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Gerard Butler a man of action in Olympus Has Fallen
NEW YORK — Gerard Butler knows all about portraying a man of action.
He did it memorably as Spartan King Leonidas in the worldwide hit 300.
He’s also capable of double duty. Since 300, he’s been both headliner and producer on Law Abiding Citizen, Machine Gun Preacher and Playing for Keeps.
The Scottish actor returns to the big screen by combining both of his specialties in the action thriller Olympus Has Fallen, which opens March 22.
In the film, the 43-year-old actor plays former Secret Service agent Mike Banning. He’s demoted from his task of protecting American President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) after a botched assignment. But Banning inadvertently returns to duty when the president is held hostage in the White House’s underground bunker by a well-organized unit of North Korean extremists.
The terrorists demand that the U.S. recall its war vessels and troops from South Korea or face the consequences. As the clock ticks, Banning uses his specific knowledge of the White House to take on the invaders, although he may not be in time to stop the hostage takers from accomplishing what they really have in mind.
Co-starring are some acclaimed actors. Morgan Freeman plays the acting American president. Angela Bassett is head of the Secret Service. Melissa Leo plays the U.S. Secretary of Defence who ends up being held hostage with the president. Rounding out the ensemble are Ashley Judd, Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell and Rick Yune.
During an interview in a Manhattan hotel suite in New York, Butler said that he understood from the start as the star and producer that the director was a key ingredient to making the complex thriller work. And he didn’t hesitate to sign up Antoine Fuqua who directed Denzel Washington to a best actor Oscar in Training Day and shaped the sleeper hit King Arthur.
“We ripped this script apart and rebuilt it to be the freshest, most modern, heart-pounding and provocative action thriller we could,” said Butler of his collaboration with Fuqua.
They both agreed that Olympus Has Fallen shouldn’t just be about gunfire, explosions and hand-to-hand combat.
“We wanted to give the movie some sophistication and some interesting characters who you could follow and get connected with on the journey,” Butler said.
They accomplished that goal by hiring some Oscar-honoured actors to play supporting roles, including Freeman, Leo, Bassett and Forster. Butler was quick to admit that Fuqua had a great deal to do with attracting the talented ensemble.
“Antoine’s a director who is artist,” said Butler. “He is masculine, but at the same time he is incredibly sensitive.
“He knew how to work with this incredible cast, who gave meaning and substance to roles that could otherwise be really cardboard.”
As an added attraction, Butler said his protagonist isn’t meant to be the one-dimensional hero always doing the right thing.
“It’s a fascinating concept when you up the ante and say the whole world is relying on (Banning) to make the right decision, but nobody knows what the right decision is,” said the actor.
“Then we throw this guy in the middle of all that; a guy who is like a caged animal since his fall from grace.”
As usual, the actor suffered for his art as an action star. He had his hands cut up from the fight sequences. He injured his arm after another scrap and he had bullet casings hit him in the eyes and back on separate occasions.
Not once did he leave the set or go to the hospital, but he did decide to keep a record of the wounds. “I actually started taking photos of my injuries,” Butler said.
Still, he thinks the movie battle scars were worth it. “We’ve got ourselves a pretty watchable action thriller.”
It’s a genre that seems to suit him and his fans. Last year, his romantic comedy Playing for Keeps with Jessica Biel didn’t seem to work for moviegoers or critics. Previous efforts in The Bounty Hunter opposite Jennifer Aniston and The Ugly Truth with Katherine Heigl didn’t connect either.
After all, he had his breakout in 2003 co-starring with Angelina Jolie in the action fantasy Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. The next year he played the lead as The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera and it never found a mainstream audience.
Before that, he was a struggling actor for hire from 1997 to 2000, making appearances in Mrs. Brown, the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Tale of the Mummy and the B-flick Dracula 2000.
Of course, 300 changed everything for him in 2007 while providing him the opportunity to try against-type roles in lighter movie fare, and he doesn’t regret the attempts.
“I always want to keep it interesting and keep challenging myself,” said Butler of his dalliance with relationship comedies.
There’s no doubt, however, that Olympus Has Fallen is more familiar territory for him.
“It was time again to take on that heroic, mythical guy who has to face his own inner demons whilst trying to fight the outer demons.”