Gerard Butler interview: Geostorm, Angel Has Fallen and more

Gerard Butler chats to us about Geostorm, his bike accident, and Olympus Has Fallen 3...

Geostorm is a film that is so bombastic, it feels like a crime to write its name in lowercase letters – GEOSTORM fits much better and conveys the gloriously over the top shenanigans that Gerard Butler finds himself at the centre of, as the planet Earth has set about imploding after no one paid any attention to climate change. Thankfully Butler’s character, Jake Lawson, has created a net of satellites in space that can prevent future weather based disasters, until it appears that someone might have set about turning ‘Dutch Boy’ (the control system) into a weapon…

Geostorm is a throwback to the golden era of nineties disaster movies in the best way; if you’ve ever loved the likes of Armageddon, Dante’s Peak or Twister (to name a few) then deciding on whether to watch Geostorm is a no brainer. Like the best of the genre, it understands that a sense of wit and humour are what’s needed to keep the film’s sense of joy and entertainment at full tilt, while maintaining the grand tradition of filling out the cast with an array of great actors – you can’t help but get on side with a film that puts both Andy Garcia and Ed Harris in the Oval Office.

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We were fortunate enough to sit down with Mr Butler first thing in the morning to talk about Geostorm and found him on great form, full of laughter and enthusiasm, despite having recently been in a nasty motorbike accident, so started proceedings by checking how he was doing…

How are you feeling, are you okay?

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I’m okay! I’ve actually been feeling like an animal, powering through all this, because it’s already been a busy time with additional photography on two movies and this worldwide press tour and a bunch of other stuff on my plate – and then this accident that happened right in the middle of it. But it’s been good, I’ve been getting through it, but I think this morning I woke up and I was like ‘I’m close to being done!’ [laughs]

It’s always the way when it’s near the end of something…

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By the way it’s not even the end, because then I’ve got to go to Italy for two days and then after Italy I have to go straight to Bulgaria for three days of additional photography on a movie!

What are you heading off to reshoot for?

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Hunter Killer, so it’s never ending! [laughs] And then I was shooting additional photography on Den Of Thieves as well, right before I came here. So I was doing press junket, a day of shooting, premiere, talk shows, day of shooting, New York, back at junkets – it’s been a ride, like I love being busy but this time it’s just… [laughs] ‘Ok get on a plane!’ Whatever I’m doing it’s like ‘Enough, get on a plane! Go! Go! Go! Go! Get on this talk show! Get on this plane! Go! Go! Go! You gotta film!’

At the night of the premiere I got home, I got to sleep just before one and I was back up at three, to go to Redondo Beach to shoot sunrise shots, so I slept two hours and then I filmed all day and then went straight from the set to the airplane, to fly to London, landed and got up!

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Haha! Well congratulations on Geostorm.

Thank you.

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I was a fan, because back in the 90s Dean Devlin helped to re-invent disaster movies, with the likes of Independence Day and I am such a fan of that golden era for the genre, with the face-off between the likes of Armageddon and Deep Impact and Dante’s Peak and Volcano. So the fact that Geostorm took the disaster genre and then added all these other elements from science fiction, action and so on made it a lot of fun – did that aspect make it an easy decision for you to sign up for?

I think so, yeah. I’m like you, I love those movies, they really felt like whole experiences when you went into the cinema and you left having been transported to somewhere else, having the heebie jesus scared out of you and in some way strangely inspired, you know? To kind of do better and it’s true, they don’t really make movies like that anymore and it’s a dying breed, and that’s one of the reasons I loved it, because it also felt like nowadays it’s harder to try to work out what works for cinema and yet this feels like a genre that was made for the big screen experience, and fortunately it kind of coincides with this advancement in technology and VFX effects and so you really can take people up to space and around this new technology in a way more convincing than you could in the past – the effects of this movie are just stunning.

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So, knowing all of that and also, as you said – and I think this is really important – what I loved most of all was that it was a disaster movie, it was an action movie, it was a political conspiracy movie, it was very funny and at the same time it was very emotional with the huge amount of family story in there and a scientist who has to learn and be a father and become like a proper older brother to his sibling and get over their resentments and learn to work together. That by the end of the end of the movie, by the end of me reading the script, I was very moved by the whole experience, so I thought, I wanna get involved in that, they’re my favourite kind of movies.

