Much more so than his peers, Gerard Butler gives a refreshingly honest interview.
But rather than that being a surprise it just feels right. You can immediately tell he is grounded and aware of his reputation, yet at the same time he oozes a presence and holds himself in such a way that his star quality is just as apparent, too.
Even when he is sick. Which is what he was when I sat down with the 48-year-old earlier this month to discuss “Den Of Thieves.” “It’s not the best time to start press. Because I was sick. I hate doing press sick. Because it’s not easy at the best of times.”
But Butler is hell-bent on promoting “Den Of Thieves,” especially because it gives us a very different Gerard Butler. As Big Nick, a corrupt LAPD officer intent on bringing down a group of intelligent bank robbers before they break into LA’s Federal Reserve Bank, Butler is ferocious, commanding, dominant, and the best he’s been since “300.”
After a run of films that have either been box office flops, critically shellacked, or both, “Den Of Thieves” is a reminder of why Butler is so popular.
“This felt like it had real commercial appeal, but it also had a chance to be gritty and grimy. And, for me, there was a chance to play a more complex and fascinating guy. It gave me a chance to show my acting chops in my performance.”
“I have played quite a lot of heroic characters, and sometimes when it comes to a character saving the world there is a little less color that you can add into that. Especially when it is a large studio movie.”
“But with Big Nick you really got to tell the story of an artist, he is great at what he does, he is intimidating, a bully. But at the same time he is loyal, there is a vulnerability to him, he is funny, charming, and there is also this dark, depraved side to him, too.”
“All of this is wrapped up in this big silverback gorilla. It felt like it was something I could go in and give some humanity and truth to, as well as having a lot of fun, too.
That’s exactly why Butler has been trying to bring “Den Of Thieves” to the big-screen since 2012. During which time he has spent a copious amount of time with undercover cops, both socially and on the beat, as well as Jay Dobyns, the man he calls both a “poet” and “completely insane,” and the inspiration for Big Nick.
“Our guys are laws until themselves. They’re effectively SWAT, but they’re surveillance, too. They have their own set of rules really. That’s exactly why you’d want to make a movie out of them.”
But while the character of Big Nick was an immediate appeal for Butler, there was much more that attracted him to “Den Of Thieves.”
“I have always believed in it. It felt like a real dark horse of a script. Not really a lot of people knew about it. Even when we were filming it it wasn’t really hyped up but it always felt like we were making a great movie and that it would take people by surprise.”
“Because even though it was from the classic cop genre of good against evil, cops against robbers, it just has so much more in it. Watching these two tribes go to war, getting involved in both sets of families, and watching these two masterminds, great warriors, step into the ring together to do battle. That was a really fun thing for me to examine.”
“Plus the intelligence of the heist itself, the different skillsets that they both have. It was also a very involving story. It was also very funny. There’s a lot of humor in there. It was very exciting and loads of twists and turns that I never saw coming.”
While Butler has been involved for 6 years, co-writer and director Christian Gudegast actually first put pen to paper on “Den Of Thieves” back in 2003. Over the years Gudegast has brought together “a hotchpotch of stories,” articles, and research to help create the authentic and detailed film.
But because Gudegast’s only big-screen credits before “Den Of Thieves” were as a co-writer on the Butler led “London Has Fallen” and 2003’s “A Man Apart” getting him to oversee the film came with some strife. For Butler, though, Gudegast was the only man that could bring “Den Of Thieves” to the big-screen.
“Christian is a very dear friend of mine, and we have worked on a number of projects together. But it was still a gamble because he has never directed before. But if there was anyone who could pull it off it was him.”
And while Butler readily admits that “Den Of Thieves” is inspired by other entries into the crime heist genre, referencing the Michael Mann classic “Heat” especially, he doesn’t see this as a negative. In fact, Butler knows that “Den Of Thieves” is still very much its “own movie,” so much so that he has high hopes for how audiences will respond to it.
“It feels like it is an homage to ‘Heat,’ but at the same time it is completely its own movie and distinctive. Hopefully someone will one day say, ‘I made this movie and it is an homage to Den Of Thieves’.”
We’ll see if it is worthy of such acclaim when “Den Of Thieves” is released on January 19.