Fortunately, I had the opportunity to speak to Butler in a lengthy one-on-one interview in support of the film’s release in theaters. Butler said that he’s picky about the movies his production company becomes involved in and he bases his decisions on whether the story’s interesting and whether he would want to be involved as an actor. Butler admits no one can predict if every film will ultimately work out as envisioned, but he’s passionate about the movies he takes on whether it be as an actor only or as actor/producer.
With Olympus Has Fallen, did you know from the start that it was going to work?
Gerard Butler: [Laughing] “No.”
That’s an honest answer.
Gerard Butler: “No, if I’m being honest because what happened is we had a great idea and Antoine and I said, ‘Look, if we take this idea and we really shake it up and constantly work on giving depth and substance to these characters and making this attack and the idea behind it so believable and gritty and real, and then keep the suspense in the White House and make this great stand-off situation between the crisis room and what’s going on in the corridors of the White House with me and the terrorists and the President being held hostage, if we make that just an edge-of-your-seat tension and also raise the stakes by going into the international fallout and really be specific in that we could make the whole thing very believable.’ So, we were working on that because sometimes when you do that and you start ripping it apart, you start putting it back together and you go, ‘Oh, wait a minute…where are we going?’ It goes down before it goes up, but then it went up and up and up and up, and we never stopped. So by the time we were filming and we were watching the scenes unfold, we were thinking, ‘Okay, that kicks ass. Oh, that’s great. That’s going to be a beautiful moment there. There’s something interesting there. We’re shedding a piece of light there onto what these guys do. There’s a great piece of heroism there,’ and tying it all in.
So, in actual fact, it often makes it a way more exciting process when you’re in it and creating it with your director, and the other actors are coming in. And that’s the thing that helps us is you’re bringing in actors like Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart and Melissa Leo and Angela Bassett, and the list goes on. Ashley Judd, Cole Hauser, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell – it’s just a phenomenal cast who are going to lift this idea and take it and draw an audience in. Because to me it really feels like when you are watching it, you are in there. You are in the middle of an attack and then you’re in the middle of a terrifying standoff.”
You know what also helps out is that you do not skimp on the violence. When people are shot, they die on screen. That doesn’t happen in a lot of action movies now. This year has been particularly bad for the genre in cheating the audience, and this one definitely doesn’t cheat.
Gerard Butler: “That’s very funny to hear a woman say that. ‘They’re cheating the audience! We don’t get to see people die!’ [Laughing] I mean, it was important for us to say, ‘Look, if you had cameras inside the buildings on 9/11, you would have seen a lot of deaths.’ That’s what happens in terrorists attacks when they attack an embassy in another country or when they do what they did here in the White House. When they take a commando force in and attack an American base or embassy – people get shot and they’re killed.
The other thing that we tried to do was really push it to the brink because, to be honest, in terms of Secret Service and national security every day is 100% fail or 100% success. Now, pretty much every day is 100% success, but unfortunately when it’s a fail the President gets shot, the Twin Towers are attacked. And we’re dealing with one of those days when there was a fail because of their sharp tactics and their meticulous training. They come in and they use a lot of ideas and before we know it they have the White House. The only way they can do that is by taking out a large number of people and even executing them in pretty cold-blooded fashion. The other thing is that it was important to show the reality, to ground it and show this would be how it is. If they’re going to go into the White House, there are going to be brutal. But at the same time what that gives you is revenge – payback – because that’s something we never got after previous terrorist attacks. After 9/11 there was nobody left, you know? Everyone was like, ‘Who can we kill? We want to rip their heads off,’ but the terrorists were all dead. These guys are still in there and they have outrageous demands and they’re going to hurt Americans; they are going to hurt a lot of countries around the world. So, we have a chance to show that when they put America or the free world to the test – in this case it’s America – that they’re going to get their ass kicked.”
I knew you were going to take things seriously when you had a scene with a dog being shot because no one ever shoots dogs in action movies. It was obvious then that the film was going to show that not just specific targets get hit but that there is collateral damage and that could be men, women, or whatever. And then you torture Melissa Leo’s character which I thought was actually very brave.
