When an interview starts off with a discussion about nose-picking, you know it’s one that’s bound to cover some weird territory.
Some background: I’ve wanted to interview Gerard Butler for years but it’s just never worked out for one reason or another. Regardless, this time, finally, Butler was ready for a long sitdown interview. (One of my personal favorite Butler moments was a quick camera shot of him at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards, watching Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence do a comedy routine. To put it mildly, Butler looks dazzled. Of course, I had to ask him about this moment.)
Butler’s career is fascinating. People almost forget that he was cast as The Phantom in Joel Schumacher 2004’s adaptation of Phantom of the Opera. But it wasn’t until Zack Snyder’s 300 that everything changed for Butler. But, as Butler shares ahead, 300 almost didn’t happen for him. The lucky break for Butler turned out being turned down for the remake of The Poseidon Adventure, (just called Poseidon) because if he had gotten that role, he would not have free to star in 300 – and then everything is different.
This week, Butler stars as a submarine captain named Joe Glass in Hunter Killer. In a movie that will one day, after its theatrical run, play on a neverending loop on cable, Butler’s Glass must command his Hunter Killer class submarine into Russian waters to stop a coup against the Russian president. It’s now Butler who gets to bark orders at his crew like Gene Hackman and Sean Connery did before him. (Side note: there should be more submarine movies.)
When I meet Butler in his Manhattan hotel just off of Central Park, we introduce ourselves by shaking hands. And then Butler tells me how much he dislikes shaking hands because it’s gross (I agree) and, well, that’s how nose-picking become a topic.
It’s nice to meet you.
I have to shake so many hands. Always get sticky.
I’m the same way. I don’t like shaking hands. You should have told me, we could have avoided the whole thing
If somebody said, how do we make sure that we have pandemics? What kind of greeting involves sharing? And I’m not a big germaphobe. I’m not! But I shake so many hands, when I go to the toilet and wash my hands, the water changes color.
Anyway, we’re good. Dude, I have to tell you, I remember I was in that program, I was in AA, and I remember after an AA meeting, I watched a guy picking his nose and eating it…
We were all watching. It was so revolting. And then at the end he comes over and shakes hands – and he left and we all ran to the toilet. We’re just watching this fucking thing, laughing, but also almost throwing up.
Did you do it? Did you touch him?
You couldn’t not. Anyway, yeah, let’s go.
Oh, we’ve started.
Oh, we were?
I got the scoop on handshaking and nose-picking.
That was gross. I have more nose-picking stories.
Wait, how do you have nose-picking stories? Most normal people don’t have nose-picking stories.
No, but this is so gross. I’m watching a kid, my friend’s little brother, during a Celtics against Rangers cup final probably 30 years ago. I’m watching this kid picking his nose, chewing it. Then take it out of his mouth, putting it on his patch. And then, an hour later, taking it back off his patch and putting it back in his mouth.
And I’m still traumatized by this.
Well, you still remember it.
And I couldn’t stand having him in my house. What the fuck?!
Okay, this should be in your rider. Like when you do a movie, there will be no nose-picking on set. Like Van Halen and the brown M&Ms.
They would demand M&Ms, but all the brown M&Ms had to be taken out.
Oh, Jesus. Okay.
Their point was if they couldn’t trust a crew with M&Ms then they don’t trust them with a ton of equipment right over their head.
What kind of weird rational is that? You can’t protect the equipment? I don’t know, that feels like ego ran wild. But, hey. And yeah, by the way, while they’re busy sorting out the M&Ms, they should be looking after the equipment.
When I first heard the title of this movie, I thought it was going to be your character’s name: Hunter Killer.
It’s a strong name, yeah. But it’s a good, strong title and then it’s also a type of submarine. A description of a submarine and what it does: Hunter Killer.
Did you know much about submarines before this?
No, not particularly. About the same as the next person.
Here is how little I know: In this movie, I thought they had the same name as the Crimson Tide characters. I thought COB and WEPS were people named Cobb and Whepps.
By the way, I actually think that happened to me too. I read the script eight years ago and I remember the first time I saw COB, I was like, “Oh no, ripping of The Hunt for Red October!” And they’re such weird, specific names. Why would they use them again?
Do think you could command a submarine now?
Now, hear me out on this, but after watching like three submarine movies in my life, I think I could command a sub just by saying, “XO, you have the conn.” And then just going to my quarters.
Well, there is a lot of that. “Okay, this is what we’re doing. XO, make it happen.” In Crimson Tide, I loved it, but it goes to such ridiculous lengths and maybe the Navy didn’t like that movie because it was so over the top. Fun, right? But we stayed within the realms, that was a huge thing for us to want.
Yeah, so the Navy maybe doesn’t love the idea of a nuclear submarine crew fighting with each other at gunpoint.
Yeah, exactly. But I was surprised how much they would let. They were happy for us to go with the drama and the tension.
This is a movie, after it has its theatrical run, that will be on Sunday afternoons on TNT forever.
Honestly, I feel like we’ve made a classic action thriller. And there is a reason that these sub movies, why they work. There is no better place to stage a drama than one thousand feet in the dark murky waters under the ocean where you’re cut off from communication. I was on the U.S.S. Houston and I watched The Hunt for Red October. And it was hilarious because that is one of my favorite movies of all time and yet the crew is saying, “That’s bullshit, fuck no! That would never happen.” And even I went, come on guys, it’s a movie. But, at the same time, I don’t want that to happen.
Your character is named Joe Glass. It reminded me of Punch-Out where the first guy you fight is Glass Joe.
