Opening this weekend is director Antoine Fuqua’s White House actioner Olympus Has Fallen. The film stars Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent called back to duty when terrorists take over the White House and capture the President (Aaron Eckhart). The film also stars Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Rick Yune. If you’ve been waiting for Butler to return to action, you’re going to be very happy watching Olympus Has Fallen. Not only is the film a hard R for graphic violence, it features Butler kicking ass in some great action set pieces. Watch some clips here.
A few days ago I landed an exclusive interview with Butler here in Los Angeles. During our wide-ranging conversation, we talked about making Olympus Has Fallen, what it means to him, the great supporting cast, why he took a break from action films, the byproduct of being a celebrity, future projects, and more. In addition, he also talked about How to Train Your Dragon 2, what it’s about, having a script this time, recording his dialogue, redoing about 70% of the first film after seeing the finished film, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get this interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Finally, a huge thank you to Gerard Butler for giving me way more than 10 minutes.
Note: Before the interview officially started we were talking about a few things…which led to us talking about celebrity stuff…and then this first question.
Question: Isn’t it a strange byproduct of being an actor that you make movies, your job is to act and entertain, and then people give a shit about what you think about politics?
Gerard Butler: Yeah and some people take advantage of it and use it in a very good way, use it for charitable purposes or getting the word out there about important issues. Others make a fool of themselves. I think that either way it shouldn’t be expected of you. If you want to follow through on that and use that platform, but otherwise it is incredible what they expect you to know and be a professor in just by nature of the fact that you went and played a role in a movie.
It’s very strange to me.
Butler: Yeah. [Laughs] I’m glad you appreciate that.
I don’t get it. I said to you in New York and I’ll say it again, I’m a big fan of you kicking ass on screen. I like seeing you punch people. The last few years you got away from that a little bit and showed a different side of what you could do. Was that the scripts you were being offered, was that a choice because you wanted to show that you could do these roles as well?
Butler: Yeah, it’s a mixture of wanting to show different sides of yourself and then also keeping yourself interested as well. I don’t want to just do action movies. I don’t want to just do romantic comedies. To me the prospect of playing opposite Ralph Fiennes, Brian Cox, and Vanessa Redgrave in a Shakespeare movie was both terrifying and exhilarating, so I went off to do that. The prospect of working with Marc Forster on a heavy, powerful drama about a guy who goes down to Africa to build an orphanage in the middle of a civil war, that was a great opportunity too and I loved doing it. Whatever happened with the movies they were good for my soul, and good for my acting and my life experience. Unfortunately- well, with Shakespeare you wouldn’t expect it to do great. Machine Gun Preacher broke my heart, it will probably be my biggest disappointment in the business, just the fact that it didn’t really get out there. Then you learn, but end of the day for me to come back to do an action movie, by the way, I think this turns out to be more than an action movie. It has the popcorn element but I think its way more profound than that in the end, and has a lot more substance and meaning than a typical action movie.
Butler: Yes, for sure.
There are those out there, but this has more than that.
Butler: I think we’ve touched on something that we hoped to touch on, but I think it’s gone even past that. Because I feel that this movie, yes its fictional, its entertainment, but it’s also examining something that is very deep within our psyche right now, the fragility of our freedom, our vulnerability in this current global threat of terrorism and it is amazing how much that pulls out of one when they watch this movie. It also examines the hero’s journey, not just my journey, which is in itself a great journey to follow because this is a hero who is- he is a Leonidas in that way, he breaks the rules, he’s brutal, he’s uncompromising.
[Laughs] I agree.
Butler: That’s what we wanted to make, that was not originally what we had in the script, but Antoine and I were all about this guy is going to go in there and he is going to turn terrorism on them. He has an attitude and a point to prove and he’s going to be unflinching. You want the audience to end up as scared of him as they are of the terrorist, right? And they need that by the way, they need that. That’s the other thing that comes out of what this movie pulls out of you. It pulls out that same kind of reaction that we had before 9/11, but we never had an answer in 9/11. They were dead, they were on those planes, you couldn’t kick the shit out of them, you couldn’t put a knife in their brain. Here, they’re there, so you have an answer. The other thing we wanted to do is to really humanize these characters. That’s one of the things that makes this attack so real and the following standoff situation- you have the war room, you have the bunker with the president being held hostage, you have the white house and you have this incredible three-way situation where the stakes are just building and building and you see what they’re all doing.
