Gerard Butler on his close calls with natural disasters

Cape Town – It's 2019 and after several natural disasters hit Earth, 18 nations have banded together and commissioned a natural disaster defense system nicknamed "Dutch Boy", a series of climate-controlling satellites surrounding Earth centred around the International Climate Space Station.

The project is run by scientist Jake Lawson - the architect behind it all who commands a multinational crew on board the station.

300 actor Gerard Butler plays the lead character Jake Lawson in the disaster film Geostorm. Butler sat down for a Q&A about his role.

What about your character, Jake Lawson, did you connect with?

I’ve often portrayed characters in action movies who possess a warrior spirit and who are very physical. With Geostorm it was fun to play a cerebral character – a scientist, and bring a little geekiness to him. Jake is also a little bit awkward, not so great with other people, single-minded, stubborn, and a little arrogant.

Part of Jake’s story is how he learns to deal with the other scientists on the space station, and, especially, connect with his brother. Jake must learn to get over himself and, with his brother, fight to save the planet from these geostorms. It’s also about scientists learning to work together to unravel a mystery and stop a global disaster. I love that theme of unity, which is very inspiring.

Did you do any research about meteorology or space stations? Did you immerse yourself in that world?

A lot of it was in the script, but I did read a lot on those subjects. I met some scientists and astronauts at NASA. Our director Dean Devlin was concerned that the science he described in the script was just too far out there, so he consulted some people from NASA, telling them, “Look, I’m writing about building a shield around the world – a system of satellites and a space station. How crazy is that?” And the scientists said, “Actually, it’s not crazy. We’ve talked about something like that and have asked ourselves if it will one day be possible to control the weather.” It’s a fascinating concept.

Geostorm was filmed in New Orleans. What do you think of that city?

I’ve done three films in New Orleans, which is one of my favourite places. At one time, I thought of buying property there, because I love the people, food and music. I always have an amazing time there.

You filmed many scenes on enormous sets. What was that experience like? 

Our sets were phenomenal. I’ve never worked on sets like this and Kirk Petruccelli, our production designer, did an amazing job. Every time I would walk on the sets, I was transported somewhere. There was a quarter mile of corridors and tunnels, and even after a couple of months, I still got lost in there.

The detail of the sets was extraordinary, especially the loading dock on the International Space Station, and NASA Ground Control. It was an incredible place to work and to get lost in. It allowed me to really experience this environment. At times, I really felt like I was in a space station. When I was sitting on a space shuttle, it was like I was taking that journey into space with Jake.

You have some emotional scenes with Talitha Bateman, who portrays Jake’s young daughter, Hannah.

Those scenes with Talitha are my favourites. They took me by surprise. Talitha was just amazing – she was teaching me about acting! Our scenes together were beautifully written; you see how much Jake loves Hannah and how she’s become his friend. But at the same time, Hannah gives Jake a hard time, and he doesn’t quite know how to handle her. Jake is not skilled at dealing with these situations.

What kind of relationship does Jake have with his brother, Max, played by Jim Sturgess?

It’s an emotional relationship, but Jim and I also had fun with it. The two brothers are highly competitive, and usually angry with each other. Jake unfairly blames Max for everything that went wrong in Jake’s life, which flips the older brother / younger brother dynamic.  Here, Jake is like the younger brother. He must grow up and learn to be the older brother. Still, that dynamic also involves some fun interactions between Jake and Max, who make each other crazy as they try to work through their issues.

On the space station, Jake leads a team of scientists and astronauts, who are played by an international ensemble of actors. What was it like working with them? 

It was an absolute blast. The international cast reflects the film’s global scale. Although we come from different countries and cultures, and sometimes think in different ways, there was always a mutual respect, and we had a lot of fun. Everybody was up for this movie and there were no egos. We melded together beautifully. We all knew we were making a big, fun movie, and we enjoyed ourselves.

Have you ever encountered any crazy weather during your travels and adventures? 

Yes, I’ve experienced a lot of extreme weather. I was in New York City for Hurricane Sandy, which was unforgettable. I was stuck downtown in my apartment for several days.

I was in Iceland, filming, and we experienced four hurricanes in one month. One day, the roof of the hotel next to ours was blown off. Three times our base camp disappeared. We literally came to set and everything was gone, and we never found it. It just blew into the ocean.

I recently biked a thousand miles through Utah and experienced a couple of tornado-like storms. We’d be going about sixty miles an hour and blinding gusts that I’d never experienced before would come across us. I thought I was going to take off.  

What do you hope audiences take away from Geostorm?  

I think there are so many things to take away from this movie because it works on many levels. At its core it’s a movie about unity – about people coming together. That’s always an inspiring message, especially in disaster movies. Then there’s the conspiracy storyline, which you get involved in and enjoy. And of course there are epic disaster sequences. The film is fun, visceral and exciting.

Catch Geostorm tonight at 20:05 on M-Net (DStv 101).

(Photos: Warners Bros.)

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