STACK talks father-son issues and submerging an elderly POTUS with Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman and Nick Nolte.
With his own body battered and bruised over two decades as an action movie hero, it wasn’t hard for Gerard Butler to envision how his Angel Has Fallen Secret Service agent might feel after 25 years in active service.
If life imitates art then, in reprising his role for a third time as special agent Mike Banning, filming was postponed after Butler, 49, broke his foot in a motorcycle accident.
No stranger to rehab, the Scottish tough guy battled his own demons after becoming addicted to painkillers following injuries incurred while shooting surf drama Chasing Mavericks in 2011.
Fully recovered and back in fighting form, reporting to set of Angel Has Fallen, his greatest concern became how to avoid inflicting mortal injury on his co-star Morgan Freeman, now promoted to US president in this latest film.
“I was pretty nervous that I was gonna hurt him because I’m always the one there holding him, trying not to trip on his feet because he’s got big long legs,” says Butler when STACK meets with him in Beverly Hills.
“We put Morgan through a lot in this movie – days of throwing him into cars, throwing him into wheelchairs and running him up stairs and pushing him through doors. I was amazed by his endurance and his lack of complaining,” says Butler who, in this third installment, finds himself framed for the attempted assassination of the President.
The toughest scene was one where Butler rescues Freeman’s President in an underwater scene. “We had Morgan in this big pool where we had to immerse him under water and then I had to grab him and then take him down as far as I could – so it’s partly ‘go down as far as you can’ – but remember he’s 81 and he’s gonna have to breathe at some point, so bring him back up in time!”
When STACK meets with Freeman later, he is sanguine: “Well you would worry about hurting an ancient actor if you’re making him do stuff, especially since I’m not a very good swimmer. For me the worst of it was that they had me fitted out in a floating device beneath my clothes, so it was really hard to get me below water. Other than that, the director wasn‘t keen to submerge an old man under water for any longer than necessary.”
Despite all the usual high stakes stunts we have grown to expect from this franchise, Angel Has Fallen contains an important message about PTSD and finding help.
On the run and desperate for refuge, Butler’s Banning finds help in an unlikely place – with his long estranged Vietnam vet father, played by Nick Nolte.
Banning Sr. has PTSD, retreating into a paranoid life as a lone survivalist in the woods.
“Since I was playing his father, at least I didn’t have to run as fast as Gerry,” laughs Nolte. “But I think our father-son relationship really deepened this action picture and makes it something more than ‘bang, bang, bang.’”
Butler was utterly charmed by Nolte. “I have to say, having made this movie, I kinda wished that I had Nick Nolte as a father.
“I thought it would, at least, be incredibly entertaining on those few moments when I found him. It was a bit like my own father – he was very entertaining on those few moments when I found him! I didn‘t see my father for 14 years – didn‘t even know he was alive, and then I found him.
“And from then on, I would find him from time to time, so this story had a lot of personal bearing for me. And I think it had something that was always very hard in Mike’s life; not having had a father – a father who he knew had been an amazing man and had gone through a lot, but then that sits with him every day: Why does my father not want to see me? So there’s a lot of anger and confusion and abandonment issues. I thought it allowed for a lot more gravitas and pathos moments in the movie; the emotion of the meeting between him and me. As he calls it ‘old bull, young bull.’
“There’s a lot of great ideas in this movie that I find are very touching, without having to have been in the service but just in life; in families,” he adds.
If all the cast were still available after Butler’s injuries caused delays, then one disappointment for director Ric Roman Waugh was the fact they had to recast Australia’s own Radha Mitchell after she became unavailable to reprise her role as Butler’s wife. “Luckily Piper Perabo stepped in and did a fantastic job, but Radha is a wonderful actress so she was missed,” he notes.
Ask Butler how he feels about turning 50 in November and he says he’d prefer to let the milestone pass by quietly. “But I’m sure my ego will get the better of me and I’ll end up having an enormous party instead.”