The lone soldier thriller puts Butler in the role of Agent Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent pulled back into the action after the President comes under attack from an army's worth of North Korean terrorists. He's the only one who can break through the forces, the only American soldier unscathed enough to strike back against the bad guys, picking them off one by one. It's Butler's very own John McClane role. But while he throws around a few zingers, the actor, who also serves as a producer on the film, wanted Olympus to amp up the reality. To do that, he brought on director Antoine Fuqua.
"When I read this, I said, 'this is a risk,'" Butler says. "It was a great script, but it wasn't ready to go as that. So me bringing it to Antoine and us saying, 'if we're going to do this, we want to see what would that look like, what would it take, what would that smell like, how would it taste?' So you'e actually there. You're in it."
Fuqua welcomed the chance to grab hold of the action movie formula and give it a forceful twist. The director has a big problem with today's blockbuster cinema: it's too comfortable, too drab, and too scared to dig its hands into a well-constructed scenario. "'Let's be precious. Let's make it PG. Let's attack the White House but not show too much blood…' I think that's B.S.," Fuqua says. "If you're going to attack the White House, attack the White House. If you're going to make an action movie, make an action movie."
That's what Butler sees as the difference between Olympus and the movie you might think Olympus is. His movie wants to throw you headfirst into Banning's impossible mission. "You're literally in this attack," he says. "You're in the White House, you're in the bunker with the President, you're watching hostages be executed. You are so drawn in, compelled, riveted."
Fuqua says he and Butler spent days kicking around ideas, going until two or three in the morning trying to come up with scenes that would push buttons and still feel true to the story. "We went way out there and we'd have to bring each other back at times," he says. "He pulled me back, I'd pull him back, and sometimes we'd just say, 'let's shoot it and try it.'" Aiming towards realism, the duo looked to real Secret Service tactics and protocol for inspiration. Some of the things they unearthed were too juicy to reveal on screen. "There were things that were extremely realistic that we couldn't show you because Secret Service wouldn't allow us. Plus, we wouldn't want to do that anyway, give anything out like that."
What does stay true to the style of real operatives is Butler's methodical process. Banning isn't a run-and-gun hero. He thinks, then he shoves a knife through a bad guy's throat. "What's great is the fact that I am going around the White House by stealth," Butler says. "I'm there, and you get into the mind of what counterterrorism is." In a matter of seconds, Butler would run through a laundry list of questions that he hopes work to bring an audience into the first-person perspective. What's he doing? He's assessing the situation. What are the enemies' capabilities? What do they want? What have they done? What are the dangers? How do I get ammunition? How do I establish lines of outside contact? How the hell do I get down to get the president? What's the plan? Thinking on my feet. And most of that is in silence!"
Don't worry: while Fuqua and Butler wanted Olympus Has Fallen to be a thoughtful spin on the Die Hard foundation, it still delivers on the action. Logically, it has to. As Butler puts it: "There are a lot of silence moments where you're walking with the guy and see the peril he's in — and then there are the fights. It's not that big a building. You're going to come across him."
Watch Butler tap into the energy of his Secret Service alter ego in our video interview below:
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Film District]