Jump to content
Gerard Butler GALS

10/1 - #GerardButler: "Modern Maverick"


Recommended Posts

Gerard Butler is used to scaring himself—he's the kind of man who does his own stunts—but surfing the world's deadliest wave for his new movie @ChasingMavs required him to dive deeper. #LiveLikeJay With photos by Sam Jones. @Delta "Modern Maverick"

Saturdays Surf NYC is in the middle of downtown Manhattan, but it sells boards and boardshorts and beach towels, and the Aussies working there brew a pretty gnarly iced espresso. The SoHo shop isn't completely for tourists—there's a great patio out back where you can eavesdrop on actual conversations about pipelines and barrels from the North Shore of Oahu to Rockaway Beach in Queens. But it probably ranks as the closest this Midwesterner has yet come to legitimate surfing culture.

I was at Saturdays on a research mission before my interview with Gerard Butler, the 42-year-old star of Chasing Mavericks, the new surfing movie directed by Michael Apted and 8 Mile's Curtis Hanson. Butler plays Frosty Hesson, a real-life Northern California big wave surfer. Mavericks is a cross between Dogtown and Z-Boys and The Karate Kid. It follows Butler's Frosty as he trains a 15-year-old kid named Jay Moriarity to surf Mavericks, the nickname of a behemoth wave north of Santa Cruz. It's all based on a true story, and when I asked my Aussie barista-dude at Saturdays if he had any books on Mavericks or Moriarity (who died in 2001), he stood still and got this full fathom five look in his eye. "Jay Moriarity?" he repeated in a big Aussie accent. "Legend." I was sent to the patio with a fat stack of surfing lit.

Gerard Butler has been living in Los Angeles for the past couple of years, but he grew up in Scotland, where the water is nearly as cold and unsurfable as a frozen Minnesota lake. Before he filmed Mavericks, Butler didn't know much more about surfing than I did. Sure, Butler is an extreme actor who prides himself on his physicality—this is 300's King Leonidas himself we're talking about—but Mavericks has taken the lives of surfers who had been riding big waves for decades. And he's a 40-something Scottish actor, attempting to surf one of the most frigid (water temps can regularly drop to 47 degrees Fahrenheit during the surf season), most terrifying waves (not only can it crest to 50-plus feet, but Mavericks is on the tip of the "red triangle," a huge Great White feeding zone) in the entire world. A spiritual experience was inevitable—because he nearly died, multiple times. This is our conversation about that experience.

So I interviewed Frosty before interviewing you. He said you have "impressive stoke."

What's stoke?

Stoke is a surfer's term. I guess it's like stoking a flame. He explained it as "having enthusiasm for the water."

Oh, as in "stoked"! Like I'm stoked. I'm totally excited.

Right, but they use it as a noun as well. As in, "he has stoke."

That's not fair. Because he didn't teach me that lingo and now I sound like an idiot in the interview. "He's got stoke." I tell ya, Frosty has this incredible heart and he was very welcoming to me. Because I couldn't help but feel like an imposter, coming up to Santa Cruz and going, "OK, I'm trying to play you, one of the best big wave riders out there, who taught this kid how to surf one of the most dangerous waves in the world when he was 15 years old."

Frosty had Jay write essays describing his own fears to help him learn about the inevitable failure and fear out at Mavericks. Did he employ any of this pedagogy when he was teaching you?

I have to say, he didn't give me any essays to write. Although I'm sure if he could've gotten away with it, he would have. But he's always throwing out a tidbit of wisdom or information here and there—he has information for every area in life. But what I really gravitated toward was his description of what it is to have the heart and the soul of a surfer. The courage that it takes. What you actually have to deal with out there. For instance, he would talk about Mavericks. How you wouldn't know which way you were going and if you were to swim one way you would be swimming to your death. And it's what I had come to deal with myself when I had my whole shenanigans down there—the distance between fear and absolute panic is the distance between life and death.

Frosty told me that at one point you asked, "I wanna know what it's like to wipe out." And he said, "I'm not sure you want to know that, man." Then you wiped out, pretty seriously.

I actually wiped out really pretty seriously a few times, to be honest. Because I was learning [and went] from a guy who's never been on a surfboard to not only surfing a wave, but messing around with water that was way too ferocious and waves that were way too big for me.

