Butler – who not only plays the lead role Mike Banning, but is also a producer of the title too – seems justifiably proud of this one, as a no holds barred action thriller that keeps you entertained from start to finish. Though somewhat brief, Butler discusses with us the decision to remain violent in spite of the current controversy about aggression in cinema, as well as running us through his own fighting sequences and working closely alongside the Secret Service to help get into the head of his role.
Do you think Olympus Has Fallen is quite a brave move, in that both A Good Day to Die Hard and Taken 2 both watered themselves down in terms of the violence, whereas this embraced that old school mentality?
Yeah we took a very different attitude. You know, if we’re going to do this, lets do it. Fortunately we have Antoine Fuqua who is a very masculine guy who understands action and so do I, I’ve done a lot of it and produced a couple of movies about violence, like Law Abiding Citizen and 300. I didn’t actually produce 300, I wish I’d fucking produced 300. It was amazing how in cahoots and coordinated me and Antoine were about creating this project, because when I first got the script you know, you go wait a minute – what have I got myself into here? However, a lot of it was a bit watered down and a bit sci-fi and we had the chance to really push the limits here and think, what does a real terrorist attack look like? You know, not shy away from it, look right at it and show everything. You can’t just show a terrorist attack where just men die or are interrogated, where only men are hurt. You know you women would too. That was my idea, the dog was Antoine’s but Melissa Leo getting the shit kicked out of her was my idea, and by the way, it works to the strength of the movie because if anything it just shows how courageous and tenacious the women are. What is the main theme of this movie? It’s heroism, and the fact that when something like this happens it brings people together for a higher purpose really. At the end of the day it’s the struggle between good against evil and in that way I find the movie very inspiring and if you can make that story, make the attack visceral and plausible and terrifying in all its glory, and then meet the characters that are involved in that attack and show the humanity of them and the real life situations they have to deal with – then you’re with them, you know the families, you know the children, and you care about them. You know their history and then you’re really taking a journey with them while at the same time you’re studying the protocols. You’re wondering what it is about the culture of the secret service and what happens in terms of counter terrorism and terrorism – you really are on a ride and then it is also a journey of the heart. At the end of the day it’s the biggest part because we’re well trained and they’re well trained and they have a lot of plans and ideas and so do we, so at the end of the day, as I say, it’s about who has the strongest belief and the strongest will to survive. I just gave you fucking five questions in one. if you want shorter answers I don’t mind, just say.
There are a lot of choreographed fight scenes and it looks like a pain staking process, is that your experience of it?
Not really, some of those fight scenes we had to put together really quickly and we were working on this script the whole time and always pushing each other and saying how can we create another twist, how can we show another emotional moment which says more about the character and how can we show the journey in the White House and constantly raise the stakes – which meant that the fight sequences were always changing. You would go, oh no that’s not going to happen there, thats’ going to happen there and there… It will be five guys not two. So sometimes you were learning moves the day before and I’d become obsessed… It’s painstaking but it’s exciting doing this because you work with incredibly talented people, ex-navy seals, martial artists, and I know what I’m doing here too. If you can bring out the character through fight sequences then that’s a great thing as so many fight sequences are just OK, there are two guys fighting, there’s a punch, there’s a kick but what does it say about Banning? Because he also has the same feelings against these guys as the audience do because they’re so cold blooded and what they do is so horrific, he obviously feels that too and that’s something I picked up from the secret service agents. They live and breath this honourable job and they would take a bullet for the president, but when it comes to them talking about the enemy and engaging the enemy, you see a gleam in their eye and you understand the damage that they would be capable of, and that they are trained to do and that’s what I took into Banning. You know, you wanted at times to show him being so effective and at times kind of enjoying the pain that he was inflicting, while it also being a means to an end because then there’s great entertainment in that and it’s very cathartic as well – and you can surprise people, so yeha, we wanted to make those fight scenes memorable.
You’re in great shape at the moment, but would you ever have an desire to do a role that would require losing weight, or putting on weight?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m willing to do anything for a role, although I would have to believe in a role to go to such a great extreme, like Christian Bale in The Machinist, but that’s Christian Bale, that’s who he is. So yeah I would absolutely do that, but you wouldn’t do it unless you really, really believed in that project and it’s very much a passion to you. Listen, to be honest I didn’t want to get that big for 300, I mean I did because I wanted to play the role well, but I didn’t want to spend months and months and months training in such a strict regime and having to pump weights 20 times a day before I went on. I knew I was doing my body damage and it wasn’t healthy for me the amount I was training, but I did it because I wanted to do justice to the role and it’s the same with this – listen, I was cracking bones and ripping things and being burned, and although it’s not quite the same, you know you’re going to take a beating, but you do it because you want to play the role well.
You’ve mentioned the Secret Service – what sort of insight did you get for this role? Did you spend time with the guys?
Yeah we wanted one more active Secret Service who was more the physical manifestation of who the Secret Service are, and I worked with him a lot and he had the mortal of the Secret Service tattooed in his gum – that’s what’s I’m talking about with these guys, they live it, they’re serious. He was such a great guy, he had a scar down his neck where he had been slashed by drug enforcement, and he was shot in the stomach and almost bled out, and that was engaging terrorists. He was there every second of the day so I was constantly going to him and checking, are my moves right? Am I looking the right way? You spend a lot of time talking with him, not only because it’s fascinating but because the more time you do spend talking to them and the NAVY Seals and all the people around you, the more you get in to that head space and the more you understand who they are, what they do and how they operate. The big struggle in this movie was, how do you send me through the White House? How am I always having a purpose and to tie it in with the story and what else is going on down in the bunker, because in some ways it’s an action thriller but in other ways putting those movies together is way more complex than a drama which is just about human emotions and things happening, not diminishing that because doing dramas is very fulfilling, but it’s actually sometimes harder to make an action movie great than to make a drama great, because you have to tie so many things together and it’s very easy for that stuff to become unbelievable or to not make any sense. What am I doing in the White House? I mean I loved the idea of the protocol when you go in, assessing the capabilities, what do they want? Who is in charge? What do I think they have already done? What do I know they’ve done? What are my first steps? How do I get ammo? How do I establish outside lines of communication? It’s great to see all of that stuff work, and then how do you start the psychological games and try and mess with their plan and what point do you break protocol and improvise? That was another interesting thing as well, you can train and train and train but you don’t know where you’re going to be when this happens, so the second you walk in a row you think, where are the exits? Where will they come from, and if they do, what will I have to use? You don’t always want to fire a gun because you’re in a building with 40 terrorists on you, so you’re always calling bullshit and saying, what makes sense? From a dramatic point of view, and from a Secret Service point of view as well? But they were always calling bullshit too, you know, saying “That wouldn’t happen”. But sometimes you had to say, maybe that would happen – but it wouldn’t work for our movie, so it’s what’s plausible but in the context of slightly heightened entertainment, and I think that’s why it works so well, because we’re always trying to cover ourselves.