A Hollywood tough guy who’s the real deal. Hardcore Scotsman Gerard Butler tells ShortList’s Andrew Lowry about breaking his neck and holidays in the wilderness
He’s taken on African warlords, the Persian Empire and the combined might of Hilary Swank and Katherine Heigl, but right now Gerard Butler is taking on his riskiest assignment yet. Olympus Has Fallen casts the 43-year-old former trainee lawyer as a secret-service agent who finds himself the last man standing when a North Korean terrorist attack all but wipes out the White House. It’s big, spectacular and a lot of fun – not unlike the straight-shooting Scot…
Olympus Has Fallen contains many impressive fight scenes. Did you pick up any injuries?
I picked up a lot of injuries. My fight with Rick Yune [who plays the villainous Kang] was three days solid and we just banged the sh*t out of each other. I bruised his ribs, he bruised my ribs, and I later found that I’d broken two tiny bones in my neck – including my hyoid, whatever the f*ck that is.
We’re not sure either, but it sounds very painful…
I was glad I’d broken bones, actually, because at first they thought I had a growth in my throat and sent me for an MRI scan. And I’m thinking, “Cancer.” Then the radiologist came out and said, “I think you’ve got broken bones in your throat.” I was like, “Yes!” She thought I was crazy.
The film’s taken on an unexpected relevance given recent diplomatic tensions. How did you get Kim Jong-un to join your marketing team?
Well, it took a lot of work for our publicity department to get them to play ball but they did, and it’s helping the movie a lot. I shouldn’t joke, but it’s uncanny: there are things happening that are the exact scenes that we have in our movie. Would I go there? No. I don’t know if I’d make it out alive – especially after this movie.
Part of the film was shot in Louisiana last summer – how hot did it get?
We had a week of filming outside at the height of the Louisiana summer, with 80 per cent humidity – even being in the shade was miserable. I was running on the spot for a week, because every time you cut to one particular scene, I’m supposed to have already been running for a mile. Over the week we probably did 400 takes; the sweat was dripping off me two drips a second.
Presumably a beer was out of the question…
Here’s a trick I use: ice on the balls. I learned that on Timeline, which was shot in Montreal when it was nearly as hot. We put packs of ice down our underwear. I don’t think it’s good for the reproductive system, but it cools down your whole body. And focuses the mind, shall we say.
This has to be the first movie where someone gets killed with a bust of Abraham Lincoln…
Being a secret-service agent involves improvising. So when my character finds himself without a gun, what does he use? What does he pick up? At one point I was using a tin tray to hit the bad guy with and I was like, “Really? Guys?” And then it became a lamp. And then a statue. And then somebody suggested the Lincoln bust. To be honest, I thought it was a little much – but it gets cheers every night.
In other news, it was recently reported that you’d become a monk in Thailand. Was that even close to being true?
Where did that come from? If I’d gone to Thailand, I wouldn’t be here promoting a movie, would I? No, I went to Thailand and I f*cked a monk. Come on. It was just a normal holiday after we finished Olympus – I went bike-riding in the mountains and camped out in the jungle. Then I went to see elephants paint with their trunks. It’s insane – YouTube it. They can paint another elephant or a flower, it’s really cool.
What’s the best place you’ve ever been to blow off steam after filming?
Iceland’s my favourite country on the planet. My buddy there, Halli, is 6ft 5in and invincible. Me and him and one of my buddies from Scotland went on an adventure and ended up camping on top of a glacier with the northern lights above our heads, eating soup with tentpoles because we’d forgotten our spoons. We were in the middle of nowhere – I thought, “If we die here, nobody will find us for weeks, if not months.”
Aside from eating liquid with a pole, what else did you get up to?
Halli knew these steam pools you could go to, but I was into meditation at the time, so I said, “You guys go, I’m going to stay here and meditate.” So off they go, and I was totally at one. It was incredible. Then it started getting dark so I decided to turn the car lights on so that they could see as they were descending these treacherous ridges. But of course, I’m such a dummy that I didn’t turn the car engine on – only the lights. Suddenly they come down and my other buddy Rory is freaking out, convinced that we’re going to die. So we get in the car, and it doesn’t start. Rory just starts howling at me – he’s 6ft 5in as well, by the way – I was the shortarse on this trip. Halli calmly walks away and comes back about four hours later pushing a wheelbarrow with a battery in it. They have huts all over the place where there are solar-powered batteries for people in trouble. I remember hearing his footsteps crunching in the dark, and thinking, “Oh no, it’s a troll.” We were convinced he was never coming back.
He sounds like quite a guy – have you been anywhere else with him?
Yeah, he was with us in India when we went up into the Himalayas and I drank water from the Ganges River. We hiked up to the top of this mountain and I got sick – and I mean sick. I ended up getting sick for a month. The water looks fresh up there but what I didn’t realise is that, upstream, there’s villagers p*ssing and sh*tting in it. We camped on top of the mountain, and Halli’s doing his usual ‘You’re only as sick as you think you are’ routine. I’m up all night p*ssing and sh*tting and throwing up, with a massive Himalayan thunderstorm going on. It felt like the whole world was exploding. Finally the next morning they had to bring me down on a donkey, and in the heat and the smell, I had to get off and walk. It was the most awful experience. Then when we got to the car it was a long journey on the bumpiest roads imaginable. At least when we got back Halli finally accepted that I was sick.
Is it true that you have a pug named Lolita?
I know it’s not politically correct to buy a dog from a pet store, but there was this one dog asleep with one eye open and its tongue hanging out. I pulled her out and she started biting the sh*t out me. I was going to leave but I couldn’t stop myself, so I bought her and we immediately started putting cigarettes in her mouth and all that stuff – not lit, of course – and I realised you could have lot of fun with a dog. Until she started sh*tting all over the place. I was on a private plane once, and it was like somebody had bathed us in sh*t.
Looking back, how much of a turning point for you was 300?
It’s a good feeling – especially given that it’s a movie I really put myself out for. The director and producers told me they wanted me, but said they couldn’t go directly to the head of the studio in case he said no. So I called him personally. He was annoyed and said this wasn’t how it usually worked, but I pushed it and eventually he agreed to meet for a coffee. I gave the pitch of my life, about how everything I’d worked for had led to this role. So when the movie came out and was what it was, 300 became all the more special. I had in my head that I wanted to look like one of those Greek gods – like I could rip whole armies apart with
my hands. The pure intention of that shone through.
Was there a permanent cloud of testosterone hanging over the set?
Thank God there were some female make-up artists. We needed something to look at – the set was crawling with sweaty guys in leather codpieces. There was a lot of muscle and ‘guy chat’. But it was great, because we were all involved in telling the story of men being men, fighting for each other in a unit. That’s what we gave to the movie. You can get into that stuff.
Finally, how often do people yell “This is Sparta” at you?
Probably about as much as I get women coming up to me and saying “PS I love you”. I’m amazed how often people get it wrong – I just did a radio show and the guy said, “He is Sparta,” and asked if it compared. I said, “Not really, because it’s the wrong line. That’s not what you say, mate.” Other people come up and say, “I am Sparta,” and it’s like, “Dude, shut the f*ck up. It’s THIS IS SPARTA.”
Olympus Has Fallen is at cinemas nationwide now