What Gerard Butler Learned From Near-Death Experience ‘Chasing Mavericks’

August 27, 2012 | Chasing Mavericks News, Interviews

[i]Actor admits he tried to learn surfing ‘on the biggest waves possible.'[/i]

Those who’ve seen the “Chasing Mavericks” trailer know that there is a lot going on in the film — more than just great footage of surfing and the inspirational true story of surfing legend Jay Moriarity. And while those two elements alone are enough to get many surfing and Moriarity fans to buy advance tickets, star Gerard Butler promises that “Mavericks” really delivers a message about the difficulties and danger involved in the sport, as well as a tug at your heartstrings.

MTV News was lucky enough to catch up with Butler, who in addition to his acting duties also served as a producer on the film, to find out more about his near-death experiences in the ocean, earning the respect of real surf legends and his plans for making us cry during a surfing movie.

MTV News: What was it about the project that made you want to act and produce?

Gerard Butler: I love to be able to produce, especially if it’s a project that you really believe in, and this was very much a passion project for me. When you’re producing, you have a chance to get even more involved and have more of a say in the creative process at all levels actually, that’s what got me about it. But from the second I got the script and I read it, one, it’s a very powerful and emotional and inspiring story, but two, it really dives into the psyche and the danger and the courage in the sport of surfing and that was something I’d never really seen before in a major feature film. I thought, “I want to be part of telling that story. It would be an honor for me to step in there and really try and represent what goes on in the mind and heart of a big-wave surfer.”

MTV: We’ve seen “surf movies” before, a la “Soul Surfer,” “Blue Crush” and even “Point Break.” What is different about this one?

Butler: I think that anybody who watches this movie will without a doubt say that this is surfing like nobody’s ever seen before on film. When you see the surfing, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I mean, it is edge-of-the-seat stuff. It’s enthralling, takes your breath away, and it’s incredible edgy considering this type of movie. They use all kinds of processes and inventions that they’ve never used before while filming surfing, so we got just the best footage. If it was just a surf video, it would be a huge success in that alone, but fortunately, on top of that, we have a very powerful and compelling story. I’ve never seen a movie like this, and I felt that when I read the script. There was something emotional, there was a great story in there, it was a true story which was unusual and yet, like I said, it took me into the world of surfing in a way that I’d never seen.

The way we talk about waves, the way I teach Jay and the explanation of what it takes in terms of your physicality, of what it takes in terms of your mental preparation, of the things that you go through when you’re trying to ride a big wave or when you’re taken down by a big wave. You know you have to hold your breath for four minutes underwater at least, because holding your breath for one minute when you’re being thrown around like you’re in the washing machine is the equivalent of four minutes regularly. Just physically, the fitness that is required to be there as well and the power that is contained in that water, how far it will drag you down, so many things that I was reading, you say to yourself, “Wow, I never knew just how dangerous this sport was,” because you watch it and you think, “Wow, that looks cool, that looks badass,” but I didn’t know how badass you were until I read this, I did some research and I went out there myself.

MTV: You’ve mentioned a scary tumble under the water…

Butler: I had a lot of tumbles under the water [laughs]. I think everybody has a horror story or two about surfing. You don’t really get into that sport without having a couple of scary moments and good stories for the grandkids if you make it there, but just the thing is with me — I mean, having talked to a lot of surfers — I know guys who have surfed their whole lives who said they wouldn’t surf the Mavericks because it’s a very dangerous spot, but the thing is, I had to both learn to surf and then really try to wrap my head around getting on a big wave too, but I wanted to. So I went out to Mavericks, and it was probably a really stupid thing, and even when I was learning, I was always trying to learn on the biggest waves possible. So I’m surfing with some of the best guys in the world, and if you put the equation together, the beginner surfing big waves with great surfers means trouble, and you know that happened a few times where I went, “OK, that was the scariest thing I’ve ever been in.”

