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Playing For Keeps - Gerard Butler interview

Playing For Keeps

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GERARD Butler talks about indulging his passion for football while making Playing For Keeps and why he could identify with his character and how he struggles to grow up when trying to handle so much fame.

He also reflects on some of his own experiences of making films, and especially the injuries he has picked up while performing his own stunts, including his near-death experience while filming surf movie Chasing Mavericks, and how he crashed into a wall with Pierce Brosnan when another stunt went wrong.

Q. Did you see the script for Playing For Keeps and think this was a chance to indulge your love of football and Celtic?
Gerard Butler: No, believe it or not this script, when I saw it, was a baseball movie. It was called Slide and I thought, ‘I can’t fucking play baseball’! I still have a rotator cuff injury from a movie that I did years ago, another soccer movie about England playing the US. In it, I was supposed to do a baseball scene and I trained for months and I hurt my rotator cuff and we ended up cutting the scene anyway. I thought baseball’s a lot harder than it looks [laughs]. Plus, we thought there’s not really an international market for baseball and it would be fun to be able to do a movie where I get to play football. And then, for me being a Scotsman… listen, I’d love for it to be Celtic and Liverpool, let’s make it a kind of Kenny Dalglish thing.” So, we went to both of those clubs and they said we could use their footage and that’s where it went from. It felt like a nice transition and a nice arc of a guy going from Glasgow to Liverpool to DC United to ‘where am I?’ I’m now in Virginia, a Scotsman in Virginia, kind of trying to start a new life. I thought the whole idea was kind of sweet and also kind of a bit pathetic.

Q. Did you get to choose your goal?
Gerard Butler: Yeah, we looked at a few goals and I got to choose the goals. The one that I could at least do something that looked half decent.

Q. Did you film any of the scenes at the stadiums themselves?
Gerard Butler: No, that was all shot inside a studio. We shot it separately and mimicked the moves from the actual games. They were European games [involving] Celtic and Liverpool and then we placed them in digitally.

Q. How are your football skills? Did you really knock the bottle off the top of the crossbar?
Gerard Butler: I did, I did do that… it just took three days [laughs]. No, it didn’t take three days. I tell you what happened. I had been practising… I mean I practised a lot so that I didn’t look like an idiot and one night I’d been taking shots from the right hand side, back behind the halfway spot, and hit the crossbar twice by hitting it with the outside of my foot. It swung around and hit the crossbar and I went: “Oh my God, this is amazing!” And then suddenly you’re there and there’s a crowd and you’re really close and you go [motions kicking the ball] and it goes low. And then you go [motions again] and it’s high. And then I realised the ball was flat.

When I used to keep the ball up, it’s easier to keep the ball up and look good when it’s a little bit deflated, but to hit the crossbar and when you’re taking a shot you want it fully pumped. And I didn’t realise that at first. But after missing it twice I decided to step up and kick it like this [motions almost kicking ball with right foot from behind his left ankle, a la Messi]. And I hit the crossbar and that’s the shot you see in the movie. It was a special moment for me. I thought if I can’t do it normally, I’ll do it this way. It wasn’t really part of the scene. But in the end I did it but my favourite moment without a doubt was the back-flick because it wasn’t supposed to happen.

Q. Have you ever played in one of the actor’s games?
Gerard Butler: Yeah, I played for Hollywood United a couple of times many years ago. But I played in a charity game for Celtic after this movie. The film kind of got me back into it a little bit so I played in a charity game for Celtic against Manchester United at Parkhead, which was 60-odd thousand people, which was maybe the most incredible moment of my life. And I had a chance after about two minutes. I’m up there with Henrik Larsson playing Man Utd and the ball comes down to me… open goal. I was at the edge of the 18-yard box but still it was not a bad chance and all I was thinking was: “Are you kidding me? I might be about to score against Manchester United.” I hit it with my left foot, and I’m not a left foot player, and I almost hit the corner flag and that was about it for my chances during the game. I also played for the Rest of the World against England in a charity game at Old Trafford. It’s just fun to get out there and to do it for a good cause makes it all the more exciting. But I tell you, when you make movies you don’t so much get to participate in that being in the moment that you do in theatre or sports games, so it takes you back and it was really exhilarating and terrifying.

Q. When you meet footballers, obviously when you work with actors you don’t get star-struck. But are you a fan when you meet them?
Gerard Butler: Absolutely! When I played in that Celtic game and Martin O’Neill was the captain for that game. He said: “Gerry Butler, I want you up front with Henrik Larrson…” I couldn’t believe I was hearing that, so I went up to Martin and said: “What should I do?” And he goes: “Just go and talk to Henrik.” So, I went up to Henrik and said: “What do you want me to do?” And he said: “Just hang off to my left, just hang off to my right and just knock it on to me.” I didn’t expect a year ago that I would be having these conversations with my absolute heroes. So, these are great moments in your life without a doubt.

