EXCLUSIVE: Benicio Del Toro is signing on to play a deadly drug cartel enforcer in Savages, joining Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch in the drama that Oliver Stone is directing, based on the Don Winslow bestseller. The project is moving toward a potential deal with Universal, though two other studios remain in discussions. Johnson and Kitsch are set to play Ben and Chon, two best friends who are growers of primo pot in Laguna. They share an unusual relationship with a trippy girl named O. Not only are they all best friends, she has a relationship with each. Their quiet lucrative life is interrupted by a visit from the drug enforcer Lado (Del Toro) who tells them they will have to work for his boss, a Mexican cartel matriarch. When they refuse, O is kidnapped, and they are forced to come up with a fortune in ransom. They plot to do it by hijacking the cartel’s drug supply, right under the nose of Lado, who is highly suspicious.

Stone is honing the script with Shane Salerno and Winslow. Jennifer Lawrence was going to play O, until she was set for the lead in the Gary Ross-directed The Hunger Games at Lionsgate. I’m told that Stone has cast a wide net for O, looking at established names and unknowns. Salma Hayek is also in the mix for the role of the Mexican drug cartel matriarch, but she isn’t set. Del Toro just made his directorial debut on a segment of the omnibus film 7 Days in Havana. He’s managed by Rick Yorn.