Gerard Butler: “Yeah, it was my idea. I wasn’t behind the dog, but I was behind the Melissa Leo scene.”
It’s funny that you take the credit for torturing Melissa Leo but not for the dog.
Gerard Butler: [Laughing] “No, the dog was for a different reason. But in actual fact I think that the dog, because they do have dogs at the White House and it’s all part of the plan. If a dog’s going to attack you, you have to eradicate any threat. The terrorist have to eradicate any threat in their way.
If you’re going to get information, you are going to be brutal in how you get it. We didn’t want to shy away. And if anything, I think it’s to the credit of the movie because one, it makes it again more believable. But some of the most heroic characters in this movie are the women. I mean, that scene with Melissa Leo…you’re applauding her, you’re so behind her because she stands for everything that her country stands for. In the face of adversity and having the crap kicked out of her, she’s not giving in. She’s spitting in their face. It’s like, ‘You’re not getting that out of me!’ And I loved that. I loved that.”
Right. Normally the female characters are relegated to roles in which they’re being protected but this time they’re making a stand. Angela Bassett is another example in the movie. Her character’s strong and smart, and doesn’t take anything from anyone.
Gerard Butler: “Yeah. You’ve got Angela Bassett in the White House who is really the voice of reason, the person who knows protocol and was in the war room, but also the person who knows my character and is sticking up for me and just has the most level sense of decency and morality and yet she’s super smart. She’s a real hero in the movie as well.
That’s one thing I want to point out is those female characters and how great they are and how great the actresses are. I mean, an Oscar nominated actress, an Oscar-winning actress, Ashley Judd in there who is also fantastic as the First Lady. But the other thing I want to point out that also is great for women is that it’s also very emotional. I screened this movie around the country; we screened it in Washington to politicians and government officials, we screened it to the literati in New York, and we’ve had all-female screenings. We’ve had screenings in every market you can imagine. I really was worried in Washington but they loved it. They were cheering and they were applauding, and women love it as much as men. I come out and they’re really into it, like, ‘That was awesome!’ [Laughing] They were just like you in that they said they don’t see enough of that. People take out of this movie what they will. The feelings are so overpowering because both men and women have the same reactions to the fragility of our freedom, of our society towards terrorism, what the White House means to them deep, deep down and what the President means to them – what he represents. And those good people in the service of our country being harmed or killed while performing their duty, that hits anybody – man or woman – deep, deep inside. That’s why it pulls out so much from everybody.”
Gerard Butler: “Yeah. Our thing, Antoine and I, there had always been a character – that I can’t say – that we love [it’s from another series of novels] but we loved him because he wasn’t John McClane. He’s much more down-and-brutal, and John McClane wasn’t a trained killer. This guy was trained in counter-terrorism and to basically eliminate threats any way he can, do whatever it takes. And with those guys…when you deal with Special Forces guys, they’re very funny but they’re funny not in the, ‘Ta-daa, here’s my one-line joke!’ They’re funny because of what they dealt with. They have that gallows humor but it just comes out in normal conversation, you know? So ours had to have a purpose.
For instance, what we thought would be very cool is this game of cat-and-mouse with the villain, Rick Yune, playing psychological games with him. What do you do with that guy? You want to mess with his head. You want to let him know you don’t really care what he’s got going on. You want to embarrass him. You want to make him feel stupid. You want to make him kind of lose confidence in his plan, so there’s a lot of fun in there. And like I said, he has that glint in his eye. He has a bit of malice when it comes to fighting the bad guys so he’s going to have some fun there as he’s interrogating them. But the humor comes out of the character and comes out of the story. It’s never there as a kind of cheap joke for audience, and I don’t say that as if Die Hard is full of cheap jokes because it’s not and it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. But I think this is a more gritty, punchy, and in the end, a more rousing, patriotic film than Die Hard was.”
