Chasing Mavericks is based on the inspirational true story of surfing phenom Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston), who enlists the help of local legend Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) to train him to surf the mythic Mavericks surf break near his home in Santa Cruz. The quest to surf one of the biggest waves on Earth leads them to form a unique friendship that transforms their lives.
At the film’s press day, actor Gerard Butler talked about what drew him to try his hand at surfing for the film, when fear started to kick in, the accident that almost claimed his life, his own personal pillars to live by, how talking to Frosty really helped him capture the essence of the man, and the aspects of the story that he found himself relating to. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
GERARD BUTLER: It’s both of those things. When you are out there, sitting on the waves, whether you’re surfing or just sitting there taking it in, it’s incredibly meditative and spiritual. I found the whole experience really transformative, as well. And when you get up on that wave and become one with it, nothing beats it, really. You just become one with nature, and you’re harnessing that power. It feels very connected, but it’s also an athletic exercise and it’s something that you’re challenging yourself at. You have to be in the moment. You’re constantly learning. I always find that movies where you get to do that are the most enticing and rewarding.
When does the fear kick in?
BUTLER: Looking at the task at hand was quite a daunting experience. I knew that I was going to have to get quite good at it by spending a lot of time in the water, surfing and trying to get on bigger waves. I knew I was going to have to be in cold water with sharks around. I was thinking about all those things, knowing I was going to have to spend a lot of time doing it, and there’s certainly an element of fear of the bigger picture. But without a doubt, it’s more intense, in the moment, when you’re there and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and you’re trying to get it right, and the cameras are all there and you’re freezing.
What are your own personal pillars that you live by?
BUTLER: In my life? God, I hate those questions! What am I, writing out a life improvement book? I’m shooting from the hip here, but for me, maybe it would be purpose, humility, and an excitement and drive about things. I’m sure there are many others, as well, but humility is very important and extends to a wider thing. To me, it’s always good to retain a sense of wonder and never good too big for life, like you’ve seen it all before. That’s why you take on a movie like this. This movie is full of wonders. It’s a beautiful story.
How did Frosty help you encapsulate your performance?
BUTLER: A lot of it is just acquainted yourself with the person, but you’ve obviously gotta give your interpretation. If you try to imitate somebody, it’s a different story. It’s an interpretation of what happened, but it’s not a word-for-word interpretation. I’m not Frosty, and I don’t really look like him, but I tried to understand what his essence was, what he was about, what he found exciting and interesting, the way he talks about waves, the way he talks about life, and the way he likes to teach. He has this natural affinity towards teaching. And he enjoys the sound of his own voice, as does everybody else, because he has a lot of stuff to say and a really interesting way to say it.
He’s a very philosophical character, and he’s well read. So, I wanted to play that guy who enjoys that, but at the same time, he harbors a lot of pain. He’s been through so much in his life. There’s the person you experience, but he also now knows the stories being told about him. I experienced the same with Sam Childers (for Machine Gun Preacher). They become used to telling their story to people who are interested in telling their story, rather than the person who was living the story.
Frosty wasn’t teaching Jay [Moriarity] anymore, and he doesn’t teach so much, so it was about trying to imagine who he was, back then. It was interesting to hear that he was a bit of a tiger, back in those days. He was out there. You didn’t want to mess with him. The surfers said he was scary. Now, he’s a totally mellow guy, but I wanted to get that fire and that anger in him. And I do like that, with that mentor relationship, the mentor didn’t always know what he was doing, really. He was struggling, too. That’s where Jay stepped in and became a bit of a mentor to him, in some ways.
How much of the surfing did you actually do yourself?
BUTLER: Most of the surfing was us. A couple of those bigger shots with the huge waves weren’t us, but [Jonny Weston and I] both surfed Mavericks. Mavericks was where I was taken down.
What exactly happened?
BUTLER: I was in the water and a big wave came, and it taught me a lesson. It’s funny because Grant Washburn, who actually taught me to surf, talked about it before it happened. He said, “Sometimes the ocean will just hold you down. She’ll pin you down by the shoulders and say, ‘I’m going to let you up this time, but I don’t have to.’” When I was down there, I realized that I was completely at the mercy of this power. It’s not a pleasant experience.
Frosty was definitely a loving husband and father, but there was a distance to him because he couldn’t embrace the responsibilities that he had. Did that resonant with you, at all?
BUTLER: Yeah, I think so. I used to hear the term, “Dragged kicking and screaming into your next phase of happiness,” and it’s true. So often, something is good for you, but it’s not until you’ve done it that you go, “Well, of course, that was going to be good for me.” For Frosty to actually connect and make a sacrifice for another human being and really nurture this young spirit who reminds him of himself so much, allowed him to live the dream that he wasn’t allowed to have anymore. And yet, that’s not what was going on in his head, at the beginning. It was like, “Get out of my sight, kid. I don’t want anything to do with you. I’m a busy guy.” But then, he realized that, by giving up a bit of his soul and a bit of his time, this magical thing happened. I think that’s often been the case with me, in life. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in your own stuff. But, when you really stop for a moment and think about your friends and family, or go out of your way to do something, or make a sacrifice for yourself where you give up something, in order to achieve something, I find that the pay-off is often huge. That’s what came out of this movie. There were the sacrifices that Jay made, and the perseverance and dedication that he showed, and the same with Frosty towards him, and you see the surprising and yet magical results that came from that.
Had you ever surfed, prior to doing this film?
BUTLER: I had surfed maybe three times in my life. It really started for this movie. I was learning to fly a helicopter, at the time. I would go to Santa Monica airport and fly up and down Malibu and the coast, and I saw all the guys on paddle boards and surfboards. I was like, “Look at this. What am I thinking? I need to get a place in Malibu and spend a little bit of time here. I need to take this movie and learn how to surf.” When I said I was going to do it, I was in the helicopter with my buddy. I was like, “Okay, I’m doing this movie.” I touched down and called them and said, “Let’s do it!” And then, I had a place in Malibu, I was learning to surf and I did the movie.
After having your accident, what got you back in the water?
BUTLER: Maybe I was in shock, but I knew it was pretty much my last day to film any surfing stuff because we were almost done. When it happened, I was in a pretty bad way for about 45 minutes, and then I was in the ambulance and I wanted to go back in [the water]. I thought, “Let me just do the rest of this!” but the ambulance driver said, “We’ve gotta take you to the hospital and check you out.” So, I wanted to go back out then. But then, the next day, I was like, “Well, maybe I won’t hurry back out there,” after I’d had time to take stock of what had happened. It was weird because I started reliving that experience and it was very intense. I was surprised by how much it came back and hit me.
If it’s not a wave, what would be the thing you’d be chasing?
BUTLER: Skirt. No, don’t even say that! That’s a joke! I’d be chasing sunsets.
Chasing Mavericks opens in theaters on October 26th.