Q&A: Oliver Stone

Controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone takes on the marijuana trade in his new action drama "Savages." Based on a novel by Don Winslow, the movie pits a highly successful trio of California pot growers against a vicious Mexican drug cartel that wants to muscle in on the action.

The 65-year-old director, a two-time Oscar winner (for "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July"), casts up-and-comers Taylor Kitsch ("John Carter"), Blake Lively ("Green Lantern") and Aaron Johnson ("Kick-Ass") as the laid-back, free-thinking young entrepreneurs, opposite stalwarts John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro as the heavies.

Q: What was it about this project that grabbed your attention?

A: When I first read Don's novel, it just hit the spot for me. It was fresh and original. It had heart and passion and intelligence. I optioned the rights to the book with my own money and spent more than a year developing the project. I thought it told a compelling story and, just from a visual standpoint, I liked the idea of paying homage in a way to southern California — the sunlight, the beaches, the whole mind-set and lifestyle. The characters were interesting, how they're thrown together in a strange turn of events and how all of them undergo a real change. I liked all of the unpredictable twists in the story, the cat-and-mouse aspect to it. At the same time, though, it's also a love story about these three kids.

Q: Was there any hesitation from the veterans in the cast about taking on such unsavory characters?

A: None whatsoever. Travolta had been keeping a pretty low profile since the death of his son (Jett, 16, in 2009), so he was eager to get back to work and excited to play the role. I didn't even need to meet with Salma. This part just was her and I think she's at the top of her form. She loved the character and the idea of our working together. And there's no question Benicio brought his best game to the movie. He really elevated every scene he's in. What he can do and come up with on the spur on the moment is pretty unbelievable. It's sort of the same feeling I had about working with Al Pacino (on "Any Given Sunday").

Q: Talk about Aaron Johnson. To be as young (22) and new to acting as he is, it's amazing how unrecognizable he is from one role to the next (the surly tormentor in "Albert Nobbs," the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy," the satirical superhero in "Kick-Ass").

A: Yeah, he's a really versatile and very underrated actor. The unfortunate thing is, he's kind of getting screwed, because you won't recognize him on the poster for "Savages" either. (Laughs.) He's the only star of the movie whose face is hidden behind a mask (a disguise his character dons in certain scenes). Aaron was the first one who committed to me and the film, the most loyal one over the six months it took to get it made. He's definitely getting hot and being offered some big movies, with a great future ahead of him. And, for that matter, you could say the same thing about Blake and Taylor, too.

Q: For the most part, your films are very well-made, but they also tend to be really heavy and intense and violent. Could you ever see yourself making some kind of a breezy romantic comedy?

A: (Laughs.) I love a good romantic comedy as much as the next guy, but my style is my style and I can't be somebody I'm not, somebody else. Like a lot of my movies, "Savages" is the sort of story that only could've been made by someone as crazy as me.

Q: What's coming up for you next?

A: I'm going to be doing a 10-hour documentary for Showtime called "The Untold History of the United States."

Q: Wow. Sounds like that ought to bring all of your old detractors out of the woodwork.

A: Bring 'em on. (Laughs.)