Life

Film: Gerard Butler on leaving heroes behind to play a hitman on the hunt

The Scottish star is used to swooping in to save the day but he takes a turn to the dark side in his new thriller Copshop. He tells Laura Harding why...

Gerard Butler as Bob Viddick in Copshop
By Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor

GERARD BUTLER is no stranger to saving the world. In fact he’s made a long career of it.

The 51-year-old Scottish star is best known for playing characters intent on doing the right thing, playing Spartan warrior Leonidas in 300, a man determined to seek justice for his family in Law Abiding Citizen and as fearless Secret Service agent Mike Banning in Olympus Has Fallen and its sequels.

But he decided to take a walk on the dark side in his new movie Copshop, in which he plays a hitman who hunts his latest target, a conman played by Frank Grillo, into the confines of a small town police station.

“It was another muscle to stretch creatively,” Butler says with his distinctive Scottish burr, “to go into a much darker, brutal, ruthless, mysterious mind and have fun with that, because I normally play the guys trying to put an end to them.

“It’s almost like changing from prosecuting attorney to defence attorney, swapping to look at things the other way, but it’s just always fun to change it up and try something different.”

Butler had been keen to make the film since 2015, when he first read an early draft of a screenplay outlining a cat-and-mouse game between a con artist and the hitman who’s sent to take him out.

“I just I always loved the idea and every now and again you just want to make a movie that is outrageous, entertaining, tense, mad, irreverent. So I always had it in my back pocket, and suddenly, in the middle of a pandemic, it felt like that was a good time to make it, a story about everybody trapped in a small space and just wanting to explode outside of that space. It felt kind of right,” he explains.

So when director Joe Carnahan, the filmmaker behind Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, called him up to ask him if he was ready to go, Butler didn’t have to think twice.

“We’d always said we were going to work together and Frank too, so why not? Let’s just do it now, shoot it quick, just real guerilla filmmaking, and just try and get all of that mayhem and excitement and high octane energy.”

The film finds Butler’s contract killer Bob Viddick chasing wily con artist Teddy Murretto (Grillo) through the Nevada desert, until Teddy hatches a desperate plan to hide out and save himself – he sucker-punches a rookie police officer, played by Alexis Louder, to get himself arrested and locked up in a small-town police station, out of harm’s way.

Viddick schemes his own way into detention, biding his time in a nearby cell until he can carry out the hit, but when a competing assassin, played by Toby Huss, arrives, mayhem ensues, with Louder’s cop Valerie Young caught in the crosshairs.

“I was watching a lot of Clint Eastwood, movies like Dirty Harry and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, to prepare for this because it did give me western vibes,” Louder remembers.

“Valerie just has this thirst for justice by any means, and she’s trying to get to the truth between Bob Viddick and Teddy Mercado and she can trust neither of them.”

But for the actress, who previously starred opposite Chris Pratt in The Tomorrow War and with Regina King in the Watchmen TV series, watching movies was not enough, and she also had to do some practical hands-on preparation.

“I had no law enforcement experience, I had zero gun-slinging experience, the weapons that I’ve used in the past were automatic. The Blackhawk (the weapon she uses) was a manual gun so I had to work with a gunslinger on how to do the tricks and how to change the cylinder, that was a lot of practice.

“There were certain times where I thought I might have lost the ligaments in my finger but, through the frustration of actually practising that for so long, I was just like ‘Alexis it’s gonna be so rewarding when you you actually get it’ and now I watch that opening shot (where she performs a stunning routine of gunplay) I’m like, ‘That’s me, that’s my hand and I did that’.”

Butler was also excited to make a film that would stand alone, as something chaotic, grimy and nerve-shredding.

“It’s a movie that’s not really like others,” he says. “It has elements of others, like Tarantino or Guy Richie, but at the same time, it’s completely its own beast in how usual and weird and exciting it is.

“I knew that there were so many fun, compelling, shocking characters, and the way they all have to face off against each other. I knew if could would get some great actors in there, like, you know, Alexis, and Frank and Toby Hoss, then we can really have a movie that is incredibly thrilling, exciting, compelling, shocking, hilarious, surreal, and then it just builds and builds.

“We talked about that western with a small town sheriff, and the bad guy comes in, but then the worse guy comes in, another bad guy comes in and it just like goes from bad to worse.

“There is a real pressure cooker feeling and weirdly, as the movie goes on, most thrillers extend out, they get bigger, but by the end this almost gets tighter and tighter with more people in a smaller space and it’s unbelievable how they can’t quite get to each other but they’re all like cobras waiting to pounce.”

Copshop is out now in UK cinemas.

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