These guys do things on a daily basis that 99 percent of the population would find unimaginable—and even a lot of people who would just surf a regular wave—to know the sound and force of a big wave, a wave more than 15 or 20 feet high. It's like a train hitting you. Or a train is passing by you. And it's awesome. And everybody kept telling me: When you get to Mavericks, when you get out there, nothing will prepare you for what you're going to experience in terms of sight and sound and feeling. And I always thought I was going to be disappointed. And I was so not disappointed. It was a buzz like nothing else. And you ask, why do you seek that buzz, whether it's surfing or anything? It's because in those moments you feel so alive. You know, that adrenaline puts you in the present. And the pride that you take in yourself for trying to take on something that's so much bigger than you can just wipe you out. It's such a great feeling.

You did tow-in surfing.

I did! I did tow in. Yeah. [Laughs] I learned to tow-in surf at Oxnard, just north of LA. There are great big, beautiful, powerful waves there. I learned how to stand up on the board, almost like wakeboarding, by learning to stand on a surfboard while it's being dragged along by a boat.

How did you get hurt?

I was actually out at Mavericks. The first week, I went out and I surfed a couple of really fair-sized waves. And that was an incredible day. To have all the surfers around you and to see how excited the crew was. But then the next week, we weren't even surfing. My instructor was like, "Dude, we're not going to surf today, but let's just see how we can handle water that's this dangerous." And I'm paddling out, saying to myself, "OK, this doesn't really feel right." And I can sense this wave on either side of me, in front of me, behind me, underneath me, and a couple of minutes later, it picks me up and slammed me down and I thought that I had been hit by a baseball bat. And I must've fallen down about 12 feet or something.

Now, either it was just the force of the water hitting me or the board hit my head, but it whacked my head and I went right down to the bottom. I'm 10, 15 feet under water, spinning in every direction, my leash is gone and the next wave just came in and I hadn't even gone up to the top. I was out of breath halfway through the first wave, and now the second wave's coming in, and I'm in big trouble. It was just me and [surfer] Grant Washburn out there, and he wasn't particularly close. When you're under a wave, there's nothing you can do. You're at the mercy of something else. Surfers know they might be in the thick of it for four minutes. Because that's the other thing: For me, it wasn't over when I thought it was over. Grant Washburn is 6-foot-6 and the calmest guy I've ever seen in my life, and when I came up after being down for two waves, he came over in the jet ski and he looked terrified. He couldn't get to me. And he had to turn. And that look on his face, like, "I'm so sorry," because the next wave was coming and he had to get out. And the next wave took me down and it started all over again. I was in there for a while, and it felt like an eternity. All I could cling on to was: "Stay calm. Stay calm." And I think just like in Mavericks, that's a life lesson. What it teaches in surfing, it really teaches in life.

Frosty was definitely a father figure for Jay Moriarity, who grew up without a dad. Did you have somebody who stepped up when your dad wasn't around? [butler's parents split up when he was 18 months old and Butler didn't see his father again until he was 16.]

Fortunately, [being part of] a big Catholic family in Scotland, you always have aunts and uncles and cousins who are always there to show you the ropes. But I'm not going to lie and say that it didn't hurt growing up without a father. Or that I could've learned a lot more just with somebody actually being there, showing me these manly things. However, my mom, because she had such a set of balls on her, she was like my mom and my dad. She was very sensitive and loving, and at the same time she was tough as nails. And she just always was the woman who, no matter what was going on, you always knew she had an answer for it. I literally felt, in a lot of ways, invincible as a kid.

You've done father-son movies before.

I do feel that I gravitate toward them. I know that it's been a subject matter of huge fascination to me and some of the best work I've done, for instance Dear Frankie, or even the movie coming out soon: Playing for Keeps. You can see the power of a parent/child relationship; you see they have the best intentions, but life or the culture screws them up or whatever it is.

You say you felt invincible when you were a kid. Part of the appeal of big-wave surfing seems to be the adrenaline rush that comes with risking your life.

When I look back at things that I did on a day-to-day basis when I was younger, I go, "Really?" There were death-defying moments from one moment to the next. I'm amazed I'm still around. But, you know, I do see myself as a bit of an adventurer. But I don't heliski or anything. Well, actually, I was learning to fly a helicopter just last week. And I jumped a speedboat in this lake for the movie I'm shooting—we did 115 miles an hour. This was a couple of days ago. Actually, as I'm telling you this . . . I also ride a motorbike. I have a Harley sitting in here. [Laughs]

So you are a bit of a risk-taker.

