June 2012

Savage Beauty

BLAKE LIVELY, the blond beauty at the center of Oliver Stone’s crime thriller Savages, is the actress critics hate to love  by LESLIE GORNSTEIN / photograph by MATT JONES / styling by HAYLEY ATKIN / produced by KIM POLLOCK

Blake Lively

The world is obsessed with Blake Lively. This bit of intel shouldn’t shock the lads, who ranked the lanky flaxen-haired actress as number 13 in Maxim’s 2012 Hot 100. Rabid fashionistas also know full well the power of Lively’s classic California beauty, obsessively blogging about her rise from a television starlet to a Chanel model who calls Christian Louboutin a buddy.

Of course, any pop-culture devotee with an intact brain stem knows Lively as a tabloid mainstay, thanks to squires ranging from Penn Badgely to Leo DiCaprio to, currently, Green Lantern costar Ryan Reynolds. At presstime, the online stories on Lively’s romance with Reynolds numbered upwards of 4,000.

Still, one person has no inkling we’re all living on Planet Lively. And that is Blake Lively. “What’s that?” she asks when told, apparently for the first time, that there’s this thing called the Maxim Hot 100. “Did I make it? Is that good? Awesome! I can tell that to my kids one day.”

Now is when jaded journalists might roll their eyes: Come on—is she acting, or what? It’s not an unfair question. Lively may be a 24-year-old sylph with a closetful of Louboutins, but she can act, even if the reviewers are loath to admit it. “Everyone in The Town shines, even Blake Lively,” New York magazine declared after watching her in the 2010 ensemble drama. For her latest project, a blip of an indie flick called Hick, the New York Times begrudgingly dubbed Lively “surprisingly good.”

“That’s the price you pay when you’re blond and beautiful,” says Oliver Stone, who directs Lively alongside heavyweights John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro in the upcoming crime drama Savages. “You have to go that extra mile with your acting...and this is a good actress.”

With the premiere of Savages, due out July 6, those critics may finally knock off the snark. The movie, like so many Stone projects, has been kept under lock and key. Lively says she had to meet with the director before he would let her read a script, and screeners of the film, so common in this town, do not exist. But even the trailer reveals a complex character far different from the privileged Manhattanite she plays on the CW’s Gossip Girl or the arm candy she supplied for Green Lantern.

Lively plays a young woman named O who bears a butterfly-and-barbed-wire tattoo and a magazine rack’s worth of issues. She also has a pair of boyfriends who are partners in a booming marijuana business. When the guys run afoul of the drug-lord matriarch played by Hayek, O is torn from her home—by del Toro in a skeleton mask, no less—then imprisoned, raped, tortured and left to wonder if she will survive.

“Listen, she more than holds her own,” says Savages co-screenwriter and executive producer Shane Salerno. “There’s a reason she’s at the center of the poster for this movie. She’s probably the most interesting kidnap victim you’ve ever seen. It’s usually a forgettable kind of role, but she found a way to bring strength and color to it, and you just don’t see that in summer action thrillers.”

If Salerno sounds impressed, Lively herself is unabashed in her pride, partially because she brought some of her own changes to the role. The film is based on the gripping New York Times bestseller by Don Winslow, whose print version of O initially left the actress with some questions.

“The character in the novel was written by a man, as was the character in the screenplay, and it’s hard for any older man to know what it’s like to be a 20-year-old girl,” she says. “And my approach is, if she’s doing something you don’t feel is right, then at least let’s understand why. She’s a bit of a pessimist in the novel, for example, but it was important to me for her to be hopeful. If someone is hopeful and believes in good, then it’s much more powerful when that source of light is captured and threatened to burn out.”

Stone worked with Lively on the character for hours, until, she recalls, “I said, ‘This is a girl I can understand.’ ” “I wanted O to be a strong young woman,” Winslow says of the tenacious character he created, “and Blake certainly delivered that. It is a complex role, because she is central to the story and all of the major relationships. A lesser actress would have drowned.” Or been ripped to shreds; there’s at least one scene in Savages in which Hayek appears to want to eat her alive or at least scare her into a dead faint.

Del Toro’s kidnapper was no shrinking violet for her to play against, either. “Fear—that was my acting approach,” Lively says with a laugh. “Just plain, pure fear. You walk into a scene with Benicio, and he’s one person when you’re talking to him, and then the moment that camera starts rolling, he’s just this monster.”

Lively recently wrapped the penultimate season of Gossip Girl, the show that introduced her to millions of millennials. Until now, she has worked under a brutal shooting schedule—10 months on and only 2 months off to carve out time for more complex fare on the big screen. She’s coy when asked what’s on tap next, though quite clear on what she wants to avoid.

“I tend to play characters that are tough—often drug addicts,” she says. “I’ve never tried a drug. I don’t know how I always end up as these sexually charged drug addicts. The third time I got a character like that, I was like, ‘Wait, I’ve done this before!’ ”

Not that the legions of lads and the fashionistas are complaining.

LEFT: Dolce & Gabbana silk ruched dress: $3,225, 310-888-8701, dolcegabbana.com. Kiki de Montparnasse Siren silk and mesh dress: $950, 323-951-9545, kikidm.com.
RIGHT: Gucci tulle long-sleeve drape top with embroidery: $3,900; all-over feathers embroidered on crepe de chine pencil skirt: $3,290, 310-278-3451, gucci.com. The Lake & Stars Double in Brass one-piece bodysuit: $89, Urban Outfitters, 323-653-3231, thelakeandstars.com.

MAKEUP: Kristofer Buckle / Crosby Carter Management
HAIR: Serge Normant / Jed Root