I’m as big a fan of… even other actors but when it’s in a different field, such as sports, I just… I went to see the [LA] Galaxy when they just won the MLS, I was at the game, and I was standing next to Kobe Bryant and we chatted for ages and he’s a really good dude. But at the same time, you’re going: “This is Kobe Bryant!” I’m speaking to one of the best athletes of all-time and he’s actually sitting advising me on how to heal injuries and how he takes two ice baths every day. I’m going: “Fuck, I can’t do that. I may be from Scotland but…” So, yeah, there’s a lot of privileges and opportunities that come with this and sometimes you take them from granted but you sit back and realise, ‘wow, I did play in a charity game for Celtic against Manchester United’ and I played at Old Trafford against England and I’m hanging out at those games. It’s a good life.

Q. You’ve got a bit of a pattern going with football themed movies. Dynamo’s next, isn’t it?
Gerard Butler: Dynamo is a long way off. That’s very early stages. We don’t even have a script for that yet. When the project was pitched we really liked the idea. It’s like a Schindler’s List more than a Playing For Keeps. It’s a powerful and very harrowing movie. But that’s a while away from being made. I don’t like that people are bringing that up in the middle of this soccer movie because will think that’s my next movie and it’s really a good bit away.

Q. Your next movie is Movie 43, isn’t it?
Gerard Butler: [Laughs] I keep forgetting that I did that! It was one day’s work and I’m not saying… it looks like it’s going to be very funny but when people bring it up, I go ‘oh shit, there’s that’.

Playing For Keeps

Q. You’re playing a leprechaun, so how was that?
Gerard Butler: Well, it made that Irish part of me very proud. This is one of lines. They rip the tape off my mouth and I go [in Irish accent]: “When all this is over, I’m going to climb up your mother’s cunt and start a fucking camp-fire.” That’s my typical line in this movie. So, when I read that script I thought…. at one point it was going to be me and Colin Farrell. We were going to play brothers but he couldn’t make it. He conveniently couldn’t make it… ‘oh wait, I need to cut my toe-nails’! So, there were two brothers in it and I thought, ‘well, I’ll do the other brother, why not?’ This is a movie full of the most outrageous, sick ideas that people will either just deplore or really dig, or at least appreciate. I cannot believe the pool of talent that they got and what they got them to do, from Halle Berry to Hugh Jackman to Kate Winslet.

I mean I don’t know if you’ve seen Hugh Jackman? He basically has testicles coming out of his neck and he doesn’t even notice. This is par for the course for this movie. It’s one that’s not going to be easily forgotten. So, for me it was one day’s work… it was a bloody long day. It was 18 hours. But it was just one day. A little person filmed it and then I had to replicate his moves and put a bit of acting on top. So, he’s being hit, whacked and then fighting and I literally had to watch his moves… even when he went forward, how did he move his head. It was an interesting experiment in absolute nothingness!

Q. Coming back to Playing For Keeps, did you empathise with your character and how he struggles to cope with the fame of it all and women throwing themselves at him? Did you experience that?
Gerard Butler: Yeah, I think that the similarities are pretty glaring of somebody who has tasted success, who has tried to hold their centre through that success, but it’s very hard when you’re in the spotlight all the time and you’re getting money thrown at you, fans throwing themselves at you, and you’re constantly being praised… it’s hard to stay grounded, either as an actor or as a sportsman. And it doesn’t really matter what age you are. It’s a lesson you have to learn whenever you’re thrown in, whichever age you start or whenever success hits. But without a doubt for sportsmen it’s more difficult because, in a sense, you do stop developing as much when you’re thrown into the limelight in such a big way. It’s hard to mature, or for certain parts of your character to develop as they would normally if that was not your field, or your life.

So, I could empathise with this guy. He’s a good dude, he’s not a nasty guy. He’s always tried his best. He’s just been living that life where it’s made it very, very hard for him to work out exactly who he is and what the most important things in life are. And he’s only now learning this at a later age when unfortunately those plaudits and those highlights have gone from his life. He has to sit back and say: “Actually, who am I? And what do I really want?” And there’s something very sweet and, at the same time, very sad about that. I remember some guy said to me once: “You’ve got to give up the good for the better.” And I kind of understood that. You’ve got to give up all the great, exciting things but at the same time, in that respect, you’re giving up those low points as well for the better. And that’s why I think George is coming to a realisation that he’s got to settle for those things which… it’s time to grow up.

Q. Gabrielle Muccino’s films are often described as being about redemption of the common man. Is that how you approached this role?
Gerard Butler: You would say that except George isn’t your typical common man. Although, when it comes down to it he is… he’s an everyman. Listen, he could have been a sports star, he could have been anybody… a lawyer, he could have been a garbage collector. The fact is he’s come to that crossroads in his life where he says: “What is important? What is it that I really want in life?” Everything is new to him right now. He’s in a new career, he’s in a new town, there’s new people… and he’s struggling.