You still do things to feel that rush. Yeah. Listen, I love to get involved in all my own stunts. Like in this movie I'm shooting now [a Secret Service movie called Olympus Has Fallen], I have beaten the s*** out of myself. And I took photos of all the cuts, abrasions, bruises. I had a bruise bigger than my fist on the back of my leg and one almost as big as that on the front of my leg. A burn. I had a bullet cartridge hit me in the eye. Fortunately, I was blinking at the time, but it hit my eyelid and it smacked me. Knocked my head back. Hurt my back trying to lift up a guy in the middle of a fight. Slammed myself so many times, because you do these takes 15, 20, 25 times. So if you're going to fall backward, you're doing that again and again and again. And by the way, that suits me. I like to get involved and give it that kind of energy.

How do you prepare for that kind of physical beating?

It's funny, because that's what Mavericks is all about, isn't it? Facing up to your fears. I actually love to do stuff that I know is going to scare me s***less. I'm not saying I'm the bravest guy in the world, not at all. But I do know that that adrenaline and that excitement—and in actual fact, a big fear of failure or a fear of your own lack of courage—in a way makes me want to test it all the time. And that's always led me to take on these things way beyond my means or talents.

Where does that courage come from?

Sometimes my intention and my purpose feel so strong that I know that there is no not getting to where I'm going. And I think that's from my upbringing; my mother was very like that. It's also part of my culture. You watch any movie about Scotland and they have a lot of good stuff going for them and one of them is their fighting spirit. And I think that I have that. And I often think your wish to get ahead, your wish to be successful in some things comes from an insecurity that you had as a kid. That need to push yourself beyond those boundaries: "I will not fail." Because in actual fact, I'm terrified. So I'm going to try 10 times harder than everybody else. And I think what's cool is that with age you learn to relax a little bit, you know? You go, Listen, I've made my mark. Now I'm doing what I do because I love it and I can see everything with a little more perspective.

Surfing is a sport, but there's no final score. You do a lot of athletic stuff in your movies. Were you an athlete back in Scotland?

Well, I was very athletic at school. When I was younger, I played soccer a lot. I played badminton. I played a bit of tennis. I ran. You know, I was in track and field. I did all of that. So I was very fit. I was always doing something. I was running. But surfing? No. I had done it maybe twice in my life. For a total of three hours. And over the last couple of years, living in LA, I thought, "You know, I really wish I had taken up surfing more." For me, it always epitomized the difference between a little Scotch boy and the American culture and the way of life. Those muscled-up dudes out there on the surfboards surfing in on a big wave. And you're like, "Wait a minute, I'm from Glasgow, we don't do that s***." You know, first thing, the water would turn us blue and we would die of hypothermia before we get out three feet.

Surfers often seem disappointed with surfing movies because the actors are not putting their butts on the line, but it sounds like you did. And that's sort of crazy.

All the way back to the days of 300, it was my ambition that if it works for the guys I'm working with, then surely it's going to work for the audience. If I could get respect from all my stuntmen, and they're not saying, "You're a lightweight actor trying to do something else," but "You really are busting your chops. And you're here with us on the frontline ready to take a hit, take a beating." And to get appreciated by others who see you doing that is an incredible feeling.

But what really touched me about those guys was their humility. Having now gotten involved in this movie and talked to a lot of people and having been out there even just a little bit, I realize more and more how they live and what they go through. And to know that they weren't sitting there bragging, "Oh, I surfed this wave . . . ." They were very quiet. I had to push them: "How dangerous was that?" "How awful was that moment?" I wanted to get to the stage where I deemed myself worthy to lead the men. I wasn't going to stand up there and say [to myself], "You're a fraud." Which is what I felt when I stood in front of Frosty. But I knew that the best I could do is get into the water with them and surf.

Steve Marsh -Source

Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Photos by Sam Jones

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you, Barb!!! Interesting interview. I have to add, are actors being put in harms way just to make a movie more realistic? Gerry has so many injuries from his movies. I don't like all of the eye injuries he has had from this movie and MGP. Eventually, these near misses will catch up with him and he will get seriously injured, all for a movie. Actors used to be protected by the studio system. Now they are pushed to be in stunts for the sake of realism and the ego of the director.

~HUGS~ Kathy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

What a great interview. He puts it all out there, doesn't he?

He is just so good at expressing himself. I love to hear him talk.

I can hear his voice even when I read an interview.

Love him absolutely,


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...