Yes, and thanks for freaking me out about the possibility of the White House actually being attacked. I was watching it thinking it could possibly happen.
Gerard Butler: [Laughing] “Well, you know, on the one hand this could actually happen. I mean, it almost did happen a few years ago, something far worse. But at the same time they have plenty more up their sleeves, some of which they told us and we thought we can’t put in the movie – and they also said you can’t put in the movie – and some of which they said, ‘We’re not even going to tell you this stuff.’ So, you know, I think we’re in relatively safe hands. But it is an idea that, one, you get a lot of entertainment out of. It’s amazing how in things like Independence Day or Battle Los Angeles we do seem to be entertained or fascinated by the destruction of some of our own institutions. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to be happening anytime soon.
This is a movie, by the way, saying keep your guard up. There’s even a scene with the boxing with the President and it says, ‘Keep your guard up.’ It’s like that, being vigilant. There’s a saying that freedom comes with a cost and when you watch this movie, you actually see the reason we are free is because of the incredible work that these people do on our behalf…the Secret Service, things you don’t hear about, things that are avoided, plans that are quashed, and the military and what they do just by their threat. So, you know, I think if anything it’s praising them and saying we can make a movie with an entertaining notion of what may happen, but the fact is it hasn’t happened and that’s thanks to them.”
How much did get to talk to Secret Service personnel?
Gerard Butler: “A lot. We had one on set every day who helped us lay out the attack, a kind of blueprint for one way to attack the White House. I used him constantly because if you want to be a Secret Service guy, you talk to the Secret Service. We also used them to find out what’s going to keep it fascinating in the White House. When I go in there, what do you do? One of the first things you do is you find a safe spot and work out how you are going to get your ammunition off the other guys. You assess the enemy’s capabilities and how many are there. You try and find out what they want. You try and get information off a couple of them. You immediately try and establish lines of communication with the outside so you can be their eyes and ears. And then there are other things you might do, like shut down the files, mess with them with the video surveillance – all the things that you would do in the actual event. And then of course the psychological games. You want to try and get in touch with the bad guy and start messing with him. So, all of these things are really, really gripping, fascinating scenarios to watch. He helped us a lot with that. And also, just the presence – how they are, how they function, how they think, how they breathe, how they move, and what they’re looking for. I was also trained by Navy SEALS and Marines and SWAT teams. [Laughing] I’m changing my job; I love those guys.”
You’re ready to change your job and give up acting?
Gerard Butler: [Laughing] “I’m sick of playing a bad-ass. It makes me actually want to be a bad-ass. And when they say cut and it’s like, ‘Hey everybody, how are you doing?’ No, I want to stay Clint Eastwood.”
We’ll see you traveling around the streets of LA picking up bad guys.
Gerard Butler: “Yeah! I’ll wear my suit and my dark shades and no emotion, like expressionless face and just check everyone out. That would be quite fun, actually, to just do that, walk around checking out people. Are they twitching their face? What are they doing with their hands? Just making sure that everybody is not acting suspiciously.”
How much was the script influenced by the Secret Service agent on set? Did it change much based on how he described things would go down?
Gerard Butler: “That was the biggest part of the script that I think we worked on was always the hero’s journey. We already had a journey, but we wanted to really freshen it up and make it a more psychological experience and work out a better way for him to move through. Because originally there were a lot of fight sequences in there, but how did those fight sequences develop? What’s the purpose of them? What am I trying to get? I’m always being sent on different little jaunts in a way. I’ve got to go and find out this; I’ve got to go and find the terrorists first to capture to find out who the hell they are and what they want and how many of them there are. And then I’ve got to go down and save the President’s son because he’s in there and I’ve got to get him out. And then I’ve got to go and do some reconnaissance for another mission. So, yeah, we took a lot of ideas from Ricky.