But at some point he realises he has to make some changes within himself and make some sacrifices if e wants to move on to the next phase of his development, whether spiritually or emotionally. So, that applies in this respect considering the career that he has had. But I also think that everybody identifies with that because we all move through different ages – from high school to university or our careers, or as we move out of our careers and start thinking family – you always come to these crossroads where you have to evaluate where you should really be. You also identify that with your peers and George looks round and everybody he knows has a kid. They all have kids and they’re still married or they have a lot more going on in a more dynamic way than his.

Playing For Keeps

Q. George’s life changes when he picks up his injury. You’ve picked up several injuries over the course of your career. How does it change your mind-set when it comes to approaching stunts? Do you feel the need to protect yourself more now?
Gerard Butler: I should do! I don’t because… I always go in saying this time I’m going to be more careful. And then in my last movie, I wish you guys had been there because you’d have seen me going: “Wait a minute! I could do this! I could run and I could fly back and I could land on the ground…” And that’s fine if you do it once but after the fifteenth take and you’re cut to shreds here [gestures arm] and here [leg] and your elbow is all swollen up… I mean at one point my arm went black and blue all the way round because I was doing this move which is a kung fu move. Someone kept whacking me and I kept doing it… I must have done it 300 times, easily, because there were two moves in the fight. But the next day my arm was black and swollen all round because when I’m doing it I’m not thinking about it. I’m like, ‘let’s do this and make it look bad-ass’. And then two movies later, when you’ve still got a chip in your bone… [laughs] You’re like, ‘why the fuck did I do that? When am I ever going to learn’?

But I do think it’s probably time to start using stuntmen more or just being a little bit more careful. But it’s hard because part of the thing I love about this, and any guy who would dig those kind of movies, is that you want to get in there and you want to do it. You want to be on that chopper, or you want to be surfing that wave, or you want to be in that fight, you want to be holding that gun. You want to be doing the shit that boys do…

Q. You had a near-death experience on Chasing Mavericks
Gerard Butler: Yeah, I did. That’s when I really went, ‘alright, this is getting stupid’. But then I went onto the next movie and did more stupidity [laughs].

Q. What went through your mind when you got caught in the wave?
Gerard Butler: It was very painful because, you know, not being able to breathe for a long time. When you’re in a wave… I’ve surfed a lot of different waves now and this wave was probably 30 or 40 times more powerful than even some of the normal ones. It’s like you’re in an avalanche and you don’t know if you’re ever coming up and you can’t breathe and there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s holding you down and you’ve lost your board, and you’re spinning and you’re spinning and you’re spinning, and nobody can do anything for you because you’re miles away. Then, you go ‘why did I do this? What was I thinking?’ But it’s too late.

And I remember other surfers talking about that, and one guy saying that when he was under he really thought that was it and he said to himself ‘I could be surfing two foot waves with my son in Hawaii right now’. And I know, or I’m sure there are a lot of people who have had those thoughts that never made it back up, that went ‘why? Why am I doing this’? And the thing is, I did make it back up but then it all started over again because no one could get to me. So, I went down another twice and that really… without a doubt that put the fear of God into me.

Q. With water in general, or when it comes to doing stunts in other movies?
Gerard Butler: With the water in general. But I do think that a lot of people get injured. If you speak to any actor, if you’re really doing a lot of your own stunts there’s always shit that goes wrong. I was in a car crash… we drove straight into a wall. Pierce Brosnan was driving the car and we smashed straight into a wall. It was 3ft high, the cable was supposed to hold us and it didn’t. He was supposed to apply the brake… I don’t know what happened but we were on this roof on the edge of a car park in a Range Rover driving full speed towards the edge of this roof. This shit happens all the time where you go, ‘oh it’s fine, we’ve checked it’. But mistakes happen. The cable didn’t hold us, we smashed into the wall, came back… my neck went out, my ribs came out, I had bruised ribs for months. There’s always kind of stuff going on. But that’s the game you choose, and that’s the fun of it, but then sometimes, 10 years later, you’re still getting your ribs cracked back in. I just had it two nights ago in Oslo… the chiropractor came over and he was like cracking my ribs back in, so… it’s fun!

Q. Does that mean you’re in or out of the 300 sequel?
Gerard Butler: I think they’ve filmed it already! So, I don’t think I’m in it [laughs]! They offered it to me but it wasn’t really… I do wish them the best with it. I liked the script. But it wasn’t really for me. I couldn’t quite understand what I was doing there in the movie. I was giving a bit of a political speech but it felt better for me not to be there.

Read our review of Playing For Keeps