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Gerard Butler: 'Greenland' is a disaster film with a hopeful message

Gerard Butler can now be seen in the action picture, Greenland. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Gerard Butler can now be seen in the action picture, "Greenland." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Gerard Butler said the script for Greenland wasn't like any other disaster-action movie he had ever read because it realistically showed how high the stakes were through the eyes of one imperiled family.

"It just sucked me into this world," the 51-year-old Scottish actor told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

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The film casts Butler as Georgia structural engineer John, who is chosen -- along with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), and young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) -- to live in a secure bunker in the titular arctic island after an extinction-level event wipes out most of the world's population.

When Allison discovers at the airport that diabetic Nathan has left his insulin in the car, John goes back to get it, but Allison and Nathan are then ejected from the facility when the military officials running the operation realize the child has a chronic medical condition.

Most of the movie is a race against time to reunite the family and get them to their promised safe place.

The story has the spectacle and big idea that comes with an entertaining sci-fi movie, but it also is an accurate reflection of humanity, Butler said.

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"It was so human, taking it from the lens of a family just trying to survive," he added. "There was something so vulnerable and honest and authentic about it, like if this were really to happen, this is how it would play out in all its messiness and glory and the waiting and the mistakes and the forgotten things and the not getting in -- all of that."

The star of Olympus Has Fallen and its sequels, as well as Geostorm, Law Abiding Citizen, How to Train Your Dragon and 300, said that from an acting standpoint, he looked at Greenland as a family drama and wasn't distracted by the terrifying events unfolding around him.

"I've made a lot of these movies," Butler said. "It was a blessing for me to focus on [the family aspect] because in this the comet is always there and building, but we don't actually spend a lot of time looking up at it. It's [about] what happens to the people and what they are going through."

Butler hopes this story about everyday heroes inspires 2020 audiences who are enduring their own harrowing experiences.

"We have a very hopeful message," he said. "There is so much heart and emotion and it does move toward a beautiful idea. The kindness of strangers, just how people deal with these tragedies is something we've seen a lot of during this pandemic."

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Butler emphasized that the cast and filmmakers couldn't have anticipated what a troubled time it would be in real life when Greenland hits screens.

"This movie, in a lot of ways, is about the fragility of humanity and how susceptible we are to something either so small or something so big," he said.

"We are not the center of the universe and as invincible as we thought we were. And, therefore, if that is the case of, 'How do you deal with it?' We are seeing this every day now. Every single person and every family has to deal with these struggles and that's what this movie is all about."

Baccarin thinks Greenland has something to say about how people treat each other under awful circumstances.

"What I think is great about the film is that it is very morally ambiguous at times," the 41-year-old Brazilian actress told UPI in a separate Zoom chat.

"People do terrible things. People get desperate. Some people get saved and some people don't," she added. "It's a very realistic message about what a survival movie should be and, if a catastrophic event were to happen, everyone is just sort of making it up as they go along."

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Does Baccarin relate to John and Allison's never-give-up attitudes?

"I'm not the sunniest person all the time or the most optimistic," she laughed. "But I do appreciate that the film does offer this opportunity to rebuild this sense of 'things may be destroyed, but we will be OK and start again.'"

The project reunited Butler with Ric Roman Waugh, his director from Angel Has Fallen and an artist for which the actor has enormous esteem.

"He pushes me and I push him, too. We complement each other very well. We don't agree on everything, but we always respect each other," Butler said.

The actor loved working with Baccarin, as well.

"She is incredibly smart, sassy and strong intelligent, very talented as an actress, but so much fun. We spent a lot of time in a car together," he said.

"There was about 10,000 hours of therapy on both ends, but we became very close and I can't think of a better partner to go through this, at times, quite excruciating journey in this movie."

The Firefly and Gotham alum was required to psyche herself up for her intense scenes in Greenland, and then let that all go when the cameras stopped rolling so she could do it all again.

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"There were days that were harder than others. Sometimes we had to start already pretty revved up at the beginning of the day and just maintain that level," she said, noting she tried to take care of herself by getting lots of sleep and drinking water to restore what she expended at work.

"You just kind of have to throw yourself in in a situation like that, and it is rewarding when you know you have accomplished the day's work, so it was really just taking it a day at a time," she said.

The film has several scenes with thousands of extras playing soldiers and panicked people seeking help.

Given coronavirus protocols adopted on film sets in recent months, it isn't likely many productions will have casts that big in the near future.

Butler said he hopes that is temporary since scenes with large groups can really make an impact on a film.

"That's not probably going to happen for a little while, but I do believe that we'll get through this and there will be a vaccine and things will get back to normal," he said.

"I'm sure during the 1918 pandemic they thought: 'This is it. The world will be like this forever.' And then a couple of years later, they had moved on and then it just became a part of history."

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Co-starring Scott Glenn and Hope Davis, Greenland will be available on demand Friday.

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