And then Antoine and I were always thinking of what is believable and also what’s going to be cool and kick-ass and be entertaining. So that was probably where we did most of the work and it paid off in the end. I think when you’re in there and the lights are down and it’s dark and sweaty, the air vents have been closed because they would immediately close off the air vents in case any kind of gas was sent in by the US forces to try and knock them out in the bunkers – all these things you don’t even think of. They immediately close the air vents and shut the systems down, and I know that. I know that they’ve done that, so then now what do I do to try and get around that? This kind of stuff keeps it real. On the one hand you have the epic battle in it and on the other hand you have these individual characters trying to bring out the best in this very, very testing situation which only humanizes them. And you have this fascinating insight into protocol and strategy by the crisis room. How are the officials who are held hostage trying to deal with this situation in giving away national secrets? And then what does your Secret Service/ex-Special Forces guy do in counter-terrorism tactics, and basically how does he go in there and eradicate the threat and get down to the President? That is a really fun journey, because it’s mine.”
You’ve of course done action movies before, but was this one the most physically strenuous for you?
Gerard Butler: “Yeah, this was tough. 300 was tough because I had to build a body. I literally came with the idea, ‘Okay, I want to have the best body ever. I want to be like one of those Greek statues that you have of Leonidas,’ and so I aimed for that. But for this, I had to get big and strong. And the fight sequences here…in 300 a lot of them hurt but these ones were pretty much all hand-to-hand because you don’t want to be using a gun in the White House when there’s 40 guys around. [Laughing] The White House is not that big that they’re not going to go, ‘Hey, was that a gun in the bedroom there?’
I was using various forms of martial arts in the fights. They were very, very physical and they take a long time to film and you’re doing it yourself. You’re slashing people about, you’re spinning, you’re lunging, you’re cracking heads – and you’re getting cracked. I just found out two days ago I broke two little bones in my neck: my hyoid and my thyroid. They’re tiny! I was hit in the eye by a bullet casing. When I fired, the bullet casing came out and hit the pillow and smashed me. I literally felt like somebody punched me in the eye. And fighting Rick Yune for three days was just three days of smashing each other about, smashing against walls and landing on the ground. I think I bruised his ribs and I lost a fingernail. I bruised my arm all the way around from my wrist to my elbow because I just had to keep doing this particular move where they smack my arm. I would get crazy, like, ‘Do it again! Do it again! Do it again!’ It literally felt like bone was being chipped every time. And the next day I woke up and my arm had swelled right up and the bruise was all the way around. It looked like my arm had just died, like a cadaver. So, you pick yourself up and, to be honest, when you’re walking around like that, that’s how Mike Banning’s walking around. I mean, he comes out of there limping, wounded, he’s got shrapnel inside him. He has the crap kicked out of him and it’s, in a way, it’s more physically demanding to pull it off when you’re hurting a bit. But at the same time, that’s what you’re doing.”
Gerard Butler: “Yeah, real.”
How did you not know you had two broken bones in your neck?
Gerard Butler: [Laughing] “I didn’t know. By the way, the crazy thing is, talk about a contrast, I had a doctor look down there a year ago because I was singing and I’d lost my high notes. He looked down there and said, ‘You know, your voice box is serrated.’ But, they filmed this [exam], right? So I went back again just for him to check and he looked down there and he said, ‘That’s actually looking better.’ But then he said, ‘But you’ve got a little growth in your throat.’ I went, ‘Oh, no.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you better go for an MRI and a CAT Scan.’ So I go to the hospital – this is all I need – and then the doctor comes out and says, ‘Hey, I think you have a broken bone sticking out of your neck,’ and they sent me for a second opinion. So I go for another CAT Scan and MRI and the doctor says, ‘You actually have two broken bones in your neck.’
But they’re tiny – I didn’t even notice. One sticks up and it’s so small. To be honest, it doesn’t bother me and they’re not going to do anything about it. It’s actually pretty cool. [Laughing] It’s actually a good story for times like now.”
They’re not going to do anything about broken bones in your neck? They’re just going to leave it that way?
Gerard Butler: [Laughing] “Yeah. We’re not talking about an inch or even a centimeter. I don’t know what size it is; it’s very small. It’s not like a broken neck. I didn’t break whatever those C-things are. [Laughing] We’re not talking paralysis here. They’re very small.”