Oh, I didn’t even know. That has to be some sort of coincidence.
Joe Glass is a strong name. Glass Joe though, that’s not so good.
That would be awesome. I love that name of Joe Glass. It’s got such a strength to it, you know? And I also lived with that name for many, many, many years. It’s been a dream of mine to make this movie since 2010.
It’s been floating around a while.
Yeah, and I always had it. And any of these situations kicks off and we could be in deep water. I can’t believe how many times I say that.
A lot of puns.
Yeah, a lot of puns.
So I have to bring this up. There is a picture of you from the 2016 Golden Globes when you’re watching Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer perform and you look dazzled.
[Looks at the picture and recreates the smile.] Yeah! Like a kid in a candy store! Yeah, they were great. They were great. And also, I think weirdly enough my career is by almost taking things for granted. You work hard, but it’s coming. In some ways, it dispels a bit of the magic but you achieve more. But then every now and again, you’re reminded. Like, “Oh my God, look where I am. I’m at the Golden Globes! It’s Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence and I’m here watching that!”
I’ve been fascinated by your career. What do people on the street most know you for? 300?
But I feel like the role we’ll most remember you for is still coming. You’re producing more so you have more control over that.
Yeah, I actually feel like I’m getting the chance to do better work. And I have a chance to work on it myself. Because before, often you would make movies where you then didn’t have as much control over. And it was frustrating, you know? Sometimes you see a failure from the first day.
Is it something specific?
Yeah. But I’m not going say.
What was the genre?
It was an action thriller early in my career. And I just thought, “Oh my God, I got this role and this movie, this is all amazing!” And from the first take I went, “Oh, I never considered the possibility this might be a dud.”
Hm, Reign of Fire? Never mind, that movie is kind of interesting.
Yeah, and not to mention dragons.
It’s had a resurgence of late.
I remember reading a review for Reign of Fire and one said it would never work because there were too many dragons in it. And then another review said it was never going to work because it didn’t have enough dragons. How the fuck do you keep everybody happy in that situation?
But you know how trailers will say, “And so and so, as you’ve never seen him or her before?” That’s coming for you.
I appreciate the confidence.
Oh, I have complete confidence.
Yeah. I do, too.
I want that to happen.
I appreciate it. Thank you. And I feel like I have reached that point where I’ve made my name and I can relax a bit. I always want movies to work, but at the same time, now, I feel like I still love making action movies but I don’t only have to make action movies. And I can try and go and have a little more fun and do more challenging things.
He’s been around 20 more years, but Liam Neeson does the back and forth still between action movie and drama. He’s in Widows coming up.
He went the opposite way for me though. He did the more high-brow and fantastic dramas and then went, now I want to do action. I’ve done more action.
Well, yeah, they’re fun.
They’re fun and they pay well! We always try our best but sometimes you make a movie and you go, okay, that really didn’t work. But when it works, honestly, there is nothing better. There is nothing better than working into a room and feeling the excitement of somebody who has watched a 300 or a Hunter Killer. Because there are always high stakes and there are always big ideas. Like Olympus has Fallen.
Everyone wrote it off as the warm up to White House Down and then it went the opposite way.
Exactly. You make these movies with original content, original ideas. Not some intellectual property and you’re therefore dangling a little more, you know? You could fall on your ass. So, therefore, when it works, it’s so exciting because of those high stakes. When they work are incredibly exciting, thrilling, fun. And, in some ways, inspiring in that kind of way that humans want to go and be entertained and come out an go, “Yeah, I want to be more courageous.” Or, “I want to stand up for myself.” Or, “I want to find something that’s worth sacrificing for.” So, that’s ultimately one of the reasons why I like making these big movies.
Is there something you were offered you regret turning down?
Oh, god. No, to be honest, it’s more the opposite. For instance, I remember Poseidon Adventure…
It would be funny if it were the original.
That movie was one of my favorite movies ever. Gene Hackman!
I just watched it like a week ago. Ernest Borgnine…
Oh my god…
Yeah! So I almost was very close to playing that role. And it didn’t happen. And then, just after that, I landed 300.
If I had done Poseidon, I wouldn’t have done 300. So it just shows you that in the long run…
Your whole career would be different.
My whole career is different because of that. You just think, there is always a reason for the parts you didn’t get.
Was this your choice or did you just not get it?
No, I didn’t end up getting it.
So you were bummed out you didn’t get Poseidon.
I was bummed out I didn’t get it and then, in the end, I was exceptionally happy. One, I didn’t love the movie. But, two, because I ended up getting 300. And I’ve found that has happened a lot. It always is what goes around, comes around. And it’s all going to be the way that it’s supposed to be, including your bombs. There is a reason, you learn something. But I’ve often found because I often make smaller movies as well – and definitely less talked about. And sometimes I’d risk my whole career by making two or three in a row and they weren’t necessarily successful. And then you go, “Now I’m struggling.” That’s the reason why you keep making the bigger movies.
But one of the smaller films is eventually going to hit.
That’s very disheartening. You put so much work into those movies. You look at like a movie like Machine Gun Preacher. Or even Family Man. And however they’re received, I worked so hard and I put so much heart and soul into them. And then you do so much press … and then it doesn’t necessarily work. To me, just knowing, in the long run, that people see that movie and some people, either of these movies, are moved or affected by them, is worth it in some ways. But, it’s very disheartening when you put so much work in and then it doesn’t work. It’s easy to go, well fuck it, I’m just not going to make those movies anymore. But at the end of the day, they’re the ones that are the most awarding spiritually, and just as an actor.
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