Movies

We’ve Gone To See The Wizard: In Which Gerard Butler Charms Us To Promote ‘Greenland’

As someone who’d never before experienced one, the intricacy of a Gerard Butler press tour interview is something to behold. Press tours conducted via Zoom are a new and slightly surreal experience to begin with, but the Gerard Butler version felt a bit like a trip to Oz to meet the affably tanned Scottish wizard.

Hopping on the Zoom at the appointed time, I entered a waiting room-type place with four different people — presumably publicists and people on “Team Gerard.” No one there actually called it “Team Gerard,” but I think it’s a pretty good guess. Anyway, a couple busy looking talking heads there soon greeted me by name and welcomed me to the chat. One youngish man encouraged me to make sure my video was on when the interview began because “Gerard likes to see people.”

Well sure, who doesn’t?

From there I was whooshed away, pneumatic-like, into another “break-out room,” which they called “the hospitality room.” That one had five additional people in it, presumably other journalists waiting for their time just like me. I immediately turned my video off to avoid a Naked Gun-bathroom style disaster, as had four of the other five people. That left the screen to a guy in a graying ponytail who had maybe taken “Gerard likes to see people” too far. We spent the next 10 minutes watching this stranger type, squint at his computer screen, and roll his eyes, like the world’s least titillating voyeur video. Yet always there was that dramatic tension, like Naked Gun bathroom disaster waiting to happen. There’s one in every Zoom chat, I guess.

We were all here — Team Butler, shaggy journalists, presumably Gerard himself — to promote Greenland, a disaster movie about a killer comet. On paper this is standard Gerard Butler fare, ideal for a movie star who occupies the space between Liam Neeson and The Rock. Yet waking up to wildfire ash covering my car that morning, the end-times crumbling of the social order suddenly didn’t feel so much like schlock. It certainly wasn’t escapism. The film is largely about a disaster’s effect on the social order, and here we all were picking our noses in our underwear to interview a superstar. (Writers love parallels, don’t we, folks?)

Eventually, I was ushered (virtually) into the main room where I sat face to face (virtually) with the wizard himself. Gerard Butler, a younger version of Pierce Brosnan if he played rugby, sat chiseled and tan, his sparkling blue eyes lit from just the right angle, as disembodied voices cackled things like “alright team, let’s go ahead and roll on capture” into my earbuds. Another voice told me to state my name and outlet and start in with my questions. I obeyed.

For all the rigamarole, Butler himself seemed charming and relaxed. Nice to talk to, even pleasant. Which is to say, the rigamarole had worked. What was that line from Parasite? “Of course she’s nice, she’s rich! If I had all that money, I’d be nice too!”

Anyway, I don’t know how many people it takes to make Gerard Butler Gerard Butler, but they do their work well.

Have you been able to work during quarantine?

A couple of little things, but no actual films or TV, but a lot of meetings. And a lot of tennis.

You a big tennis player?

No. But I am now. I wasn’t before the pandemic. There was a rating of things, activities that were seen as number one, as in the most dangerous, and number 10 as in the least, and tennis was number 10, so it seemed like a good thing to get into.

What were your sports before?

Still surfing, mountain biking, which is another one that I could keep up. A bit of soccer every now and again, but that’s really gone by the wayside.

So for a movie like this, do you audition for the part or are they just like, “we want Gerard Butler” and make an offer?

I haven’t done an audition in about 13 years. It would be interesting to try one again, but I probably would be horrible. But no, this was a movie that came to Ric [director Ric Roman Waugh] and I, pretty much at the same time, from a producer, Basil Iwanyk, at Thunder Road that we both love. That was what was cool about it. It wasn’t just to me and I’m bringing Ric in or Ric bringing me in. It was like, here’s a project that you guys as a team would kill, and it went from there.

You said you haven’t auditioned in 13 years, do you get offered all the kinds of stuff you want, or are there dream parts that you wish you could do that you don’t get offered?

Those situations arise, and that means that an audition might happen, but very often it’s more conversation. You maybe go and meet the director and sit down for lunch, and just talk about the role rather than him have you come in and read for it. I think most directors worth their salt, if they’ve seen your work, after conversing with you, they pretty much get whether you can do it or not.

I would not be averse to doing that because I feel like it’s all the times in my career that I put myself out and had to take steps that I felt were taking further steps, even at a time when maybe I didn’t need to audition, but I would do it anyway, just to prove myself. I always felt, I don’t want to just get offers just because I’m there. I would rather be the right man for the part.

Actually, the last audition I did was for The Ugly Truth. I already had the role, but they wanted me to play it Scottish. I said, “I don’t think he should be Scottish. I think he should be American.” I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, let me come in as if I’m auditioning for the role, but in an American accent.” I came in and read for my four biggest scenes in the movie in an American accent, and then he said, “Okay, you got the job as American Jerry.”

That was actually going to be a question of mine, is that usually what happens? That there’s a conversation about what accent you’re going to do? What’s that conversation like?

