, because you’re used to playing more pretty, girly kind of roles?
Blake Lively: I feel like all I’ve done is play like really sexually charged drug addicts lately. (She laughs.) I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But I love that it’s so different from everything I’ve every known or seen so I love that challenge.
Front Row Features: What was it like working with Oliver Stone?
Lively: 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, DEA agents. I met a little girl who’d been kidnapped by the Mexican drug cartel. We met people in all areas of the marijuana field. And then we also sat with each other, each character and just really rehearsed this movie. They’re so many unexpected complex relationships that occur in this film. (My character is) in love with two men, but then there’s also a love story between our characters. Then there’s the story between Salma’s character and my character—my need for a mother and her need for a daughter. So we all just sat down with each other and there was such unity in that.
Front Row Features: You have a great supporting cast as well. What was it like working with John Travolta?
Lively: I didn’t have a scene with John Travolta, but we sat down and spoke for an hour because we’re a movie that’s coming out with all of these summer movies, and we don’t have a cape in this movie, so we’re at a big disadvantage with that. We knew we were like this black sheep and we were excited to do this movie. It was not only challenging for us as actors, but it really challenges the audience, and that was really exciting.
Front Row Features: You face off with Benicio’s character at one point. You even spit in his face. How many times did you have to do that before Oliver was like, “OK, we got it?”
Lively: A lot of this movie just kind of happened. Benicio and I were talking about this character after a take or two, and he goes, “You know what? You feel so angry at me, spit in my face.” I was like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” He was like, “No. hock a loogie in my face.” And I was like, “This is the greatest day ever.” So I was like, OK, he’s asking for it. I’ll spit in his face. So many of these big moments in the film were something that weren’t on the page. They just happened there (on set) and we were lucky to be in that sort of environment where we could create. It wasn’t just all hammered out. We rehearsed so much, yet it didn’t make it manufactured, it just gave us the freedom to let the story tell itself.
Front Row Features: 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 this character is so graphic, She experiences such an arc that it’s challenging as an actor, and it’s also challenging as a person. I’ve got a family. I’ve got nieces and nephew and a young audience from my show. So that plays in too and you have a responsibility to your personal life too. So it was a really strange situation to be in, in making this movie. But the most important thing all along was telling the truth, telling the heart of the story.
Front Row Features: What was your take on O? Who is she?
Lively: 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. We filmed some beautiful stuff with Uma Thurman, who plays my mother (which were cut). It really told a lot more of how a girl could end up this way.
Front Row Features: Did you have any qualms doing the love scenes with Taylor and Aaron?
Lively: No. These are three people who don’t have a family, creating a family within each other. That’s what I was really drawn to in this story is all of the love— the love between my character with the boys, between the boys and each other (and) between my character and Salma’s, with all its complexities and tensions. 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.
Front Row Features: You’re known as a fashionista. How did you like your character’s hippie-like wardrobe?
Lively: I loved the clothes. That’s always one of my favorite parts is designing a character. The hardest part for me is when I play a character that’s so different than myself. I love to hide behind them. It’s actually a really good secret if you don’t look like her and you don’t talk like her, then you can disappear, but when you look like you and you talk like you and you’re from Southern California and you wear clothes that you went shopping for at Top Shop and said, “Oh, I think this would be a good idea,” and you bought one for yourself, then it gets to be little messy. I don’t want people to think this is me. So it was really like a weird personal challenge shooting this.
Front Row Features: You helped design the tattoos worn by your character. How did that come about?
Lively: It took a long time, but (they were designed by) one of my favorite artists, Sage Fawn. In the book, (O) has a dolphin tattoo with a sea nymph. And I said to Oliver, “Well, what was the significance?” Let’s make this mean something. Sage Fawn creates these beautiful pure colorful nature tattoos of butterflies or birds on barbed wire, on picket fences, and these manmade structures. I just thought it was such a perfect example of this girl— this pure free hopeful girl who has been really broken and torn by her life and society. I just if you’re going to get a tattoo it should be significant, especially when it’s all the way up your arms and your body, so I thought that that would be more significant for her.
Front Row Features: How did making this movie work into your “Gossip Girl” schedule? And what’s next for you on that show?
Lively. We’re finishing our last season. We started in June. This was actually the hardest movie to make because normally we have about a two-month break from “Gossip Girl” every year. 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-eye to set. That was hard to balance. It actually wasn’t a balance, it was just a landslide.