Determined to make a film with more than just heart-pounding action, actor Gerard Butler and director Antoine Fuqua infused a little heart, soul and humor into the stunning, butt-kicking ‘Olympus Has Fallen.’ For Butler, is was mission accomplished.
Gerard Butler first became a shining star in the Hollywood horizon when he co-starred with Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001. The 43-year-old Paisley, Scotland-born actor quickly began making a real name for himself after landing the lead in the big screen version of the musical Phantom of The Opera (2004). After major roles in P.S. I Love You and RocknRolla, Butler was transformed into a bonafide box office leading man when he portrayed King Leonidas in 2006's mega-hit 300.
After delivering soulful and witty performances in the moderately successful romantic comedies The Ugly Truth, The Bounty Hunter and last year's Playing For Keeps – in addition to riveting portrayals in Law Abiding Citizen, Chasing Mavericks and Machine Gun Preacher – Gerard James Butler began a search for a film he could call his own – showcasing both his immense talents as an actor and the lessons he had learned from working with such notable filmmakers such as Zack Snyder, Guy Ritchie, Richard LaGravenese and F. Gary Gray.
Producer Gerard Butler stars in the intense and powerful 'Olympus Has Fallen'
A little under two years ago, when Butler was handed a Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt-penned script by Nu Image founder Avi Lerner, the Scottish actor knew he had been found his proverbial Holy Grail. "Once I got a hold of the script for Olympus Has Fallen, I thought, ‘Wow, this has a huge potential as a piece of material to be a great action movie, but a believable movie and a thriller," the always friendly and emotionally-jazzed Butler recalled during a recent interview in New York City to promote the stunning action thriller. "I was really excited because it was also a character-driven piece. On one hand, it is thrilling and exciting. On the other hand, it’s sophisticated and meaningful. I couldn't have hoped for anything better. I wanted to be a part of it – big time!"
Gerard Butler in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
In Olympus Has Fallen, Butler skillfully and convincingly portrays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential Detail. After an unfortunate, but tragic accident, he is demoted and assigned to desk duty at the Treasury Department. However, the disgraced Secret Service agent attempts to rescue the kidnapped president of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) after a North Korean extremist mastermind (Rick Yune) overtakes the White House (Secret Service code name: "Olympus"). After a small battalion of highly-trained terrorists overrun America's most sacred monument, they succeed in their mission to hold the president and his staff hostage in an impenetrable underground nuclear-safe bunker. Through unforeseeable circumstances, Banning (a former Navy SEAL who has extensive first-hand knowledge of the president's residence and is an expert on terrorists activities) finds himself trapped within the historic America building. He immediately becomes the key contact to the acting president, Allan Trumball (Academy Award-winning legend Morgan Freeman) and his key advisors (Oscar-winner Angela Bassett and Robert Forster). As the national security team scrambles to find a way to resolve the conflict peaceably, they are forced to rely on Banning's inside knowledge to help retake the White House and save the president before the North Korean terrorists can unleash their ultimately terrifying plan of the total annihilation of the United States of America.
While Butler honestly admitted he may have made some questionable choices with a few of his past films and roles, Gerard was convinced – in his actor's heart of hearts – that Olympus Has Fallen had winner written all across it. "Sometimes you may be championing a script and perhaps, you may be championing it for the wrong reasons, and that’s witnessed by your agents, managers and your friends," he conceded. "But, let me tell you, from the second that I opened the script up for Olympus Has Fallen I went, ‘This is outrageous. This is surprising.’ It takes you by surprise and I just loved that idea. I thought, ‘If you could follow through that kind of heightened sense that it is happening at our Olympus and for it to be taken down and then have the standoff situation – what a fantastic concept.’ Basically, we are all being held to ransom. But, I felt that if you could make that plausible and organic, then you’ve got something great."
A heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled political thriller, Butler was so enamored with the screenplay that he not only signed on to star in the explosive actioner, but he also chose to become one of the producers of Olympus Has Fallen. When it came to finding the perfect director to help Butler envision his action epic, in Gerry's mind, their was only man suitable for the job. "The guy who could that absolute grittiness and masculinity of the story, and, at the same time, deal with more sensitive and emotional parts was Antonie Fuqua," he said of the filmmaker behind such classics as Training Day, King Arthur and Brooklyn's Finest. "Plus, Antoine and I had been talking about three different projects, so we knew each other. I really dug the guy. I knew working with Antoine, in any way, would be such a blast. So, I took the script to Antoine and asked him, 'Well, what do you think?' We immediately agreed that it was an audacious, ballsy idea and it had to be made believable. At that point, though, there were some unbelievable elements, but for the two of us it was all about, 'Let's make this fresh, heart-pounding and as intense as possible. Let's make it like it can happen.'"
Director Antoine Fuqua on the White House set of 'Olympus Has Fallen'
Early on, Butler and Fuqua were both determined to make Olympus Has Fallen an eerily plausible and as exhilarating a movie-going experience as it could possibly be. For Gerard, the explosive film had all the perfect elements for a stunning onscreen explosion of realism. "When an audience is sitting there, they will sit back and go, 'Shit, I really believe this is happening, or, I really believe this could happen,'" Butler maintained. "Then, we are set up with this fantastic stand-off between a besieged White House with one man in there, who is now in a position to do the job he has trained his whole life to do. There's a crisis room that pretty much have their hands tied. There's officials having to make decisions that you can only ever imagine being in there to see the pressure that they are under. I mean, it's a hostage situation in an impenetrable bunker, where people are being executed and a terrorists made demands that could change the face of the world. Needless to say, I was very excited about the movie and the part.”
To prepare for the role of Mike Banning and to create a true sense of realism, Butler spent several months training with consultants from all branches of the government – including a former Secret Service agent and two consultants who had spent a great deal of time in the actual White House. It was exactly what Butler needed to make his portrayal of Banning brutal, smart and authentic. “I was taking all the advice of Navy SEALS and Secret Service agents, including one who had been on presidential detail," he admitted. "So, I was always asking them, ‘Okay, what the fuck do I do here? What is my position as I turn the corner with three rooms there? What am I looking for?’ That was stuff we were putting into the script. We also added that my character had been a Navy SEAL before. There were Secret Service agents and Navy SEALs in the script and my character had been a Navy SEAL before – and SEALs are all about attack. Secret Service is much more about avoidance, reconnaissance and finding information. That’s what I thought was really gripping and compelling about this movie.
Mike Banning (Butler) takes no prisoners in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
"When Mike fights his way into the White House, he’s left inside of this besieged building with 42 extremists that are very well-trained commandos," Butler continued. "He can’t just go in there shooting them up. He doesn’t have the equipment. It’s all about, ‘What’s going on here? I need to take stock of the situation, how do I get communication to the outside world? Where are these guys and how do I figure out what to do? How good are they?’ Because I know the same things as counter-terrorism expert, as they would have been looking for. When you get down to it, it’s a mixture of stealth and brutality. Mike’s there to take no prisoners. I think if he was unleashed, he would have even gone further in taking no prisoners. But, he has to be in touch with the key advisors and let the government know what’s going on. Together, they have to formulate a plan to get them out of this mess. Honestly, the most I learned was by working with a mixture of SWAT teams, police, the Secret Service agents – then I just put it all together."
While Butler gives a vividly wonderful and convincing physical portrayal as a well-trained ex-Navy SEAL turned Secret Service agent with the complete capability to kick major extremist ass, Gerard also delivers an emotionally intense and poignant performance filled with equal doses of anger and compassion. Since Butler spent so much time fine-tuning the script with Fuqua – and having met Gerry several times – you get the sense that the actor and the character he plays on the screen in Olympus Has Fallen are essentially one in the same. It's a notion Butler gave serious thought to. "I think we have a lot of the same ideals," he confessed, pausing for moment before he joked, "We’re both screwed up to the same extent." Quickly, returning to the comparisons to his onscreen alter-ego, he admitted, "We’re both always haunted by the past and people are always pushing our buttons. Without of a doubt, I have that in me. It’s practically the same with my character in Law Abiding Citizen. That role brought up a lot of the same emotions in me.
