Where there's smoke, there's fire

Actress Blake Lively has little in common with her character in Oliver Stone's edgy drama Savages. She plays a free spirit shared by two drug dealers who is kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel wanting to take over their business - growing, selling and smuggling high-quality marijuana. But the 25-year-old blonde sheepishly confesses she has a little smuggling experience of her own.

''I love to go to cooking school when I travel and I like to smuggle ingredients home,'' Lively says as she leans forward conspiratorially in a Beverly Hills hotel suite.

''I have smuggled so many ingredients across so many borders, like shallot confit from Thailand or a new hot sauce from New Orleans not approved by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration].

''I'm literally stuffing them in teddy bears cut in half and put back together again and I've gotten really good at it, although now I'm talking about it, I'm sure customs will be all over me next time I go anywhere.''

In Savages, Ben (Aaron Johnson) is a botanist aspiring to save the world with his drug profits and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is a former Navy SEAL not sure the world is worth saving.

They live with Lively's character, O (for Ophelia), in a California beachside mansion funded by their eco-friendly pot business.

Salma Hayek plays the Mexican drug mogul who demands they share their business; Benicio Del Toro a thug who works for her; and John Travolta a corrupt drug enforcement agent.

''What's nice about this movie is that it's actually the woman that gets the two men, and the women in the movie who have the most power,'' Lively says.

Three-time Oscar winner Stone knew he needed an actress who was young and pretty, but substantial enough to carry the weight of the relationship that drives the film.

''There is something special about Blake that I picked up on as soon as we met,'' he says.

''She's very beautiful and also a fine actress who could develop into a Meryl Streep if the fates are kind to her.''

Lively, a Los Angeles native, is from a showbiz family: her father, Ernie, is an actor; her mother, Elaine, is a talent manager; and her four older siblings are also actors.

After initially resisting, Lively eventually gave in and landed a lead role in one of her first auditions - for the 2005 film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Two years later, she scored the role of New York socialite Serena van der Woodsen in the teen soap Gossip Girl, which wraps up this year.

This led to films such as The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Town and Green Lantern, where she met co-star Ryan Reynolds, the man she married secretly last month.

Surprisingly, Lively admits she wasn't initially eager to play this role. ''I am a huge fan of Oliver, yet I didn't love the character,'' she says. ''So when I went to meet with Oliver I told him, 'I loved your script, I love you, but I can't play this character because I judge her and I won't do a good job at this girl.'

''Then we worked on this character and made her somebody that we could really empathise with.''

Stone was immediately intrigued with the Savages story after receiving a galley copy of Don Winslow's book. ''It read like a fast-paced, exciting, different thriller about the drug war … young people in California suddenly growing the best weed in the world and being threatened by the corporation, a larger cartel in Mexico,'' he says. ''I love [that] there are three young people in the film positioned against the three older people … from another movie generation.''

Stone is a passionate advocate of legal marijuana. ''Coming as I do from the generation of the '60s and the Easy Rider of that time, it's nice to also reflect on film that young people aren't giving up their rights, and California is actually the most progressive state in this country to have allowed legal marijuana.''


GENRE Drama.

CRITICAL BUZZ Lacklustre US box office and mixed reviews make it a hard sell unless you're an avid Oliver Stone fan.

STARS Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta.

DIRECTOR Oliver Stone.

RELEASE Thursday.


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