GERARD Butler talks about starring in and producing violent new thriller Law Abiding Citizen, why some scenes had to be cut and why it asks so many questions of the legal system.
He also reveals why playing a man who loses everything and then turns vigilante killer left him in a pretty funky place afterwards, needing to climb some mountains in Scotland and head off to Indiaâ€¦
Q. As a former law student and trainee solicitor, I imagine that the script had a huge attraction from the start?
Gerard Butler: Yeah, that was one of the initial attractions obviously having been involved with the law. But also having realised that after being involved with the law that I know longer wanted any involvement with it. So, to then come across this idea, which is a real indictment of the legal system, or the way that it can be administered. But that wasn’t the main reason I was interested. First of all, it was a great story. It’s as much of a climbing into the mind of a person who’s been so wrongedâ€¦ everything in his life has been changed in one moment. So, what must that be like? And what lengths would you go to as a person to take revenge? I thought that was a far more compelling reason for me to do the movie because that’s what would fascinate me as an audience member and as an actor.
Q. This also marks your first time as a producer?
Gerard Butler: Yeah, it was an interesting experience because I’d never done it before. But it came at a time that I felt I was getting a lot more say in movies, which movies were being made and when people were making movies on my back. So, I thought I wanted to be a little more involved and to get some credit for it. Initially, when we were in negotiations with the financing company they wanted us just to be the executive producers. But that was a deal breaker because we wanted to produce it and actually work on it. My manager, especially, was there months before the production started working on it every day. For me, it was two years of slowly but surely getting this thing going, working on the script and developing it. We went through another directorâ€¦ it was a long journey.
Q. You spent time with criminologists so what did you learn from that experience?
Gerard Butler: There was one specific criminologist who had written a great paper on serial killers but especially revenge killers. He had gone very much into the obsessive nature of this but also the rewards and how somebody who gets into it can really get carried away in a really egotistical way and enjoy hugely the power that they get from itâ€¦ the cathartic experience because their whole life has become about this objective. They have nothing left, so that was something that definitely tied into my character because he really loses everything in that moment. Therefore, he can take great enjoyment out of this plan that he’s been carrying out.
Q. Did you find yourself taking some of this material home at the end of the day?
Gerard Butler: Absolutely. I don’t think I was always in a good space when we were filming this movie. One, because of the character I was playing and what he was going through, but also because I was trying to produce and I was acting in it as well. This was a type of role that I’d never played before and it was also very dark. We dealt with a lot of issues while we were filming but I think that’s why we’ve made such a great movie because there was always so much discussion about making sure that this story was fool-proof and that every moment was different.
We wanted to maintain the suspense while ensuring that it remained in some way believable. I noticed a lot of the time I was filming that I wasn’t in a great space or my stomach would be churning because of the other issues that were going on. I spent three weeks or a month in a very, very funky place. I actually came back to Scotland after that and went away on my own a lot. I climbed a couple of hills, got a tent out and then went off to India.
Q. Is it true that you originally signed on to play the Jamie Foxx character? Why did you switch?
Gerard Butler: Well, through developing this story I was always going to play the prosecutor. But the more time went on, the more I became seduced by the other role. It was something I’d never played before. I’ve often played the more heroic with a more straight-forward, subtle journey and I wanted something I could get my teeth into a bit more. We also figured that Jamie would most likely prefer to play the prosecutor. So, when I was speaking to the rest of the [creative] team I said: â€œDo you think Jamie would still be interested if I offered to play the other role?â€ The second I said it, there was a pause and I thought I shouldn’t have said it because they might agree. But they did and I was screwed. In hindsight, though, I don’t have any regrets.
Q. Will you continue producing?
Gerard Butler: I don’t know. The film that I did after Law Abiding Citizen with Jennifer Aniston, I wasn’t a producer on that. But we have a few different movies we’re developing that I’d love to work on. I’m not averse to doing it again and I don’t doubt that I’ll be doing it again. Hopefully, I’ll have learned some serious lessons.
Q. What lessons have you learned from your experience as a producer?
Gerard Butler: One thing I’ve learned as an actor as well as a producer is to trust my own instinct. I think when I first started acting I would sometimes have ideas about certain things, whether it’s a scene, or a character or certain dialogue, that wouldn’t be followed. I was never in a position to have the power to press the matter. Sometimes it wasn’t even about my character. But I’d watch the movie afterwards and think I was right. I’d see that what they did in that situation was wrong. I noticed that the more involved I became in actually developing stories, I could actually have a huge amount of input and contribute some really good stuff. On this movie, I had so much to do with how the story turned out. In fact, some of the mistakes that were made [on this] stemmed from the few times I didn’t stand up for myself.
Q. Is there a danger than you then become a bit of a pain in the arse for a director?
Gerard Butler: Absolutely! But then it can be a pain in the arse for an actor and a producer if you have a director that doesn’t listen [laughs]. The problem was not with the director. Most of these talks arose before F Gary Gray was even chosen as director. It was to do with the writing of the project and previous positions that were filled. They did not fulfil their tasks and it caused the movie to take a lot longer to be made and cost a lot more money. But through that, the strange thing is we’d almost been down every single avenue or possibility to analyse this â€“ so it cost extra money but we felt it only made the film stronger. It was just more stressful. I also learned that I can be more economical with the force that I have to use. I had a lot more sway than I realised.
Q. Did you discuss how much violence you showed? It is very violentâ€¦
Gerard Butler: There was a discussion about how intense the violence would be. What was cool is that there was nobody who was trying to shy away from the violence. You always think somebody will be slightly less into the violent aspect. But we all realised that was what was going to make this movie stand out because it packs a punch but it’s completely motivated. There’s also a huge popcorn element to this movieâ€¦ as much as it talks about the legal system, and it’s all true, it also gets to the point where it’s just pure entertainment and you have to go and have fun with it. At that point, we were pushing every bit of violence that we could [laughs]â€¦ and having to be cut back. There were a couple of things we had to take out of the final cut.
Q. What was deemed too far?
Gerard Butler: There’s one scene where I stab my cellmateâ€¦ you see this guy bleed to death. This guy was a cage fighter and he said: â€œJust punch me.â€ So, I had this steak bone, which wasn’t real of course, but I was punching it with my fist in his throat maybe about 20 times. The blood was literally pouring out of his throat. We did it in one shot and it worked so perfectly â€“ the blood gushed out, then started to slow down and you basically watched this guy bleed out in front of you. We had guys working on this who had worked in the industry for 30 years who were standing in front of the camera with their hands over their mouths going: â€œHoly f**king shit! I’ve never seen anything like that!â€ It was incredibly graphic and incredibly powerful but the ratings board said that unless we wanted it to be rated NC-17 we had to cut it out. I wish we’d kept it in.