Gerard Butler has had a rough go of things as of late. The three most recent films on his resumé are "Movie 43," "Playing for Keeps," and "Chasing Mavericks," all of which received harsh reviews from critics and barely made a dent at the box office. "Movie 43" made a total of $8.8 million, "Playing for Keeps" brought in $13 million, and "Chasing Mavericks made $6 million; combined, that's less than a quarter of what Butler's "300" made in 2006. Those struggles had at least one critic questioning whether he needs a full-fledged makeover in order to have a revival.
Either that or maybe he can save the president.
In his latest film, Antoine Fuqua's "Olympus Has Fallen," Butler plays Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent working on the President of the United State's security detail (Aaron Eckhart, who Butler explains "would spend half an hour preparing for one take to be in the right physical and emotional state of mind," plays POTUS). After an incident involving the President's family leaves him working at the Treasury, Banning willingly puts himself in the line of fire when the White House is under attack from enemy forces. If that sounds tense, it is; writing for The Associated Press, critic Todd McCarthy wrote "Olympus Has Fallen" "will put to the test the question of whether American audiences are ready, 12 years after 9/11, to watch, strictly as disposable popcorn entertainment, a film in which the United States and some of its most prominent landmarks are devastated by foreign terrorists."
"We made a piece of entertainment that we thought, 'How can you provoke an audience, scare the s--t out of them, and leave them baying for blood, and set it all in a very believable backdrop of current world political tensions?'" Butler told HuffPost Entertainment in a recent interview.
The "current world political tensions" that Butler spoke of involves the heightened conflict between North Korea and South Korea. "It's almost like our publicity department got in touch with Kim Jong-un and said, 'Alright, bitch, time to act like a bitch,'" Butler joked.
"We did make a point of making this a faction, an extremist militia, with a very specific mastermind at its head," Butler added, lest audiences think the film is directly referencing a specific group. "The motivations are more personal. They always are. When you look at Bush and Hussein, this wasn't just international politics, this was a personal hatred between two people. There's always that. With bin Laden as well, was he just about Al Qaeda or was this also personal? What happened to him in his life that made him hate Americans so much? That's the idea behind this because Al Qaeda isn't Afghanistan, it isn't Iraq, it's a provisional terrorist group -- that's what we thought would be a useful tool for this movie."
In the film, this provisional terrorist group invades the White House and takes the president hostage, leading to Butler's epic uttering into his earpiece that "Olympus has fallen" -- code for the White House being taken over.
"It was such a ballsy, audacious, brave idea," Butler said of the concept, which is also the focal point of the upcoming Jamie Foxx-Channing Tatum thriller "White House Down." "It was so outrageous, and yet, at the same time, completely believable. This could really happen. Recent events show us that it's not as sci-fi as you might think. You set up that situation of, wow, what if they did get into the White House? What if they did take the President hostage and they have outrageous demands? What happens then? What are we left with? You have this incredible situation, this standoff -- the whole world being held to ransom basically and nobody can do a thing. Once they've taken the White House, everybody's hands are tied."
In an effort to keep the film from being too sci-fi, Butler trained with various groups with experience in the field. "I was working with Navy SEALs, incredible stunt guys, and our action director was a Navy SEAL," Butler explained. "I'm working with Secret Service agents, I'm working with SWAT team, we're working with the best of the best. You're gleaning all their knowledge. You're saying, 'Okay, tactically what do you do? What would you say in this situation? What is something that we can put in here?' And then, 'who are you? What's your philosophy? Where are you coming from? What gets you going?'"
For Butler, it became a question of how far these men would go to protect and fight, an experience Butler felt he was familiar with. "'Law Abiding Citizen,' '300,' they bring up those similar sentiments of who would you die for, or who would you kill for?" Butler said. "I often think who would I die for, but you go to worse, 'No, I'll tell you who I would kill.' Anybody that I would kill if they hurt somebody dear to me because the thought of people you love in pain, suffering, can be unbearable."
Speaking about his own personal experiences with putting his life on the line for others, Butler said, "I got an award for bravery from the British Humane Society because I dove into a river when a boy was drowning and actually he was gone by that point and I went in and I got him out. Somebody else resuscitated him because I thought when I was pulling him out he was dead. I've done that for people that I don't even know, but especially for my loved ones, these movies bring up those kind of sentiments."
Already receiving more favorable reviews than his recent films, "Olympus Has Fallen" may be Butler's return to box office success, not that he's outwardly concerned with such things.
"People often say, 'So you must have picked this because you were bored with this, or because ...' I don't really go like that. I maybe know what to stay away from, if I've done a couple of something that ..." Butler trails off. "Then I'll be careful."