But the day that the big one happened, that was without a doubt a near-death experience for me. It went so far past anything I’ve ever been in — I just didn’t think I was ever coming back up. I was out of breath and desperately needing breath with water going in a third of the way through the experience, and despite that, another wave came when I really thought, “OK, I’m done. I have to get up. This is painful and horrible.” Then the next wave came, so I didn’t even get up. So the whole thing went, and I went through the whole thing again, and then when I got up for maybe three or four seconds, the next wave got me, so I went back down again, and then the next wave got me. The guy who eventually pulled me out, and even he said, “That would be a scary thing for any of us.” And those guys have spent their lives learning how to be under big waves and how to stay under for a long time.

MTV: Were you able to shake that off and keep surfing? What stuck with you?

Butler: What happened, I don’t even know if that was a negative thing. I guess it was kind of horrific in its time, but it was really in some ways a very powerful and profound experience. You connect with something like that and you do kind of come out of there, “S—, I don’t have such a long time, I’m going to go out and enjoy myself and appreciate it.” And it’s something that Grant did: Grant Washburn in this movie is a poet, and he said when that wave holds you down, when the water holds you down, it just pushes you down, it says, “You know what I’m going to do is I’m going to let you up this time, but I don’t have to. I can just hold you here and you should be aware of that when you come back up.” And you say, “I’m aware, I’m aware. Thank you, thank you.” And be a little more respectful next time, and it gave me a much, and I feel like I already had a healthier respect, but obviously not healthy enough, I tell you. I was ready to go right back out an hour later, although they had to take me to the hospital.

Often when you do something, especially leisure activities, you realize this is like a whole other chapter, this opens up a whole other area to my life. And I’ve never necessarily been a water guy, I never was somebody who spent a lot of time in the water, probably as much as your average person, but I suddenly had to spend a lot of time in there and connecting in that respect, but that wave as the sun rolls down, and the water’s all golden and shiny on the cliffs of Malibu and Hawaii, just the feeling of being there and being surrounded by the surfers, or being surrounded by nobody, it’s a very spiritual, Zen thing. And the absolute excitement and the fear and the challenge, and then almost what was better than anything of that was surfing with some of the best surfers in the world.

I tell ya: As a kid from Scotland, I always had this feeling that surfing represented ultimately the USA, beach life and badass dudes. And I’m just a kid in Scotland like, “I can’t surf,” and suddenly you’re surfing with some of the best guys in the world and in one of most beautiful and most powerful and dangerous surf spots in the world. And just paddling with those guys and having them accept you in, because I try hard and they knew I was in this for the right reasons. And I wanted to make surfers look as good as they deserve to look, especially big-waves surfers. And I went out there and gave it my all and they really appreciated that.

MTV: Well, it’s obvious that you’re genuinely passionate about this story and the entire filming experience.

Butler: You get it from my character, but you really get it from Jay Moriarity [played by newcomer Jonny Weston] because that’s what he was about and that’s why you can’t not be won over by this story and him. This is a kid who just wanted, all he wanted to do was surf and all he really wanted to do was to surf this big wave. He felt it was his destiny and he had such hardships in his life — his father wasn’t around, his mother was there but she wasn’t, she had all kinds of issues of her own. He took care of himself, he ran out of his own money, and despite all that, he’s like, “Just let me do this one thing, it’s what I was made for,” and he surfed Mavericks when he was 15 years old.

And he chased down Frosty [Messon, Butler’s character] who became his mentor, and he said, “Buddy, if you don’t teach me this, I’m going to go out there on my own.” And, basically, he would have died, so the kid has so much passion and was so full of wonder and excitement about life and the sport and really touched everybody he met. And that’s what I felt when I went to Santa Cruz: Everybody knew Jay, everybody had a story about Jay. He really, truly affected a whole community, and it was really like he was just a simple guy. The pride in that community about him, who he was and to be there to tell that story about him, it’s one of those times you think, “I’m very lucky to do what I do.”

MTV: So, what you’re saying is we’re probably going to shed some tears while watching this one.

Butler: Oh, you’ll cry [laughs]. It really makes you cry.

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