Gerard Butler as Mike Manning in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
"Look, there are so many themes in Olympus Has Fallen," Butler added. "To me, I think one of the strongest themes – to me as an actor and as an audience – is payback. Someone said, ’Don’t say the word revenge,’ but to me, there’s that personal element of when I am in there, as Mike and the audience – because we both just witnessed the same thing – good people dying, heroes dying in the service of their country. Then there are innocent people who are dying, who are not in the service of anything, dying for no reason. You’re left ripped apart and appalled. So, it’s time to not just go in there and take care of business. You have to take care of business with a bit of menace, wanting people to suffer. I think that is something that is an interesting concept to grab onto. Emotionally, it works for an audience, my character and Gerry – me."
Butler in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
Although Olympus Has Fallen is a full-tilt, balls to the wall action-packed epic from beginning to end, it is not completely overflowing with bullets, blood and bomb blasts. In fact, the film is filled with healthy bits of laugh-out loud moments, in good part to relive the relentless emotional strain the audience finds itself wrapped up in. It's a witty plot pressure valve that Butler – a friendly, good-natured jokester himself – knew was essential in making Olympus Has Fallen an even more psychologically complex action thriller. "I guess like myself, there is also a lot of humor in Mike as well, so I really wanted to push for the humor,” he maintained. “I mean, when you can have humor in tight situations – you just can’t beat that. You need that in a movie like this."
Rick Yune and Aaron Eckhart star in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
What brings even more validity and clout to the high-gloss sheen of the breathtaking Olympus Has Fallen is the film's dazzling cast of actors. Many of the most legendary actors and actresses in Hollywood were immediately drawn to the project once they realized that Olympus Has Fallen was not going to be your typical paint-by-numbers action flick.
Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster also star in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
"When Antonie and I started working more on the script and bringing more life to the characters, that’s when all the actors started coming onboard," Butler said of the cast that included multiple-award-winning and nominated actors. "We tried to give it as much meaning and substance as possible as you can in a movie like this. Which is why we got such phenomenal actors in it. When everybody wanted to be a part of the film is when we started to feel some real validity and we knew we had done something right because we could bring Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, The Dark Knight franchise) onboard. When you can interest Morgan Freeman in your movie you instantly know the quality of the acting is going to be on the nth level. Then, there was Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Erin Brockovich) and Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River), I just couldn’t believe the quality of the cast we were getting. It didn't stop there, we got Radha Mitchell (Red Widow, Big Sur), Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story, The Perks Of Being a Wallflower), Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious, Die Another Day), Ashley Judd (Kiss The Girls, Missing), Cole Hauser (A Good Day To Die Hard, 2 Fast 2 Furious) and Angela Bassett (What's Love Got To Do With It, Waiting To Exhale), who I just loved. To be honest, I think that we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of the cast.
Dylan McDermott in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
"I mean, it's kinda funny, because we have Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated actors and we have – me," the self-effacing Butler offered with a hearty laugh. "Seriously, it’s fancy to say that in another movie like P.S. I Love You - ‘Oscar-winner HILARY SWANK and Gerard Butler.’ Or, ‘Law Abiding Citizen with JAMIE FOX and Gerard Butler. With Olympus Has Fallen, it’s like 'MORGAN FREEMAN, ANGELA BASSETT, MELISSA LEO and Gerard Butler.’ I’m the Golden Egg-winner, Gerry Butler."
It's great that Butler can joke and be the happy-go-lucky, charming Scot he normally is, now that the immense pressure of producing and acting in such an epic picture as Olympus Has Fallen is slowly easing up. Gerard confessed that their were times when he was making the film that he was close to an emotional meltdown. “Now that the hardest part of doing Olympus Has Fallen is over, I feel like there is a weight being lifted off my shoulders," he revealed. "I have to tell you that sometimes, when you are producing and you feel that weight, it’s tough. A couple of people were reminding me while we were in the middle of making it of how crazy I got. They would tell me about how insane I got and things I was saying. I would go, ‘Oh yeah, so I did.’"