Do you think about it? When you turn your head do you wonder what it’s doing to the bones in your neck?
Gerard Butler: “No, but I think that’s what did it. When you’re being punched, you’ve got to snap your neck so hard to sell the punch. And if you’re being punched by a guy who’s supposed to be tough-as-hell…and, by the way, Rick Yune is, this guy’s being doing Kung Fu since he was five – I mean, this guy’s insane…you want to sell his punch. You want to make this fight look real so you snap your head even harder. And what happens is within about two minutes it’s like whiplash. Your neck tenses up. You’ve got to have guys rubbing the back of your neck so that you’re not walking around unable to turn our neck. And you’re doing that over three days in one fight. You’re probably ending up doing that 150 times.”
It’s a good thing you and Rick are friends, right?
Gerard Butler: “Yeah. He’s a good buddy of mine and you laugh, but when you’re in there you have murder in your eyes. I’m trying to take down a guy who’s done so much damage. There, it’s all about fighting with heart and hate, in a way. But at the same time, you’re trying not to kill him. He said I bruised his ribs and at one point I think I cracked him in the jaw. Another time I went to hit him with a knife and he stuck his fist up, which wasn’t supposed to happen, and I snapped my finger against him. My finger went black up to my knuckle and then two weeks later my nail started growing out. So I watched my nail which was black grow out over two months and then grow in over another three months.
I’m not friends with Rick anymore.” [laughing]
Do you want to hear a crazy story? Rick and I – most people think this is a little nuts – but I went to India and Rick went to Fiji, this kind of spiritual place where you can do a lot of meditating. It’s just cool; it’s just getting in touch with yourself. You learn to do this energy work where you can put your hand on somebody’s head. They call it a ‘blessing’ but it’s really just transferring energy. And whether it works or not, it feels great. You come out of there and you’re like, ‘I feel good.’ You spend 12 days learning how to do this. And chance in a million, we both separately went off to do this. Now, he’s playing this Korean terrorist villain who’s pretty much trying to destroy the world and I’m playing the guy who’s trying to save the world. I’m trying to kill him and he’s trying to kill me, and at lunch time we’d be like, ‘Let’s do a blessing.’ [Laughing] I’d put my hand on his head and do a little blessing. He’d put his hand on my head and we’d be like, ‘Okay, okay, let’s go beat the shit out of each other.’[Laughing] This is the most insane story, but it’s 1000% true. So, that’s Rick and I. We’re both a little wacky.”
Do you think doing your blessings during lunch hour actually helped?
Gerard Butler: “Yeah, I do. I do. I find those things when you do them…and I still don’t know…I do think you’re transferring energy but I think even if you’re not, it’s almost that… What do you call that effect when you give a pill and it’s even a real pill?”
Gerard Butler: “Yeah, thank you. [Laughing] I’m not good with words. Even if it’s the placebo effect, just sitting there and breathing and feeling it – which I don’t think it is, but even if it is that it’s amazing how much energy you can get out of it and how it pulls you together.”
As a producer on this, are you at all worried or concerned about the fact there are two White House under attack movies this year?
Gerard Butler: “No. It seems to be the thing nowadays. They don’t make one submarine movie, they make two. Or they don’t make one movie about what is it? Cinderella?”
Gerard Butler: “Snow White, yeah. [Laughing] That shows you how many of them I’ve watched. But, they make two of things. To be honest, one, it doesn’t really matter to us because we’re coming out first. And from the bottom of my heart I hope their movie does great because I love Channing Tatum, and Jamie Foxx I’ve worked with and he’s a great guy. I think Roland Emmerich makes big, fun movies, and I think it will be great. I think people should go and see a movie on the merit of, ‘Do they want to go see that movie? Is it a good movie?’ I don’t think it’s going to be anything like ours. I think it will be the same subject matter in a way, but the way Antoine directs and the way Roland directs, you couldn’t have two different styles. I really wish them the best success. It’s another three months away and there’s plenty of movies to see in between. I hope that people will take that on its own merit.”
