Three years ago he was a 19-year-old getting his Hollywood break. Now Aaron Taylor-Johnson has two kids and is married to artist Sam Taylor-Wood. As his career matures with roles in Anna Karenina and Oliver Stone's Savages, the actor explains why all he really wants to do is work with his wife
I meet Aaron Taylor-Johnson in a drably functional dressing room at Pinewood Studios at the end of his working day. Wearing a grimy grey sweatshirt and matching baggy shorts, he looks more like a skateboarder than a film star. He has just finished filming some action sequences for Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall, in which he reprises his role as Dave Lizewski, real-life superhero, in the sequel to the Matthew Vaughn-directed cult movie Kick-Ass. "I'm sorry I'm so grubby," he says, reaching for a towel. "I've just spent the day being thrown about a lot."
I, in turn, have just spent the day being thrown about a lot, too, albeit in a metaphorical way. It began at 9am with a screening of Oliver Stone's new action film, Savages, in which Aaron plays Ben, a sexy Californian dude who produces high-grade marijuana and lives in blissed-out harmony with his equally hunky best buddy, Chon (Taylor Kitsch), an Iraq war vet, and their shared squeeze, O (Blake Lively), who is equally in love with both of them and not averse to the odd skunk-fuelled threesome. Then a Mexican drug cartel, represented by a seriously evil-looking Benicio del Toro, turns up and things take a turn for the worse, both for our loved-up, spaced- out threesome and for the film in general. Savages is Oliver Stone in overdrive: a mixture of machismo, buddy love, hippy mysticism and extreme violence, wrapped up in a storyline that is as entertaining â and sometimes unintentionally hilarious â as it is implausible.
"I was filming Savages while I was doing AK, so it was tough at times to adjust," says Aaron, still sounding a bit shellshocked. AK stands for Anna Karenina, Joe Wright's highly stylised adaptation of Tolstoy's classic novel â the second feature in my surreal double bill of screenings. "I rehearsed AK, then went off to LA to shoot Savages for two and a half months, then came back to London. It was all a bit crazy," he elaborates. Almost as crazy, I think to myself, as seeing them back to back.
In Anna Karenina he plays Count Vronsky to Keira Knightley's Anna. It is a role that requires him to strut, smoulder and shoot meaningful glances across crowded rooms a lot, while also showing off hastily learned, pointlessly ornate dance moves in one of the film's many choreographed set pieces. "I only had a day or two of dance lessons," says Aaron, sounding a little peeved. "The rest of them had fucking six weeks."
Wright's Anna Karenina is an undeniably ambitious reading of a classic â part costume drama, part self-conscious take on the tropes of that genre. It is beautifully shot, immaculately choreographed, and sharply scripted by Tom Stoppard. The show is stolen by Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan) but Aaron holds his own as a character who, like everyone else, is caught up in the bigger drama that is Anna.
"I'm kind of like the typical blond in the movie," he says endearingly. "It's a golden age, and I'm this dashing blond young officer in a white uniform. It's a study in privilege, really. That was all Joe's vision, and I played around with it a bit, but there wasn't much of a character arc. It's her journey. You don't really need anyone else's. I'm really there as an actor to serve the director and the script."
How did working with Joe Wright compare to working with Oliver Stone? "They are both obsessives in their own way," he says, having given the question some considerable thought, shifting incessantly in his seat. "Savages, though, was probably the toughest shoot I've been on so far. Oliver is smart and he's edgy. He doesn't give you a moment to take a breath. I felt I was being challenged every day, and not just me, but Benicio and John (Travolta). He treated everyone the same, but it comes out of passion. In one of the press conferences John said that he was