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Gerard Butler: ‘There’s A Lot Of Gallows Humour When You’re In Dire Situations’
We talk to the star and producer of Olympus Has Fallen.
With Olympus Has Fallen in cinemas 17th April, we spoke to star Gerard Butler about the hugely enjoyable action film. Training Day director Antoine Fuqua threatens to give Roland Emmerich a run for his money in the destruction stakes, when North Korean terrorists take over the White House and capture Aaron Eckhart's President. Luckily, Butler's former Secret Service agent is in the neighbourhood, using all his skills to outwit the baddies. It's a lot of fun - read our review here.
When we meet Gerard Butler in a London hotel to talk about the film, there's some speculation over a potential franchise, after its successful opening in the US. "When I took this on, it actually seemed just like a fun movie that would be provocative and maybe have a bit of a message in there. I didn't for a second think franchise," he says. "Right now though I have to say I'm at a loss as to where you after this. Do you go Olympus has Fallen... Again?" Buckingham Palace is suggested. "You could have a lot of fun - Ben and Jerry's Has Fallen. I do like the idea that terrorists are coming into Starbucks, and I had to make my way through Starbucks and try and hide from the terrorists as they threaten to burn the coffee."
It's asked whether Fuqua and the team needed permission of any kind to destroy a likeness of the White House. "You'd be amazed. At the end of the day I was surprised by their lack of interference and acceptance of the movie. I just got a note last night saying George Bush Sr and his lovely wife had watched the movie. It's just funny the thought of them watching it and apparently they really enjoyed it."
The White House was recreated in Shreveport, Louisiana, with twelve workers ending up in hospital due to the intense 118 degree heat. "So to go down there and do action sequences in the hottest week of the summer... I maybe did 300 takes over those eight days, and if you were supposed to have been running for about a mile to get to the White House in the midst of insanity, you had to get back into that state again by jumping up and running, so even sitting in the shade was miserable. And there were explosions going on - as if it wasn't hot enough, you have a 20 foot ball of flame next to you."
One of the things noted in our review is how red-blooded and full-on the violence and swearing is. I ask if it was refreshing to make a film that hasn't been watered down. "We thought, if you're going to make a movie let's push it to the limits, let's really try to examine what would happen there. You wouldn't turn away when someone is shot. Or only men are hurt - no animals or women. You want to show the whole shebang. We wanted to make it as brutal and uncompromising as it would be. We would call bullshit on each other and say okay, if they do that wouldn't they be caught? And in doing that, one of the things was, well you've got to show it all. You've got to show how much damage there would be and the fact is that if they wanted to effectively take the White House, they've got to eliminate everyone who is in their way."
Butler continues: "So we felt it could be refreshing and unusual and get people involved at a visceral level and that's what we achieved because during that attack you don't breathe for 25 minutes - it's just my goal, you are there. And to be simplistic for a moment you've got a great cast in there and you actually flesh out the characters involved in that scenario and you humanise them, with families and lives, and relationships that are not perfect. So by the time you're in the action you really understand how humanity crosses with protocol and experience and you get involved in all that. You're in the crisis room with all these guys and their views, and understand that they are all in a fight against a common evil. And that's a fascinating process to go into such detail, about how the air vents work, and where you go from there and how you collect ammo, how you move by stealth and cut off the video surveillance and all that stuff is really cool in pulling an audience into that journey."
Fuqua sadly didn't come to the UK for press, so we weren't able to establish if the film was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. However, it's a relief to hear Butler talk about the humour in Olympus Has Fallen, even if he took the action seriously. "The original script was not a funny script, it was pure action thriller but there's a lot humour in a guy who has that kind of attitude," confirms Butler. "He's so uncompromising and he's so well-trained and driven as to what he's willing to do, even his attitude to his superiors and the bad guys. One of the things we wanted to do was that sense of messing with Kang's mind, allowing for a gold mine of opportunity for humour. That's why you say it's like a 21st century Die Hard. It's not yippi-ki-yay motherfucker, it's not going for the jokes but at the same time there's funny moments. There's always funny moments. I was in New York in 9/11 walking around and you know what was crazy? This may have been the strangest day of my life and yet up on 56th by Central Park workmen were still whistling at women and they were still rollerblading in Central Park. Even we were walking around laughing and joking. We were in shock but you don't just walk around in shock like a zombie, you still talk, you still make jokes and you still live your life. There's a lot of gallows humour when you're in dire situations. It was important to get that in as well. If you can make a movie that's exciting, compelling, tense dangerous and at the same time funny, and on top of that make it emotional, inspiring and rousing then you've got it all, and I think we got it all."
