How James Woods Came to Do Salvador

When Oliver Stone told Paula Wagner that Platoon and Salvador were being made by Hemdale (a small independent production house), she asked to see the Salvador script. Finding it another powerful work, she then helped bring James Woods, who was represented by CAA, in to the project. Woods describes meeting with Stone to discuss the film. “He originally approached me to play Dr. Rock,” Woods recalls. “But when I read the screen play, I got excited about the idea of playing the lead because it was such a great role. So when we met, I asked who he had in mind for the lead and he said Marty Sheen. Now, I think Marty’s a great actor, you know, but hell, I’m up for a role here so I’m going to cut his legs out from under him if I can, do what I have to do to get it. So I said ‘Martin Sheen, huh? Oh he’s a great, great actor. He’s kind of religious, isn’t he?’ and Oliver goes ‘Well yeah, a bit.’ And I go, ‘Gee, I’m surprised he didn’t have a problem with some of the language here. It’s pretty strong.’ And Oliver says, ‘Well, he did have a few things that bothered him’ So then I say, ‘Oh... I see. I thought you were going to do this thing for real... go all out? I mean if you’re just going to do another bullshit Hollywood picture...’ And Oliver starts assuring me that he wants to do the thing for real, so then he decided to cast me for the lead. The point being that this was all a dog and pony show which every actor goes through to get a part, but this time it worked.”

Before Salvador, James Woods had appeared in a variety of films, but he was probably best known for his portrayal of a violent killer in the Onion field, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. It was the reality of the film that particularly attracted him to Salvador; “It doesn’t sugar coat the situation.” Woods says. “I found it interesting that this man with all his shortcomings and vices would be ultimately interested in finding the truth. He goes back to El Salvador, even though he’s on Major Max’s death list, just to make some money. But then he gets swept up in it on a personal level and becomes truly interested in finding the truth. That’s what the script is finally all about, his search for the truth.”

Portraying Richard Boyle with the real Richard Bole on the set did not prove a daunting experience to woods. “Usually the person is not able to give you much of a clue about themselves. That might sound preposterous, but take their mannerisms, for example. They may or may not be ones I could of effectively. A character’s psychology to me is more interesting than his behaviour. So I try to find equivalent things that are counter poised against each other, and then bring that to the role, more than just do an imitation of him.”

It was gutsy choice for Woods. Afterall he was going off to Mexico on a shoe string budget with a director that many people had warned him was a madman. “It was alot of the same people who now say, “Oh Oliver, you’re so wonderful.” Woods says. “I mean lets face it. This town is full of limp-dick assholes who make sucking up a way of life. I could name names, but I won’t. They’d say ‘You’re going to work with Oliver Stone? Isn’t he like a junkie or something? He’s a jerk. He wrote Conan the barbarian and directed The Hand’ and I’d say ‘He also wrote Midnight Express’ and they’d go ‘Oh yeah.’ People said he was a drug addict, a drunk, violent, a liar... everything. They were really vitriol about him and I thought ‘I wonder why?’ I’d met him once and he seemed like a nice guy. ‘Why does he affect people this way? There must be something different about him’.”