So are you and Antoine Fuqua going to do another movie together?
Gerard Butler: “I hope so. I love Antoine. That guy and I think the same way in terms of who a hero is, mythically, that journey. Our favorite movie, which I think is the ultimate journey of a hero, is Apocalypse Now. We love the same movies, we approach things the same way. I work with him so creatively. You know, I’ll draw up an idea, he’ll take it and bounce it around and send it somewhere else which is brilliant, and I’ll take that. And then suddenly we’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is gold.’ He has such respect for actors. He’s such a good, humble dude. He works hard. He’s super talented, and he’s a guy. I mean, I’m playing a badass but this guy’s a Golden Gloves boxer.”
I didn’t know that about him.
Gerard Butler: “Oh my god, he’s tougher than anybody. I mean we had some tough guys in this movie. Rick Yune, ultimate badass. But I used to think, ‘I wonder what would happen if Rick went into the ring with Antoine Fuqua?’ And even Aaron Eckhart, that guy’s insane! We were all like, ‘All right, I’m going to do the boxing scene and kick his ass.’ He turns up and he boxes like a manic! He cycles 20 miles whenever he has a spare second. He’s so fit and so focused, and I think that really comes out in his performance.
We had a movie full of badasses and then we had me…who just played a badass. [Laughing] I’m like, ‘I want to be like these guys.’ But when you have a director who understands what it is to be a man, a man who knows how to fight and defend himself – and never once did he use that. He wasn’t like, ‘C’mon, be like this.’ I boxed with him and I trained with him, and before this movie even we’d been working on a couple of different projects. It just got to the stage that every movie he got he’d send to me and say, ‘You want to do that?’ And every movie I got, because I actually got this movie first and I produced this, so I had a look at it and went, ‘You know what? This is Antoine. This should be him.’ I took it to him and we talked about it. He said, ‘Look, if we can really make this high up and edge of your seat stuff, but also just make an audience ponder the notion of what’s going on here, then we can do something really kind of fun and provocative.’ And we did. We kind of stole a lot from another character that we love. We talked so much about this guy and where are you going to go with Mike Banning. Are you going to go John McClane or are you going to go just furious and badass? The character comes more out of an unflinching, uncompromising brutality when he has to turn it on. He’s a good guy but he’s pushing as much toward the anti-hero as you can go.”
Gerard Butler: “Yeah, because he turns terrorism on the terrorists, and you need that. The movie that I’ve done that I think is a delicious combination, I think, is 300. When you kick a messenger down a well…it’s not the messenger’s fault but it doesn’t matter because we’re going to do what it takes. If you’re going to come and you’re going to attack us, we’re not going to mess around. We’re going to do whatever it is and we’re going to be as badass as we have to be to make sure that you’re not there anymore. And it was like that in Law Abiding Citizen as well. It’s like, if you mean business, you mean business and you’ve got to do anything that you can. And that, to me, is delicious filmmaking. You get a little bored with the hero doing the standard thing. You know, the bad guy’s here and he goes, ‘Kill me,’ and it’s, ‘No, I’m not going to kill you – I’m going to take you in.’ It’s like, ‘No, I’m going to kill you.'”
Was the enemy in this always supposed to be North Korean or did that change based on the current political climate?
Gerard Butler: “You make a movie based on what’s going on in the world. If we made a movie about Spanish terrorists, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant. Nobody would go see the movie. [Laughing] Or a bunch of Jamaicans strolling in, smoking pot, trying to take over the White House. It’s what’s going to make an audience connect with the story. You have terrorism, national security, the vulnerable society that we live in right now that is so at the forefront of people’s psyche. Our relationship with our institutions and the people who want to protect us and represent us… In my country and Britain and here especially in America, that’s been instilled in your every brain cell and your blood from the second you grow up. So it’s deep in your psyche and your heart and your stomach, so you have a very visceral connection with that.
