HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 18: Actor Gerard Butler attends the Premiere of FilmDistrict's 'Olympus Has Fallen' at the ArcLight Cinemas Cinerama Dome on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
(NBC NEWS) -- If he and his small band of Spartan soldiers could hold off the invading hordes of thousands in "300," then certainly a single-handed Gerard Butler must stand a real chance at taking out a few dozen terrorists who've taken over the White House in "Olympus Has Fallen," right?
After venturing into rom-com territory and testing his dramatic chops, the Scotsman, 43, returns to fighting action hero form for director Anton Fuqua ("Training Day") in what is essentially "Die Hard in the White House": Butler plays a Secret Service agent pinned to a desk job thanks to a major work failure. His character finds himself the lone agent standing inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after a takeover by a terrorist cell holding the President (Aaron Eckhart) and key staff members hostage while demanding a U.S. withdrawal that could alter the global balance of power.
Because you don't just star in the film - you're also a producer - what was the first thing about it that caught your eye?
I think it would have to be the basically when the attack happens in the White House and coming from every direction - from the inside, from the outside, and I suddenly find myself saying, 'Holy s***, what have I got myself into here?' This is so ballsy and powerful and surprising that I think this is a great idea. Let's see where we can take it from here. It was about if we could make this believable and plausible and set up a scenario of a man in the White House who is very well-equipped but still against the impossible odds of these brilliantly trained extremists who are holding the president, his people and the world to ransom.
With the crisis room on the outside and a suffocating hostage situation in the bunker then we can have a great movie. And if you give those characters some real personalities that they can play with then we're going to get some great actors. And sure enough we got Morgan [Freeman] and Melissa [Leo] and Aaron [Eckhart] and Angela [Bassett]. I think they had the same reaction to the script as well. It felt like we could really make an event movie that would keep your heart pounding and keep you on the edge of your seat.
As you brought in the consultants - the guys who know the real deal at the White House - to learn more about how the whole system operates and you began layering in more reality into the story, what fascinated you about the Secret Service, about security at the White House?
We weren't just taking their advice to use psychologically, something you can just put in your performance, we were creating the story and the nitty-gritty details in what is going to be fascinating around what they were saying, because that's where we felt that we could strengthen it and really pull the audience in - when you get in that building, what are you looking for? What are you assessing? Are you going straight for the kill? What are you looking for if you're a guy in there basically with no bullets in your gun up against forty two well-armed and exceptionally well-trained terrorists and you got to get down to the president?
But you've also got to do reconnaissance. You've got to establish lines of communication with the outside world. You've got to take their advice. You've got to start some kind of psychological warfare and start screwing with your arch nemesis. You've got to play games with him, make him doubt his plan. Start to terrorize them, turn their own tactics on themselves. All of that stuff was really fascinating using the intimate knowledge of the White House. What would I do? What would I be checking that they've done, assessing their capabilities? All really kind of cool stuff.
How'd you put all of that to work for you as an actor?
That is the thing that is just in the performance: their total ability and willingness to engage their enemies and at the same time their fearlessness and in fact going beyond that, a hatred in a way. Because they're so trained to protect and in a way, respect and love the people they're protecting, that they've gone so far away from the other side that they hate anybody who is trying to do damage to that. And I felt there was a lot of value in there for my character and indeed from an audience point of view because after this horrific opening you're left baying for blood.