And you mentioned the humour which was one of my favourite elements, the wit, because it helped to keep things on a different level to a lot of disaster movies which can often be a bit too stoic in the middle of all the drama. Which reminds me – was the term RocknRolla used in the film as an in-joke referencing your movie?

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[Chuckles] No, that wasn’t anything to do with me and I don’t think it was anything about me, or any of my previous work, it was just a coincidence. I loved to take [credit], I’d love to claim that one! But what do you call those, an Easter egg? I never heard of that term before, but somebody said “Any more Easter eggs in your movie?” and I’m like “What’s an Easter egg?” I guess it’s like finding a hidden gem, or something?

Yeah, something hidden under the surface.

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Something hidden under the surface, yeah, but anyway… I forgot where we were! [cracks up] It’s going to happen a lot today!

Physicality has been a part of many of your roles over the years in the likes of 300 and the Mike Banning movies, so while there is an element of that in Geostorm, I wondered how the challenge was different, especially if there was a lot of wirework for the weightlessness effects?

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Yeah, so there was training and trying to be weightless in a movie, it actually takes a bit of work to pull that off and make it convincing and then give a performance on top of doing something that feels so effortless and natural when its actually not, when you’re hanging in a wire and you’re really trying to hold your weight up, because you have one wire from your midriff and it’s all about making the rest of your body feel like it’s on a level and you’ve just lost gravity and you’re gently floating up and you’re thinking [in a laid back voice] ‘Oh, what’s going on?’ when really you’re going [strained] ‘Hold your stomach together! Oh my god, it’s the fifth time I’ve done this, my pecs aren’t working!’ [laughing] So there was that and also the way you moved, the physical challenges that you feel when you’re up there, and we fortunately had couple of astronauts to help us with that.

So there was training, but it’s not quite training to the same level, its more about endurance, being able to hang on wires all day long, it’s not comfortable, it’s more not comfortable because of the other movies you have made [chuckles] where you are beating the shit out of yourself, you know, and then on this you go ‘Argh, okay, my back already hurts and I’ve got about eight hours on this wire!’ and a sixty five pound space suit, which after twenty minutes, you really like, ‘Ok, get this off me, it’s not comfortable anymore’ and after five weeks you’re losing your mind!

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So, challenges but I find in a movie like this, the challenges are way out-weighed by the fun and adventures of it all. Like, how many times you have try and pinch yourself through your space suit, you go ‘I am really doing this? Am I really on this complex pulley system, flying through these incredible corridors that have been built?’ Some of them – one ISS set alone had twenty thousand bolts used just to construct that set. Our sets were larger than an aircraft carrier, just for the ISS.

It blew [my mind] I just couldn’t believe, on a moment-to-moment basis how much effort and talent and resources had gone in to building these sets. Building them and then breaking them down, because that’s the big thing – you can build a set and it looks very, like the Starship Enterprise perfectly clean, but then you go ‘Break it down, rough it up, skid marks…’ Wait, you say ‘skid marks’ and that sounds wrong doesn’t it!? [both start laughing] You know wires hanging, scuff marks, just a living and breathing, functioning space station – that was kind of incredible. Like every day, I would step on that set and it felt like I was transported, truly, to the space station.

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That’s great though, because again that’s another dying tradition – being such a big fan of 80s movies for example, when you look back on them now if you have you real sets, they don’t date. There’s something about them that your brain knows is tangible.

Well look at the first Alien movie, that was pretty much all conventional special effects, so real, physical, tangible sets and to me that movie doesn’t age at all, I think it plays as well now as it then, I think. But yeah, so other than the storms themselves, which are incredible anyway, those effects are jaw dropping and the shots out of space, looking at the space station and looking at how these satellites function, or when you’re on the space shuttle taking a trip up, I mean they’re such a trip and it’s literally a sight to behold on the big screen, but fortunately we didn’t have to rely on a lot of that, because once you’re up in the space station you are in these physical environments.