There had been a bit of controversy regarding the reaction from the US audiences' more, erm, culturally ignorant section, with news sites writing articles about the inevitable tweets of morons. However, the patriotism in the film carries internationally. "They were whooping and hollering in Russia," Butler revealed. "The journalists loved it and we filled six screens at the premiere because you know what? Terrorism isn't just a threat in America. We chose the White House but it could just as easily have been Downing Street or the Kremlin. They all have the same feelings about the fragility of their freedom and the danger that is apparent. We've all been attacked here, we've been attacked in all these countries and it's a universal theme. If anything, America takes a kicking for 90% of this movie - I was surprised they didn't complain more that they didn't look so effective in their defence."
Butler reflects on the timing of the film, with current tensions with North Korea dominating the news. "Well, when you make a movie, you make it about a current threat. That's what makes it enticing and keeps an audience gripped because you're dealing with things that are possibilities. They made movies about World War II when that was relevant and they made movie about the Russians in the '80s because that was scary to us. That's why we made it about the North Koreans but also made a point of saying it's not the north Koreans, in that they're acting like the other countries. They're doing what they do, they're being aggressive and the South Koreans are reacting and the Americans are backing them. But then it is unbelievable how much this is mirroring. It's completely coincidence I swear. Our PR department did not go, 'Hey could get a little plug from you guys, a little plug for our movie?'"
With Emmerich's White House Down in production at the same time, Butler talks about the pressures of both starring in Olympus and developing the project as a producer. "We had a short time to develop this because we knew there was another movie coming up our backside. We really ripped it apart then put it back together again and it was a constantly evolving process. It was me and Antoine pushing and raising the stakes and creating moments. And at the same time you've got to learn to be so proficient with a gun as a Secret Service agent and the fight sequences and the dialect sessions. And then there's the actual producing part, being the go-between Antoine and other actors. And then going in and giving a performance. I don't want to sound whiny because I chose to do it and I love to do it, but it's hard work - although it's easier when you're in flow and you're connected and you believe in what you are doing. It's amazing that when you're not enjoying what you're doing you're exhausted and pissed off and everything's a struggle. You can work 24 hours a day if you are challenged in a creative way and it's something that's fun."
The Scottish actor is asked if his upbringing in Glasgow was brought to the role. "That's a good question because in a lot of ways everything that I bring to this character is what Scotland made me and what Glasgow made me, and I've used that national pride and that patriotism and that strength that gives you, and that inner strength and that feeling of power. Obviously I'm more connected to Scotland because that's where I'm from and my identity as a Scotsman, as a Glaswegian, as a Celtic fan. All those things that make you feel that you belong to something and something that you'd be willing to fight for, you use that. And Glasgow, it's a tough city so you grow up and you learn how to be tough and look tough - like a gorilla beating its chest, it's actually just pulling it in and being mysterious in a way. So there's that menace. And by the way you see that in guys in Glasgow. I think Glasgow's one of the warmest cities in the world but also some of the toughest, scariest guys, and you just see that menace in them and it's fascinating to behold because it's almost like a shark's eyes at times. There's like death in there."
Of course, Scotland is no longer home for the star. Could it be? "You can live over here but without a doubt it helps to live over there because often a meeting will come up and the director's in town for one day. In producing this movie, the director's over there, the actors are over there and the marketing and distributors and production companies are over there so it helps a lot to live there. Plus I enjoy living in LA. But I also have a place in New York and I get away there. I love New York but I can't get any work down there; I just can't get my head down, I can't read a script as I want to be out walking, going to the theatre. You kind of want to live out there. In LA you get disciplined and you train, you eat right and that's pretty much it."
Filmbeat also caught up with Butler - watch their video interview below.
(video interview at link)