It depends on the role. Certain roles, it has to be from a certain place. I just did a movie called The Vanishing. It’s three lighthouse keepers in Scotland, it’s obviously going to be Scottish. I felt in Ugly Truth, that as he was commenting on sexual relations in America, it’d be a little weird for a foreigner to be coming over here. You would always be questioning, how does he know this? At what point did he get here?

In Greenland, it felt, Miranda’s originally from Brazil, and me being from Scotland, that I could keep that accent and make it that, as is so often the case in America, people are from all over the place. There’s more diversity in this country than ever before, and thankfully, more diversity in films, that no longer did the two leads have to have American accents. It’s nice for me. Sean Connery got to do Scottish in every bloody movie he did. I feel like now I’ve earned the right to do an American film in my own accent from time to time.

For sure. So is this 100% your natural accent or do you think it’s gotten Americanized over the years?

When I did The Vanishing, I literally had to listen to people again and go, oh, that’s how you do the R. I don’t even think it’s just by living here, it’s by playing these roles. Every day I do about an hour’s worth of dialect sessions, and you’re always working on where the tongue placement is going to be, how you move your mouth, and whenever I finish a film, I go, okay, I can go back to my own accent now. But it just doesn’t happen. I feel like I’m a caricature of myself. I’m like [in exaggerated brogue] “I’m Gerry from Scotland.” Yeah, it’s definitely softened.

When you’re doing all that training, does that get you up in your head about it, or does it matter?

It really helps to do it because then you can then throw it away. I remember getting great advice from a voice coach in England. It was a front of a script that Gary Oldman was directing and it said, “Teach us to care and not to care.” The caring is in doing the work, as in the preparation, and what that allows you to do is not to care so that you can just let it go. I feel like the more work you do in preparation, the less you have to worry about, and the less in your head. It’s when you’re not prepared that you’re listening to yourself and you’re going, God, does that sound right? Was that good?

Right. I don’t know, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but unlike a lot of actors your age, you look like you still have your original face. Have you ever felt any pressure to get work done? Or do you have a policy on that kind of thing?

No, I like my face. I think maybe there’s something different about being from Scotland. If you even were to say to your mom, “I’m going to go to therapy.” She’s like, “therapy? What are you talking about? You don’t do that here.” Mom, I’m going to go and get a facelift. “A facelift? What are you talking about?” No. I’m going to try and grow old — which seems to be happening quickly these days — gracefully.

Who do you think is tougher, Scottish people or Irish people?

I don’t know. I’m both. I’m Scots-Irish. I think the Scots like to fight more than the Irish. The Irish like to tell jokes. We’re so similar. We’re really the same people, but I feel like the Irish are, they’re just a little more “Hey, top of the morning. How’s it going?” Like that. I love that attitude. That’s a tough one. …No matter what I say, I’m going to lose friends.

Yeah, you gave that more thought than I was expecting, I’m impressed.

Yeah. No, but I have to say, they’re both pretty tough. There’s a certain look that you see in both of them. I call it “shark eyes.” When you come across a hard man in Scotland or Ireland, and there’s these eyes, there’s almost death behind the eyes and it’s a bit freaky. I’ve come across it a few times.

Do you keep your distance when that happens?

One time I didn’t and he headbutted me. And I was like, from now on, when I see those shark eyes I’m going to step back. He was right in my face, and I’m talking to him, trying to reason, and the next minute I’m like, oh sh–

[Publicist in my ear: “Hey Vince, we have two minutes left, so if we could go to Greenland, that’d be great.”]

There’s a climactic moment in this where you a chug a big glass of water. Was that a conscious callback to London Has Fallen?

I always have this thing in movies where they go through all these crazy times and nobody ever eats or drinks. And you go, wait, when did that happen? I think it’s quite important to put it in, and if you are going to put it in, you can make a comment on it, because what does that drink mean? I am so thirsty at that point. I’ve been on the road, and I’m totally destroyed. My nervous system is gone. So, you can say a lot just by drinking a glass of water.

Do you have to do a bunch of takes of that? Or do you just nail it in one go?

I think it was a one or two take thing.

So I watched this movie while it was literally raining ash outside of my own house. Do you think a movie like this hits harder because it actually feels like the apocalypse, or does it cheapen the escapism of a disaster movie in some way?

I don’t think it cheapens it at all. I think it’s more effecting. Everybody I know who’s seen this movie, they all talk about how crazy it is, the similarities of what’s going on. It’s kind of incredible. At the end of the day, it focuses on a very positive message, and in this, what’s important is bringing family together. We don’t want to die alone, really. We need somebody to love and to love us, and that’s a very powerful message. I think everybody feels this by the end. Also, the idea that no matter what happens, no matter what they throw at us, fires, pandemics, comets, in the end, somehow we will prevail.

Great, thank you. I enjoyed the movie, thanks a lot for talking to me.

Cheers mate. Thank you.

‘Greenland’ is available On Demand now. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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