Zurich 2012 - Oliver Stone Q&A
Posted on Friday September 21, 2012, 22:47 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
The 8th Zurich International Film Festival kicked off today with an early morning screening of Oliver Stone’s brutally violent, drug war thriller Savages, starring Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek and John Travolta, who tonight will receive the festival’s prestigious Golden Eye award for lifetime achievement. Later, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather in the gardens of the swanky Hotel Baur au Lac, overlooking Lake Zurich and the distant Alps, Stone took time to discuss the film (and much else besides), on the eve of its UK release.
How are you enjoying Zurich?
It’s great. This is easy for me because it’s John’s night. The people are nice, it’s a beautiful city. It’s quiet, everybody goes to bed at ten o’clock, but apart from that...
What reaction to Savages are you anticipating from British audiences?
Well, the British love it when I jump up and down about drugs. I’m nervous. The press is always tough in England, but I did a great show with Mark Kermode and also one with Andrew Marr, they’re both highly intelligent. The weather is key in England. Everyone thought September was going to be shitty and apparently it’s really nice, so that will hurt us. To have a nice drizzly opening weekend is always great.
John Travolta turns in a terrific performance as a crooked DEA agent in the movie. How was it working with him for the first time?
I like him. He was my first choice for the role, because he can be charming but a little bit sleazy at the same time. He plays a drug agent who of course - well, not of course, but who is corrupt. You don’t take him too seriously to begin with but not only does he turn out to be the instigator of the whole thing, he ends up with the last laugh. He’s the master manipulator.
Have there been other times you’ve wanted to work with him but not been able to?
I don’t remember anything ever being right for him before. This was my first offer to him.
What to you are the main themes of Savages? Obviously as an Oliver Stone movie there’s more to it than just drug cartels sawing people’s heads off with chainsaws.
I think given that the drug war is a farce that’s been going on for forty years, I’m not getting on my high horse about that. That’s a given. America fucked it up and has created a new prison system and a new bureaucracy for drugs and melded it with another new bureaucracy for terror. They came up with ‘narco-terror’ states, which is why Columbia is a disaster. We build seven military bases in Columbia, which pisses of all of South America. Mexico too. The Mexicans are sick of us too, they want to kick us out. It’s an old game. America is always intervening, always setting values, always trying to tell people how to live their fucking lives. I find it terribly depressing. People think I’m crazy, but I went to Yale, the Class of ’68, and George Bush was in my class. Most of the Establishment that runs this country, Wall Street and Washington, was in my class. They run the country and they’re fucking crazy. They’ve created five wars since Vietnam. Plus a drug was and a terror war. It’s George Orwell time.
Do you think there’s any hope of changing that?
Not really. I hope Obama wins (the election) because he’s smart, but I think at the end of the day it’s a system.
You don’t see legalization as a solution?
Not any more. No politician could call for that and get away with it; you’d have your head handed to you. Same thing with the war on terror. How can you say, ‘We should cut back fifty million dollars on homeland security’? The moment anything happened you’d be hung out to dry. It’s impossible to get off the treadmill. It’s the same as the nuclear arms race - they could not get off the treadmill. You pray that as time goes by people are going to get bored, a new generation is going to move it on to something else, people are going to get tired of the killing and tired of the bullshit. But it’s hard. I’m not an optimist. I made [Savages] with the idea of, Okay, let’s have some fun. This is a great book, it’s original, it’s a page-turner and there are no clichés. If you can point out a single cliché I’d like to hear it.
In the movie you change the ending significantly - fundamentally in fact from the book. Why was that?
Well there are two endings [to the film]. The first is from the book. I found it very romantic and beautiful; it’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. But i didn’t believe it. I believed the true ending of the movie was the continuation of the drug war with people like Travolta. The good thing is the kids get a second chance.
Did Savages present any particular challenges?
All movies are a challenge. I didn’t do it with any desire to change the world. I did it with the desire to tell a good story. It’s also a romance, a love story. The major character for me is Ben (Aaron Johnson) who goes from being this Bono-like good guy who wants to invest his money in Africa and the third world and who ends up this fucking monster burning people alive, ha ha! It starts out as Beach Blanket Bingo, the goes into Scarface and ends up a Spaghetti Western. When I went into it I didn’t have a genre, I didn’t quit know what it was going to be. And that’s okay, to explore and come up with something new. Call it Orange Noir.
It’s also disturbingly violent. Do you think the graphic torture scenes might alienate some audiences?
I don’t think you can make a movie with this background without recognizing the tremendous brutality in the world brought on by the drug cartels, the Iraq war and the American soldiers returning from Iraq. You have to make it brutal, but at the same time not too brutal otherwise people are not going to sit through it. We could’ve shown someone thrown into a bath of acid and burnt alive, but we didn’t.
You do show someone doused in gasoline a burned alive though. Do you think you might have some walk-outs when it screens at the opening ceremony tonight?
May a few old Swiss matrons. But that’s all right.