Rightly so, Butler was extremely hyped about this particular project for not only its entertainment value but because he is one of the producers. His enthusiasm was such that he even told me he wondered if he would enough stamina for the next series of question when he left the room, having spoken in a rapid fire rhythm the whole time.
Gerard, how did being a producer influence your performance?
I think it had everything to do with it. One of the reasons I did it, is so you can have as much influence as possible over the script. I mean, we ripped this script apart and rebuilt it to be the freshest, most modern, heart pounding and provocative action thriller and yet give it some sophistication and some real interesting characters that you could follow and get connected with on the journey. Working on that with Antoine (Fuaua) we said, ‘How do we make this attack as shocking and yet as plausible as possible?’ Antoine saw it all, creating the ugly side, the beautiful side and just grounding it and making it as logical and methodical. Then creating that situation where you literally believe that the White House is besieged, that there is a real hostage situation underground and there are people being executed. There’s also a crisis room dealing with these decisions that will affect the human race essentially, especially with an imminent war and how all these things will connect? How do these personalities meld while humanizing it and offering real people. Those people you usually see, they make decisions that you don’t usually see but suddenly you’re there with them and realizing they’re just humans like us. They’re under pressure. They’re trying to do the right thing. They may not all have opinions that we agree with but they all believe they’re coming from the right place and they make mistakes. I think that’s a really fascinating concept especially when you up the ante and say the whole world is relying on you making the right decision but nobody knows what the right decision is at that point. Then you throw me in the middle of all that and as a guy who’s thrown in this position, and he’s been like a caged animal since his fall from grace, the tragedy that happens earlier on in the movie and now he’s there in the middle of it all. He’s there to perform a function that he’s been trained his entire life to do and that’s all he wants to do. He’s so dedicated; he’ll do whatever it takes. He’s in that position to protect the president and protect the interests of the country. So he, too, even has some tough decision to make. What do you do? Do you sacrifice the president and avoid a war or do you start a war and save the president? There’s all these very riveting, compelling ideas in there. So that’s why I wanted to be a producer. Then as an actor you just want the most interesting role possible. But, to be honest, you want him to be badass. When you get down to the most primal level it’s like any movie you’ve ever watched like ‘Taken’ or ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ because when it comes to payback, or revenge, that’s a very delicious concept. You’re left with this movie after seeing a lot of people die. Military service men that died trying to defend this country and you’re left seething. You’re ripped apart. You’re appalled. You need to see people suffer and then enter Mike Banning.
Any injuries during the fight scenes?
I actually started taking photos of my injuries because I cut all my hands, I was doing a fight scene where I was hit me, and we must have done it a thousand times. My arm went back all the way to my elbow. I was hit in the eye by a bullet casing that hit a wall and then hit me in the eye. It hit me so hard, I thought I’d been punched in the face. I was hit by another bullet casing in my back. You’re always getting hit by debris from explosions. Every fucking explosion that happened it was like—‘Put Gerry five feet from there! Earplugs’… And then the fighting itself, because I’m being smashed around, I’m smashing people around and you’re doing it and you’re in it, you’re not thinking about it. You’re always getting hurt. Dylan flicked a cigarette and because I had glycerin down my throat, it hit and then the burning. I throat chopped him and he got a cut in his throat there and he had to go to the doctor about it. This is just one night by the way. All I could think was what if that cigarette had gone in my eye because my buddy had had something like that and he was in six months of hell. There’s always those risks and they hopefully become stories but when you do an action movie, you sign on for that. Antoine, even before we started the day, went — ‘Bad intentions.’ That was his line ‘Bad intentions, Gerry,’ to get that feeling to remind you why the fuck you’re there. I’m there with bad intentions but yet at the same time, in some ways that simplifies it because I love him being an army ranger and also in the secret service. So he knows how to irradiate. He knows how to kill. He knows how to make people suffer but he also knows how to do recognizance, how to find information, how to establish lines of communication, how to formulate plans, how to think on his feet. So you’ve got all of that because he can’t just go in, he’s one guy and has no ammo and is against 42 terrorists and they have the president in a sealed room downstairs. What are you gonna do? You gotta be thinking on your feet, you’ve got to use your intimate knowledge of the White House, you’ve got to know protocol and then you have to be able to step outside protocol when it’s necessary and you’ve got to be able to use psychological tactics. So you start screwing with the bad guy. How are you gonna make him question his tactics? So you’ve got all that going on as well and that’s what we were working for, was how could we get all these other fascinating ideas of what would really be going down while you’re in there and that’s what we were always up til two in the morning working on when you had to be back up by six. It was a blast working with Antoine. One, he’s the most appreciative guy. Him and I are so tight—he’s the dude. You know he’s killing it and you’re moving fast and efficiently, and you’re creating. You’re bouncing ideas off each other and you’re working with Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart and Angela Bassett, this incredible cast who are giving meaning and substance to these roles that could otherwise be really cardboard. Then you got yourself a watchable action thriller. I wish I had recorded that. I’ll be in the next room and going, ‘it was good,’ and thinking ‘what did I say in the other room?’ [Laughs]
You’ve mixed it up quite a bit with ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ and ‘Corolanus’ and then some comedies after ‘300.’ Why back with the action thriller?
I always mandated that I would try and keep it interesting and keep challenging myself. Whether other people see it that way, I don’t know. It was time to take on and go back to that heroic, mythical element about a guy who has to face his own inner demons whilst trying to fight the outer demons as well and go on this journey that feels impossible but brings out all the aspects of a human being that we aspire to be. We all have those elements of facing up to fear and testing your loyalty and trying to understand yourself and what this is all really about. Antoine is big into that as well. That’s what I love. He’s a director who is an artist, he is masculine but at the same time he is incredibly sensitive and really about the issues with the relationship with the kid, with the wife. He gets all that and he gets the inner workings of who we are as human beings. We’ve been doing these audience screenings to see the reactions and try and get a buzz out there because we feel we have a really good movie and you describe a movie as ‘edge of your seat’ and someone wrote after the movie the other night said, ‘I’d always wondered what edge of your seat meant, now I understand. I spent the whole movie literally on the edge of my seat’ and I think that it does that.
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at email@example.com