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Up in the air: Gerard Butler on learning how to fly an aircraft for his upcoming film, ‘Plane’

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Gerard Butler enjoys learning something new with every film. Looking spiffy in a fitted jacket, the actor of blockbuster action movies as well as Shakespeare (remember Coriolanus?) says, “When I played the Phantom ( The Phantom of the Opera, 2004), I had to learn to sing and I learned to surf when I made a surf movie (2012’s Chasing Mavericks).” 

Now, Butler gets the chance to fly planes for his role as Captain Brodie Torrance in Plane that hit the screens on January 13. Speaking over a video call from New York, the actor says, “They were just small planes, but I also had a chance to go into a 737 simulator to learn how a plane functions and do all the maneouvers we do in the movie.”

Flight or fright

As Torrance, Butler had to make an emergency landing under far-from-ideal conditions. “A lot of this movie takes place as the plane is flying through hellish circumstances. I was landing with one engine or with part of a tail or going in sideways sometimes.”

Feeling comfortable in his seat, The Bounty Hunter actor says it did not feel like he was an actor pretending or switching buttons. “This allowed the audience to believe that Yoson An, who is great as Dele, the co-pilot, and I, actually were pilots.”

Admitting to enjoying flying with the roguish grin, that makes the 53-year-old actor such a heartbreaker, Butler says, “I feel a little guilty about this movie, because it is probably not going to help the already ailing airline industry.”

The worst that can happen

Gerard Butler as Capt. Brodie Torrance in ‘Plane’

This does not happen every day, Butler hastens to add. “We are making movies, where one imagines the most messed up situation. We have all imagined what it is like to be in a plane as it is going down. We are in the middle of the ocean. We have 10 minutes of power left, five minutes of power, no power left…”

The trick, he says, is to ground this terrifying situation so the audience is with the passengers and crew as the horrific realisation strikes them that they might not make it. “There are moments of crazy action, but also moments of deep, serene silence as you see these characters contemplating what is about to happen to them.”

Behind the scenes

Shooting in Puerto Rico at 105 degrees with 100% humidity proved challenging for the Scotland native. “There was a fight sequence which was shot in one take. Normally, these scenes are broken down into five or six parts. We had to do the whole scene in one take. Halfway through the scene, I couldn’t breathe. I still had two minutes of the sequence to go and I’m like there was nothing coming in (miming sucking in air). I wished they would call cut because I felt I was about to die.”

There was a time, Butler says, when all he heard from his agents, and friend Christian Gudegast — who directed him in Den of Thieves (2018) — was about a movie called Plane. “I read the script and found the first sequence of this plane fighting through a storm terrifying and personal. I felt like I was there on that journey.”

Butler felt the script was the kind of movie he would love to make and watch. “If we can get to the part where they land on this remote island, create some terrifying and brutal villains, explore the relationships between myself as the Captain trying to lead the crew and the passengers and having to enlist the services of this accused murderer, it would be a great setup for a fun ride.”

Working with Mike Colter, who plays the accused murderer, Louis Gaspare, was awesome, Butler says. “We had so much fun. We were like two kids. He is a phenomenal actor, and we had this great chemistry together.”

Pick and choose

Having done musicals, animated films, black comedies and thrillers, Butler says he sometimes chooses a role for the challenge of doing something he has not done before. “At other times I choose a role because I think it is going to be a good, entertaining, thrilling movie.”

Always trying to create complex characters, he says, that is what drew him to Torrance’s character. “He is not an action hero, or a superhero. He is a regular guy, a pilot, the guy next door. In a way I feel a little sorry for him. He has a good sense of humor and is a decent man. He loves what he does for a living, but things have gone wrong in his career. He is flying for an economy airline on the other side of the world from his daughter, who is all he has after losing his wife.”

Things change dramatically for Torrance, Butler adds, when he is called upon to be a person he did not even know he was. “I don’t think even he knew the sense of duty he had towards his passengers. And that is really the question of the movie — how much would you sacrifice? How far do you go? At what point do you say well, let me just think about myself.”

Torrance, Butler says, sees the passengers as his family. “They can be somebody’s daughter or parents and he takes on this excessive responsibility. He is the one who has to deal with the bodies, the one with the information of where they actually are and how dangerous it is.”

Help or hinder

Gaspare is another variable Torrance has to deal with. “Gaspare is a murderer and has already shown himself to be a danger to the passengers. Does Torrance leave him with the passengers or does he take him along?

Audience identify with underdogs in an impossible situation, Butler says. “They feel like they could be that person. What would they do? Would they make that decision? Would they freak out? Would they be the cool one, the whiny one or the one trying to influence the group in a good way?”

One cannot ask for more at the cinema, according to Butler. “You go to be scared, moved, to cry, laugh, to be touched and hopefully to be inspired. Despite how scared you are, you get to walk away and go, ‘alright, I can go to bed’ or I can go to dinner with my friends and talk about who was right, who I liked the most — probably Gaspare ( laughs).”

Plane is currently running in theatres



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