So with North Korea, if you actually watch the movie it’s not that the North Koreans are the bad guys. They’re actually political players in this international game of chess. There’s the same tensions along the DMZ. But North Korea, they’re kind of a black hole in this movie because what are they going to do, because they are so unpredictable? What is causing the problem is the terrorist faction. It’s more like an Osama bin Laden, a guy with a very personal vendetta who’s also heading a group of people who have a very specific political ideology and kind of want to bring their form of misery over to the US. What do terrorists do? It’s like with advertising: where are we going to get our biggest bang for our buck? Where are we going to make a statement? Let’s go to the White House and to the President’s bunker.”
There’s no bigger way to make a statement.
Gerard Butler: “Yeah. In some ways it’s ridiculous. But if you’re actually going to do it, you want to make it as plausible as possible. But we made a point of not necessarily blaming the North Koreans. To me, this is an action movie but it kind of transcends that because it does bring up all those other feelings of patriotism. It’s a very emotional movie because when you do see this attack, it rips you apart basically.
We’re dealing with terrorists but the stakes are raised because their demands are causing the most incredible tension in terms of the political fallout world-wide just by what they want. It’s a choice: do you save the President but start a war? Or do you allow the President to die but maybe avoid a conflict between North Korea and South Korea? So, in a way, it’s not necessarily that they’re the bad guys. It would just be that the situation would arise where war would be inevitable, and you’re bringing it to where the Chinese are involved and the British are involved and the French. Everybody’s going to have an opinion in this, as is happening nowadays. And on top of that, the terrorists are twisting and turning with what they want, so you never know what they’re really up to.
That’s what I love. You climb inside the crisis room and what are those people that wear gray that we don’t really know, what do they do in times like this? Like on 9/11, everybody said, ‘Where are these guys? Where is the President? Where did he disappear to?’ This is the kind of thing where you go, ‘Okay, this is where they are,’ and you realize these guys are just human. They’re experts, but they’re just human. And in dealing with a pretty horrific situation, they don’t really want to be there dealing with that, and they’ve got to make split-second decisions and they could be wrong. Sometimes they are wrong. It’s more about how you get through it as a team and what happens is it causes people to unite and work together.
To me, my experience is that any time there’s an attack.. In fact, I’ve had the misfortune of being in Manhattan on the 9/11 attacks, I was here in LA during the Rodney King attacks – I was taking a year out when the Rodney King thing happened – and I was in London for the 7/7 bombings. I was filming there and I saw a lot of craziness. We were stuck in a traffic jam and had to take another street because there was a bomb in a car about 50 yards ahead of us. And while I was filming doing a chasing scene, these police ran past us with guns chasing four guys and caught them on the ground because they were suspected terrorists. I’ve had some crazy, crazy experiences. [Laughing] I forget where I was going with that… I think I went off on a tangent. Sorry, I’m a talker.”
No problem. One last question: there are people who believe the film is all “raa-raa” America and aren’t interested in that at all. I believe it’s an entertaining film with a compelling story. What do you think audiences will get out of it?
Gerard Butler: “I think you spend most of this movie watching America get its ass kicked to the point that it worried us because these guys have thought out so much about their plan and how we would respond to their plan that in actual fact if anything it shows America’s weakness and America’s vulnerability. And in the end it comes down to just a few heroes who save the day. And what I find is there is a great humility in this film. The speech at the end, which gives me goosebumps, is not at any point saying, ‘Yeah, we did it! Screw you!’ It’s all about saying let’s rebuild as a country with humility and honor – the things that this country was originally built with. And I think that’s a reference to past reactions that this country has taken to terrorism around the world. Look, to be honest, to someone who’s abroad it hasn’t always presented itself in the best light. And then after 9/11 there was so much compassion for America around the world, and it moved in some ways and it lost some of that again. I think that this movie’s actually full of hope and saying, ‘We can rebuild.’ I think at the end of the day it’s a more gentle message. It’s a universal message about heroism and how it could be a tsunami or an earthquake, it could be anything but it’s kind of saying there are heroes in all of us.”