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I have to say that, since my name is Duncan and there’s one in Geostorm, it made me think – why are Duncans always assholes in movies? Like every time! The first thing the Duncan character does in your movie is slag your character off!

[He erupts into laughter!] Isn’t that funny? I don’t know, maybe somewhere, way back, somebody had a friend called Duncan who annoyed the shit out of them, and they put them in a movie and somebody else cottoned onto that and said “I like that idea, that Duncan there was a total arsehole and I think that that name works.” There is something kind of – much as I know a couple of cool Duncans – but there is something kind of asshole-ish about them! [he cracks up again] If a guy was going to be an asshole, you could imagine his name would be Duncan. Sorry, you know I mean take that in the nicest way! [still laughing]

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You’ve already mentioned reshoots for a couple of other movies you’re working on and it seems to have become a standard practice, and my editor mentioned that there was a whole character added in to Geostorm as a reshoot and we were trying to work out who, as there was no telling.

Jim Sturgess – Max in the movie – the girl, Zazie, who assists and helps him, was a character added by Jerry Bruckheimer, after the main shoot. He felt that that could kind of introduce more humour and giving Jim somebody to work against as he tried to battle down, or unearth what the hell was going on, rather than just him and I in this conference room the whole time saying “What’ve you done?” “What have I found?” “What you found?” and it works. She’s fantastic and gives the movie such a nice fun energy, as you go on this journey.

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And since I’ve already mentioned Armageddon, which combined with the fact that Jerry Bruckheimer is a legend, probably makes you take his advice on board!

Yeah, yeah!

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I’ve already mentioned Mike Banning, so I wanted to ask – as a fan of Olympus Has Fallen – where you’re at with Angel Has Fallen?

We’re starting in the early New Year and we have this phenomenal director, Ric Roman Waugh.

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Oh yes, I should be seeing Shot Caller next week.

Oh you’re seeing it? Well if you’re in any way excited about Angel Has Fallen now, before you’ve seen Shot Caller, you’ll be five times as excited after you’ve seen Shot Caller. It felt like… him on our franchise, such a new and interesting direction and a fresh way to take Mike Banning as a character and the story itself.

I’ve known Ric for years and we’d always wanted to work together, but he’d never imagined it would be on the third Has Fallen! [laughs] Because he’d always said [adopts serious tone] “I want to make like The Searchers with you, a movie that’ll be remembered for three generations!” and I said “Well what about Has Fallen 3?” and he said “Not what I was thinking!” [laughs] I said “Read this script, it’s kind of like The Fugitive, take it and let’s put your spin on it” and that’s what came back and he and I have been working on it ever since.

This is as similar as maybe Logan was to Wolverine, it’s definitely a Mike Banning who’s almost – [laughs] as I am now, Gerry Butler for his action career! – a Mike Banning who is paying the price of all these years, all the Olympus Has Fallens and London Has Fallens. He’s paying the price for that physically now and he’s struggling a bit in the job, it’s no longer the kind of superhero Mike Banning, but it’s a guy who’s on a more challenging journey and then on top of that everything turns against him when he gets set up for this assassination attempt on the President.

And some of those facts that he’s already struggling with are used against him and he ends up going on the run and is trying to elude the bad guys – and the good guys! – and find out who the hell is behind all of this. It is… I have actually become… I couldn’t even see a way to make a third, you know we’d joke about it: “What, Tokyo? Hong Kong? What is it going to be!?” and it would be, for sure, what is it going to be? Until this idea came along and until Ric came along – now I’ve gone from not knowing what to do with it, to thinking this is going to be the best one.

And finally, what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

His earlier stuff to be honest, like when he first came on the scene with Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels – that’s when you went ‘Who [was that]?’ and that was him getting a chance to do, I think, the real true Jason Statham, until he came back with that spy… what was that spy movie?

Oh, Spy? Where he was sending himself up?

Yes! That’s the Jason Statham I want!

Mr Gerard Butler, thank you very much!

Geostorm is in UK cinemas now.