Set in 1860s Sicily, this chronicle of the decline of an aristocratic family under the crushing weight of political change features some of the most riveting set pieces ever captured on film.
Gerard Butler plays not one but two pivotal roles in the adventure film Nim’s Island, also starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin. Based on Wendy Orr’s 2002 novel, the film stars Butler as Jack, a marine biologist who lives on an uncharted island with his daughter Nim (Breslin). When Jack is lost at sea, leaving Nim alone on the island, she reaches out via email to the only other hero she knows through her favourite books – adventurer Alex Rover. In reality, the books are written by Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), a nervous, reclusive woman locked away in a big city apartment, who is encouraged by her alter-ego come to life Alex Rover (Butler), to reluctantly venture out to rescue Nim.
The 38-year-old Scottish actor is best known for roles in blockbusters such as: Lara Kroft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Timeline, Reign of Fire and 300, although he also recently played a more romantic role in Cecilia Ahern’s ‘P.S. I Love You’, with Hilary Swank.
So you were trained as a lawyer and wound up as an actor. How did that happen?
Perhaps going into the wrong career, developing a drinking problem and then following my dreams if you can ever describe all that in under 20 words, then that was pretty much it! I’d always known I wanted to get into acting, but the legal training had taken over and then things just got crazy in my life and the decision was made for me and I moved down to London and just caught a couple lucky breaks. I stepped into a film, got a manager in LA and then a couple years later came out and then just went from there.
Tell us about the two characters you play in Nim’s Island, Jack and Alex Rover?
Jack is Nim’s dad. He’s a scientist who is crazy, passionate about the smallest things in life. Jack has huddled up and stowed himself away in this island that he really doesn’t want anyone to know the whereabouts of, so they can live their life in peace. Nim and Jack have a great relationship. They are best friends. Jack gets himself into a bit of trouble by going out on one too many adventures. Alex Rover himself is an adventurer, who kind of lives as an alter ego to Jodie Foster’s Alexandra Rover. He is the epitome of courage, motivation, inspiration and good humour.
How did it come about that you were considered for both roles?
I never went in for either but they offered me one role and my agent said, he’s not going to do that but why don’t you offer him both roles and then it might be a more tempting proposition’. So they said, ‘OK, we will do that.’ Then when I read the script, we all agreed it could not have been anything different, that one person to play both roles just seemed like the perfect way to go about this and get more into that fantastical element of the story. So that’s when I decided to come aboard. How tough was it to play both parts? Were you switching between the two on the same day?
Very rarely, but it was unavoidable. They made me a promise; look, we are really going to avoid you having to play both roles in the same day as much as possible, but there are going to come times when we are going to be adding a bit of a false beard here with a hair plucker there! There were times when we were wiping off a seven-minute sunburn and then putting on seven minutes more, or we’d be putting on the wig, taking off the wig. In fact, there was one time when I had to swap twice. I had to have the wig on, and then change to Jack and take the wig off then go back to Alex Rover and have the wig on and that was a huge pain in the ass! How did you approach playing such a swash-buckling character like Alex Rover: seriously or tongue-in cheek?
It was a bit of both. There were times when it was tongue-in-cheek and times where it was serious. There were moments for instance when I’m dealing with Nim or towards the end with Alexandra that it gets far more intimate and meaningful. Although it was a serious message, it was delivered in a very fun way. The second Jodie and I got together and started playing these parts, we realized that this was how it had to be done. You always try to play it in same respect usually, but you understand that there is humor lying in there and you cannot get too heavy with it. It doesn’t need that. The message is better passed on by lightening it up.
Can you talk about the specific challenges for each role?
The biggest challenge was gauging it right, especially between both of us and not going too far to the comedic side and making these roles caricature, but at the same time, not getting too heavy with them. For Jack, I think it was just dealing with the sea. It was winter in Australia, so there was a cold wind blowing in there and there were times when I was standing all day just soaking wet – not even wet – but soaking wet because the scenes I was doing I had just been in the water. So literally, I had to be dripping with water. Either water falling off me, or I was lying in cold water at the bottom of the boat because supposedly I had just been knocked out. I spent a lot of time lying in freezing water, or diving into the sea, which was freezing. Of course, I could not have anything on like a wet suit, so that was a bit of a pain in the ass. Some of it was in the studio, but even in the studio when you are just sitting about, nothing is worse than being in wet clothes unless it is a hundred degrees and even then, it is a pain in the ass. It never was a hundred degrees. On the sea, I felt like I was in a refrigerator at times.
Was this film a completely different energy for you compared to your other films?
Yes. I have done other films like Dear Frankie and P.S. I Love You but in some ways, the bigger, more macho roles that I do stand out more. I do a lot of different roles, but those 300-Gladiator style films are just the ones that stick more in your memory for good or bad reasons.
How did you get along with Jodie Foster?
It was easy getting along to be honest. That woman, considering what an amazing talent she is, is so easy going. That was one of the most refreshing things about this film was to realize how cool she was and how she didn’t dominate and didn’t try to control and just let things flow, which for me is the best kind of space to work in. So we both just immediately got along and worked together great and I felt so relaxed working with her and this was just one of those things where we started doing the scenes and we were like, ‘this is awesome!’
Nim’s Island is now playing at Irish cinemas across the country