Gerard Butler in 'Olympus Has Fallen'
Butler's extreme passion, focus and commitment during the making of Olympus Has Fallen became so overwhelming at times that he almost ran afoul of the law. "I remember once, I was driving down the freeway at over a 100 miles-an-hour and I was just tense, gritting my teeth, and I passed a cop car," Gerry recalled with a nervous chuckle. "The officer put his cop lights on before I even got to him. I have been pulled over by a few cops, but they usually follow you for five minutes and make you sweat. But this guy realized, ‘I ain’t following him, he’s gone.’ I was pulled over, but I was let go after I explained I was saving the world.
"When you’ve got to train, you’ve got to get the fight sequences down, you gotta look good, you’ve got to work with all the specialists, you’re working on the script and you’re working with the producers – and then you have to go out and do the fuckin’ role – sometimes, that can be overpowering,” he confessed. “But, again it works in this situation, because this is not a normal situation. It was a tumultuous situation to say the least.”
Once Olympus Has Fallen was in the can, Butler wisely decided he was long overdue for some stress-free Gerry time. “I’ve been making Olympus for a long time, so I thought it was time for a break,” he said with a smile. “I decided to travel. In the past six or seven weeks, I have been to Scotland, England, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand, Mexico, Columbia – all for different reasons. But, mostly for traveling, just going to places and seeing friends. A couple of them were actually about doing movies. But, the real highlight for me was in Thailand, becoming a monk. I was hiding out in temples a lot.”
Gerard Butler stars as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning in the explosive and gritty action thriller 'Olympus Has Fallen'
Once Olympus Has Fallen becomes the major box office hit many Hollywood insiders are predicting, Butler will have little time to spend holed up in foreign monasteries. Like Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger before him, Olympus Has Fallen is positioned to not only turn Gerard Butler into the new action hero of Hollywood, but also the hottest celestial entity in the Tinsel Town constellation. Butler shrugged off the accolades but admitted Olympus Has Fallen has a little something in common with the original Willis actioner. “Often when we all talked about this movie, we talked about it as Die Hard in the White House,” he offered frankly. “But, let’s just say it’s an updated Die Hard in the White House.”
Much like Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen harbors the potential to become a major film franchise. The continuing butt-kicking exploits of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning would make for a great motion picture trilogy. Butler just chuckled at the notion. “Actually, when I first read the script, I thought, ‘Television’– and we would probably make more money doing it as a television series than as a film series,” he declared with a laugh. “You know what? Let’s wait and see how it goes. If it did become a franchise, I would love it, because it definitely feels like one.
Director Zack Synder and Gerard Butler on the set on '300'
"It’s like 300," he continued,."Even though 300 was a studio movie, you got to create an idea. But 300 was based on a graphic novel, it wasn’t a franchise, so we didn’t have much to build on. Olympus Has Fallen is an original idea, so if it was to take off, who knows? But that’s not been something that I have discussed or thought about for literally more than five seconds in the last year-and-a-half. It’s all been about making this movie the best it can possibly be and then get people to go see it. So far, audiences dig it. They are shouting, gasping, clapping and laughing – it really gets your blood going. Actually, I read an audience comment the other day and it said, ‘I always wondered why they called movies edge-of-your-seat, but I really, genuinely sat on the edge of my seat the whole movie. Now, I get it.’”
Mike Banning (Butler) and President Asher (Eckhart) in a climatic scene from 'Olympus Has Fallen'
It seems as if Gerard Butler’s initial instincts about Olympus Has Fallen are coming to fruition. “I hope so,” he said sheepishly. “I really put my heart and soul into this movie, because I think it is worth it. I have a feeling audiences will, too. At the end of the day, I think we did a great job – at least everyone else did. Gerry Butler? Who knows?”
Olympus Has Fallen opens in theaters across North America on Friday, March 22, 2013. (Check local state and territory listings for show times)