I felt that let’s understand that all these people are just human, even the advisors in the White House, they’re just real people trying to make real decisions and they make mistakes like anybody else does under pressure. If you can get that with these great performances then you claim it on that level as well. Through it you kind of see how at the end of the day we can bitch about whatever we want to bitch about, how we’re being represented in terms of politics, or whatever, but at the end of the day, push comes to shove, the shit hits the fan, I think the message of the movie is that you can throw what you want at us but we’re going to stand up and unite and be stronger. That’s why I think at the end it’s a really thrilling ride. So you can watch this devastation, but come out of it renewed and hopeful. I feel the movie has a real humility about it as well. That’s what I felt was really important to get across. You want to entertain, but have the audience come out feeling good and yet warned. It is a cautionary tale, but at the same time it’s an inspiring story as well. I think it’s just reminding us that we all have that in us, whatever we think about ourselves, when it comes down to it, when we stand for a greater cause we’d be amazed what we find within ourselves.
You have a hell of a great supporting cast. Who is the one that you were like, “son of a bitch, I can’t believe we got that person”?
Was that the one?
Butler: Morgan Freeman, yeah. And Aaron, Aaron was first on. It’s weird the process, especially now that I’m producing, because you get a script and you go “This is a good script, it has a potential.” And Antoine and I had always wanted to do a movie together so I said “are you up for this? Because if you and I go at this we could kill this.” And he looked at it and he was like, “Alright, buddy, me and you, we’re in this, let’s go.” So we went, but still only you and him and script that, to be honest, you want to shake up, it needs work. Then suddenly Aaron’s on board and Morgan Freeman comes on board and then you go “Okay, now we have a movie.” You have Antoine helming it, then you get Aaron, which is going to bring on Morgan, which is going to bring on Melissa Leo and Angela Bassett, and suddenly you can’t get enough of them, you got Dylan McDermott, you got Ashley Judd, you got Radha Mitchell, you got Robert Forster, you got Cole Hauser.
It’s a hell of a supporting cast.
Butler: It’s an amazing supporting cast and at first you go, “Well this is going to be great for selling the movie, having all these people in it,” but when you watch the movie every single one of them does such a phenomenal job. We often talk about this, we go, “Who was better?” “I don’t know.” They all were so great, especially the female characters. That’s the other thing that comes out of this movie, I think, is it’s rare that you watch a woman getting the shit kicked out of her on screen, and yet out of that comes such tenacity and such strength. That’s the other thing I want to point out. I just had this female journalist was in before and she said, “My screening was full of women and they loved it.” I’ve been to four screenings now, women love this almost more than men even though it’s very violent, but it pumps them up because it has that deeper resonance in it and there are such strong female characters in it. The values that this movie brings up in us, they’re not masculine values. Your connection to what does the White House mean? What does this terrorist threat mean? What does my president mean to me- or what does our president- what does their president mean to them? [Laughs] I’ve got to be careful. What does their president mean to them? It touches on something so deep and that’s why I feel in a way we hit a goldmine here because it’s incredible what it pulls out of you, man or woman.
I loved the first How to Train Your Dragon, I definitely have to ask how is going with the sequel? Are you super excited about it? What can you tease people about it?
Butler: I’ll tell you, How to Train Your Dragon, and this is a little strange because at the end of the day you’re just a voice in it, but it turned out to be one of my proudest pieces of work. It’s in my top three favorite movies that I did, and because I was the voice what happened was when I went in and saw it I was like the audience. I thought, “Oh my god, what did they do with this?” Most of my movies I’ll watch a couple times in screenings with the audience, I’ve watched How to Train Your Dragon more than I’ve watched 300. There’s something about that movie.
