The last time we saw Gerard Butler, he was begging Jessica Biel to take him back in a movie that made our girlfriends cry. (Yeah, we miss Leonidas, too.) But fear not! It seems the badass Butler, whose abs we envied in 300, is back with his latest film, Olympus Has Fallen. Butler plays secret service agent Mike Banning, who's in the midst of a White House takeover. As the only living agent left after a massacre—and of course the only one who conveniently knows almost all of the White House passwords—it's up to him to save the president, the president's son, and Morgan Freeman's ass (Freeman has to step in as acting president once POTUS is taken hostage). To find out how Butler trained to play a secret service agent, and what he actually thinks of the film, we sat down (actually, he paced the room) with the constantly-cursing Scotsman while he was promoting the film in NYC.
MF: It can't be easy, talking about such an intense movie for an entire day.
GB: Look, if I'm being honest, not to diminish what the movie's about, but it's entertainment. It's fun, a riot in fact. The more scared people get, the more fun they have at the cinema. Yes, I want to provoke them, inspire them, and make them think. But I also want them to have a good time.
You produced this movie, along with a handful of other films you've starred in. How has that experience been for you?
I love it. But sometimes when I'm working I wish that I was allowed to only do the acting, because I'll be in the middle of dealing with a crisis and I'm arguing with somebody, and the director walks in and goes "You're on!" and I say "On what?" and he goes "You know, that big scene." And I'm just like "F*ck. Sh*t. Yeah, okay!" Over time I've learned that I have to calculate where and when I'm needed. I have to figure out what scenes are tough and important enough to say to the other producers, "Let's not talk about this right now. Meet me when I'm done with this scene. Or when they turn the camera around on the other actor." [Laughs]. But really, I love being so involved.
Well there are definitely some big scenes in Olympus Has Fallen. Did you do all your own stunts?
Yeah, I did. I pretty much do all my own stunts, unless the insurance company literally won't allow me to. After I was held underwater by a massive wave during the filming of Chasing Mavericks, they were like "Yeah...you're not going out there again." I'd love to do all my own stunts, but I paid a price for that accident. I forgot about that when I started this film though, and was throwing myself all over the place.
But after that near-death experience, the danger of Olympus Has Fallen didn't deter you?
No! I mean listen, I fired a bullet one time and it hit the pillar and came back and hit me in the eye. I felt like I had been punched in the eyeball. And that's terrifying. When you're using weaponry that powerful, even a blank bullet could blow off a person's face if it's close enough. I was so shocked when I used my gun at first. I put it next to a peach and fired with a blank bullet, and just the pressure from the gun blew a hole in the peach. So you're dealing with dangerous situations and using a lot of powerful, high-velocity weaponry, firing a lot of bullets. I got burnt in the throat by Dylan's [McDermott] cigarette and it scabbed up in my throat. I broke two bones in my throat. Bruised my arm and the back of my leg, fell from heights, got slapped around. You're just always getting cuts and bruises on a set like this. But that's what makes it real, and why I keep going back.
How did you train for this role?
We worked with Navy SEALs and ex-special forces; our stunt coordinator was special forces. I also worked very closely with secret service agents. They were on set for most of the filming to make sure we were doing everything correctly. I would pick their brains, asking them what they would do in certain situations, what they would say. You have to go in there ready to look and feel like a badass 100%. I'd get in there and tell the stunt guys, "Give me a mixture of what you would actually do, and what just looks f*cking cool." I always try to make it believable. Sometimes when the stunt guys are showing you how to fight, they give you something a little stunt-y to do, but I tell them I want to get real--down, dirty, and badass. I want to get hurt, I want to hurt them. I want it to look like a real fight. Mike Banning is a guy who is well-trained, so I had to train enough so that you believed I was well-trained. He's against some well-trained sons of b*tches--those commandos are as good as they come, and he's up against 42 of them, so if I was going to defeat them, I wanted you to believe that I actually could defeat them.
The movies you've done recently require a different type of training than the movie 300 did. How did you bring that gladiator workout into your real life and get yourself back to the "average-guy" body type?
Well for Chasing Mavericks (2012), I had to look like a surfer, and a surfer's body is much leaner. So I obviously started surfing, but I've also gotten into yoga and cleanses. I've lightened up on the weight lifting. I do lots of cardio. Mike Banning may not look like Leonidas, but he's like him in some ways; he breaks the rules, he's brutal, and he's uncompromising. Like 300, Olympus Has Fallen is ultimately a hero's journey.
You definitely have mastered the balance of intriguing male and female audiences. Women love your romantic comedies, and guys love your action films.
I actually believe women are really into action films. I'm amazed at how much they love horror movies--way more than I do. A good action movie has horror and action. If it's just pure action, you're way less likely to get the women. I think this movie is very emotional; there's a beautiful friendship between the president's kid and myself, and of course the president and myself.
Yeah, it's a bit of a "bromance."
Well, these are guys I've worked with for years. The secret service agents hang out together outside of work. They are my friends, so there's some emotion there when their lives are at risk. There's also the relationship with my wife, which is tested at the start of the movie. Then there's the emotion of the situation itself, and seeing how people come together, how we team up and let our differences fall away in a fight against something bigger. I don't think that's a man/woman thing. It's not an American thing, it's a universal principle--belief and emotion.