Butler wrings family drama out of disaster in Greenland

From the producer of the John Wick franchise comes Greenland, which sees leading man Gerard Butler reteaming with Angel Has Fallen director, Ric Roman Waugh, for an epic sci-fi thriller.

Opening here on Aug 13, it follows a family fighting for survival as a planet-killing comet races to Earth. 
John Garrity (Butler), his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and young son Nathan make a perilous journey to their only hope for sanctuary. 

Amid terrifying news accounts of cities around the world being levelled by the comet’s fragments, the Garritys experience the best and worst in humanity while they battle the increasing panic and lawlessness surrounding them. 

As the countdown to global apocalypse approaches zero, their incredible trek culminates in a desperate and last-minute flight to the titular safe haven.

Here, Scottish actor Butler, 50, talks about why he signed up to star in Greenland (which he also produced), the storyline’s parallels to the Covid-19 pandemic and how emotional the experience was for him.

Greenland is unlike other disaster films. Did you feel the same when you first read the script?

Yes, there was something just incredibly grounded, authentic and visceral about it that I’ve never really seen in another disaster movie. 

In other disaster films, you have the choice of how much you want to focus on things like a monster or how much you want to spend time on the effects or protecting public officials like the President. 

But here, it was always about how deep and personal you want the characters to be affected, and that’s what I loved.

It almost starts as a family drama – a husband and wife trying to make things work and see if they can find a way through the difficulties of the marriage while protecting their kid. 

This comet is only a rumour in the background. 

But just as we have now with the pandemic, at first you just hear little things going on in another country and every day it gets bigger and bigger until it affects not just us, but the whole world.

The film feels very prescient for this time we are in.

This is obviously a challenging and unusual time that we are all still getting used to. We had no idea when we made this movie as to how in alignment or how relevant it would be to what is happening today. 

But I think that every conclusion between this movie and what’s currently going on, are all incredibly positive and cathartic in a way that you didn’t realise this film could help. 

It helps because it lifts you up, you realise that no matter what happens, we will prevail, we will get through it.

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Were you prepared with how emotional this film turned out while you were shooting?

Working with (director) Ric Roman Waugh, I am all about eliciting as much emotion from an audience as you can, and nobody does that better than Ric.

That’s why I wanted him for my last movie (2019’s Angel Has Fallen) because every movie of his, I have lived every moment with those characters. 

These characters are on the one hand devastated and on the other inspired.

I knew between this script and Ric’s direction that we would have a very emotional movie. But even saying that, after watching the final product, I didn’t realise how powerful it was going to be. 

It never lets up in a way that is incredibly scary, exhilarating, truthful and authentic.

The family goes through so much in the film. Is there a particular scene that stands out for you when you watch it again?

I would say the one that really stuck in my memory was the initial realisation that this comet is going to be way more damaging than we first realised. 

A viewing party becomes a final farewell to friends and families in the space of two seconds. The family then realises that we have a chance of surviving and they don’t. And as we go out of the driveway, our neighbour and dear friend begs us to take their kid. 

It was so harrowing to be in that scene and all the cast and crew standing in that neighbourhood could experience the desperation. It is very powerful in the movie as well.

The other scene would be one of the quieter moments with the family coming together to tell Nathan that we might not make it. We explain the reality of the situation, but because we are together and love each other, we couldn’t be in a better place for this to happen, which I think is the message of the movie as well.

What’s important through all of this is love and the importance of family.

How do you find a balance between your role as a producer while also starring in the film at the same time?

The first movie I produced was (2009’s) Law Abiding Citizen. I was still producing into my opening scenes and they had to come up and say, “Alright Gerry, take your producer hat off now, you have to perform”. 

Honestly, even though it turned out to be my favourite scene in the film, it was a rough day. But I learned a lot from that.

There’s a time when you have got to say, “Okay guys, don’t come to me for this, let me be here”. Then over time you just learn to work both, and I do a lot of the producing work in development and prep before the film starts shooting. Then I just choose my moments when I’m filming and once I’m actually performing, I try and not let that interfere.

I feel that producing gives you such a bigger understanding of the story that you are trying to tell – you are not just selfishly coming from your character’s point of view, but you are thinking about the bigger picture.

That really helped me to not look at the movie and go, “Where am I going to score my moments?” Instead, I look at, “How is this movie going to score as a whole?” 

When you are looking at all those bigger technicalities and practicalities of getting the movie made, it can often inform my performance.

You take on so many different roles. What influences your acting decisions?

I think that a lot of stuff has happened in the last two or three years. Some to me personally and some to the world that makes you reflect on what you are doing with your time here. 

I’m fortunate to have worked really hard and it’s allowed me to reevaluate and go, “I don’t want to work just for the sake of working. I always believe in the projects that I do”, but I think now they have to be meaningful to me and feel like they will be meaningful to the public as well.

Maybe the best way to say it is, it’s helped me to grow up in my movies – not to get rid of action, but take on a more elevated, higher calibre style of action film and something that might be different for me. 

I feel like now I can afford to take more risks and go off and do things that are interesting to me but perhaps smaller and weirder, that will leave some people scratching their heads but other people going, “Oh, that’s exactly what I wanted to see him in!”