It’s also beautiful to look at.
Butler: Beautiful to look at and, again, those values that it contains about relationships, friendships, and bonding in the face of ignorance.
Butler: I love that. The new one, I’ve got to say we didn’t have this in the first one, the first one we were kind of going along putting it together piece by piece, This we have a script already. So there’s already a story laid out. Weirdly enough that doesn’t really happen in animation. They don’t give you the script, they give you pages. I said “I need a script, where do I fit in? Where am I going? Where did I come from?” But this time they’ve had a script from the beginning so they’ve started really, really strongly. It takes off where the last movie finished off so you’re already living in the world where the dragons are a part of Berk and then it takes you on a whole other adventure. It’s wonderful and it’s breathtaking, and yet it’s dark and it’s scary. It has it all. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I really love where they’re going with this one. Because I thought, the first one when you’re coming out of nothing, that was a genuine concern to me. How do you top that?
Have you done a lot of voice sessions already?
Butler: I’ve done maybe four voice sessions, so maybe I’ll have another four, but one of the sessions was huge. I literally went through the whole script, whereas normally you’ll come in and they’ll just give you certain scenes, you’ll do them then work on them, and then they’ll have other ones waiting for you, but this one I pretty much did the whole movie in one session. Now I’m coming back and we’re changing things and working on it.
A lot of the actors I’ve spoken to recently that have done voice work, they all talk about how they think they’re going in for two or three hours of a cakewalk, but they leave after three hours and they feel like they’ve been put through the ringer with how much they’ve given of their voice and acting. Has that been the same for you on this one or even on the first one?
Butler: Sometimes, sometimes I’ve gone in there and thought, “This was a piece of cake,” when you’re connecting. And I love working with that team in there, they make it easy and they make it fun. Then there are other times when you’re doing more difficult scenes, especially when I was trying to find out who I was as a character in the first one. Trying to get the voice right, how thick it should be, how strong, because my body in there is five times the size of my body so you suddenly want to talk like this [uses booming voice] but, no, you don’t need to do that. So you’ve got to learn these little things and it’s a very steep learning curve. Then interestingly enough, after the first one I watched it and I went back in and I probably redid 70% of it. They dint want me to, they said, “We love it.” But I felt that it wasn’t strong enough in the Scottish, I wanted to hit it harder. And I’m so glad I did because the other thing is having seen the whole movie, because a lot of the work you’re doing you haven’t seen the movie, but having seen the movie I knew where I was and what was happening. I’m such a perfectionist; I make people crazy, I find it very hard to let things go. So I said, “I want to redo some stuff,” and they went, ”Okay, maybe this bit here or that bit,” and I said, “Kind of all of it.” [Laughs]
Butler: By the way, they said, “We don’t think you need to,” but after I’d done it they went, “Thank you so much for doing that, it really made a difference.” They used maybe 70% of the stuff that I did. So I’m really glad that I did it. I got way more involved. What’s cool, I’ve got to tell you, is that when you’re reading you think “it’s just my voice” but in actual fact they film you, they film you from all different angles. I didn’t realize how much of my movement they used in the movie. They literally showed me me on film the scene where I’m saying, “Oh, gods” and I’m pointing up to the sky, they used it exactly. They showed me the animated version and what I did, and that made you feel all the more involved that it’s more than just your voice.
I was looking at IMDB, it’s never accurate, what’s coming up for you?
Butler: Nothing, I’m really taking my time right now, you know? It’s been an interesting past, we have so many projects that I’m producing and developing and there’s a bunch of other stuff out there that I’m looking at. There’s three or four things that I’m considering doing, but I don’t need to work right now. I’ve worked a lot and I really want to take my time and make sure that what I’m doing, the next movie is really the right move and what I want to do. Do some groundwork as well. Work on the producing side and development. There’s a bunch of stuff that I’m excited about, but I don’t want to dive into anything.
Olympus Has Fallen opens this weekend and How to Train Your Dragon 2 opens June 20, 2014.