Adventuring, at least in movies, for Gerard Butler, seems to be in his blood, what with Lara Kroft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Timeline, Reign of Fire and 300 under his belt. But the Scottish actor is getting he feet wet in good ole family entertainment in not one but two roles in Nim’s Island, which was released on Friday. Here’s a Q&A with the actor.
Talk about the two characters you play in the film, Jack and Alex Rover?
Jack is Nim’s dad. He’s a scientist who is crazy, passionate about the smallest things in life. Jack has huddled up and stowed himself away in this island that he really doesn’t want anyone to know the whereabouts of, so they can live their life in peace. Nim and Jack have a great relationship. They are best friends. Jack gets himself into a bit of trouble by going out on one too many adventures. Alex Rover himself is an adventurer, who kind of lives as an alter ego to Jodie Foster’s Alexandra Rover. He is the epitome of courage, motivation, inspiration and good humor.
How did it come about that you were considered for both roles?
I never went in for either but they offered me one role and my agent said, he’s not going to do that but why don’t you offer him both roles and then it might be a more tempting proposition’. So they said, ‘OK, we will do that.’ Then when I read the script, we all agreed it could not have been anything different, that one person to play both roles just seemed like the perfect way to go about this and get more into that fantastical element of the story. So that’s when I decided to come aboard.
How tough was it to play both parts? Were you switching between the two on the same day?
Very rarely, but it was unavoidable. They made me a promise; look, we are really going to avoid you having to play both roles in the same day as much as possible, but there are going to come times when we are going to be adding a bit of a false beard here with a hair plucker there! There were times when we were wiping off a seven-minute sunburn and then putting on seven minutes more, or we’d be putting on the wig, taking off the wig. In fact, there was one time when I had to swap twice. I had to have the wig on, and then change to Jack and take the wig off then go back to Alex Rover and have the wig on and that was a huge pain in the ass!
How did you approach playing such a swash-buckling character like Alex Rover: seriously or tongue-in cheek?
It was a bit of both. There were times when it was tongue-in-cheek and times where it was serious. There were moments for instance when I’m dealing with Nim or towards the end with Alexandra that it gets far more intimate and meaningful. Although it was a serious message, it was delivered in a very fun way. The second Jodie and I got together and started playing these parts, we realized that this was how it had to be done. You always try to play it in same respect usually, but you understand that there is humor lying in there and you cannot get too heavy with it. It doesn’t need that. The message is better passed on by lightening it up.
Can you talk about the specific challenges for each role?
The biggest challenge was gauging it right, especially between both of us and not going too far to the comedic side and making these roles caricature, but at the same time, not getting too heavy with them. For Jack, I think it was just dealing with the sea. It was winter in Australia, so there was a cold wind blowing in there and there were times when I was standing all day just soaking wet – not even wet – but soaking wet because the scenes I was doing I had just been in the water. So literally, I had to be dripping with water. Either water falling off me, or I was lying in cold water at the bottom of the boat because supposedly I had just been knocked out. I spent a lot of time lying in freezing water, or diving into the sea, which was freezing. Of course, I could not have anything on like a wet suit, so that was a bit of a pain in the ass. Some of it was in the studio, but even in the studio when you are just sitting about, nothing is worse than being in wet clothes unless it is a hundred degrees and even then, it is a pain in the ass. It never was a hundred degrees. On the sea, I felt like I was in a refrigerator at times.
Jack is quite the fixer and very self-reliant. How are you in that department?
I’m clueless. I was thinking that I better never get lost at sea. If anything were to happen to me out at sea, I would be so lost. I don’t know if I would be more scared of dying or just embarrassed at how hopeless I was. Fixing things is not my thing, which is weird because as a kid I was great at that sort of thing, but somewhere along the line, I must have quit.
Have you spent much time on the water sailing?
I have not really spent much time sailing. I have sailed a little bit and when we were in Australia I sailed with a whole team of people around Sydney Harbor, which was the most beautiful experience, but no, in terms of knowing what I was doing on the sea, I did not at all.
You went from one extreme to another with your characters. What was that like?
I find that whenever I am doing films, I sit back and think, what did I get myself into? There are times you just suddenly get a hold of yourself and you think what the hell am I doing here? To be honest, that is a bit like me in my life. I am constantly thinking how the hell did I get here or where did this come from? You constantly evaluate the weirdness in one day and how you have swung from one thing to another. That is kind of what happens in this movie. OK, today I am out at sea freezing. OK, today I am in the studio with Jodie and I am trying to drag her out of a door. OK, today spiders are attacking me. OK, today I am being carried around by a bunch of natives. OK, just give me your best shot, whatever you have got!
Was this film a completely different energy for you compared to your other films?
Yes. I have done other films like Dear Frankie and P.S. I Love You but in some ways, the bigger, more macho roles that I do stand out more. I do a lot of different roles, but those 300-Gladiator style films are just the ones that stick more in your memory for good or bad reasons.
You’re not a dad in role life, so how did you develop that rapport with Abigail? Was it important?
It was important, but sometimes the most important thing is realizing that you don’t have to work at something. From the second we hung out we hit it off fantastically. I literally fell in love with this girl. That is the kind of girl that makes me want to have a daughter. I can hang out with this girl all day. We have so much fun. She can be my daughter. She can be my friend. She just is so cool. The first time we read, Mark Levin, the director, literally had tears flooding his eyes. He was just so happy to see us reading this together because he said we were so great together.
What was it like to work with Abigail?
She is more grown up than half of the grown ups I have worked with. And yet as much fun. My final day, Abigail painted something on canvas for me. It was beautiful and I was so touched. But when she gave it to me, part of it was not dry yet, so when I was sitting it was rubbing against me, and I had paint all over my pants. But it was beautiful that she did this painting for me but I felt bad that I ruined it!
Did you work with the pelicans, seals and sea lions like Abigail?
I did, but not as much as her. It was interesting. Sea lions are huge and they were like four times the size of Abigail. I didn’t realize how big they were until you get up close and then you can see how these things could do so much harm if they wanted to. I had to do a scene where I was running down with a massive bag towards one, and they were like, “OK, can you just stop and swing your bag over your head and put it down and get down next to the sea lion?” And I was thinking this thing is going to bite my head off if I do this! He’s this big, cumbersome, slimy thing and I’m coming down towards him with this flat thing that he probably thinks is his sister and I am coming after him and he probably wants to bite my head off. The pelican, talk about a life of its own. We never knew what that thing was going to do. I did a scene and it flew behind me instead of to my side. He was literally behind me and could have ripped my ear off. You couldn’t actually see his body because he was behind my body and he raised his wings and literally it looked like I had wings. It is hard to play a scene with a bloody pelican behind you that nips people!
How did you get along with Jodie Foster?
It was easy getting along to be honest. That woman, considering what an amazing talent she is, is so easy going. That was one of the most refreshing things about this film was to realize how cool she was and how she didn’t dominate and didn’t try to control and just let things flow, which for me is the best kind of space to work in. So we both just immediately got along and worked together great and I felt so relaxed working with her and this was just one of those things where we started doing the scenes and we were like, ‘this is awesome!’
So you were trained as a lawyer and wound up as an actor. How did that happen?
Perhaps going into the wrong career, developing a drinking problem and then following my dreams if you can ever describe all that in under 20 words, then that was pretty much it! I’d always known I wanted to get into acting, but the legal training had taken over and then things just got crazy in my life and the decision was made for me and I moved down to London and just caught a couple lucky breaks. I stepped into a film, got a manager in LA and then a couple years later came out and then just went from there.