Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh discuss their new disaster thriller.

By Derek Lawrence
June 24, 2020 at 04:00 PM EDT
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A comet has fallen.

No, this isn't the latest installment of Gerard Butler's action-packed Fallen franchise, but rather the disaster thriller Greenland, and EW has your exclusive first look. After putting Mike Banning through more hell in Angel Has Fallen, Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh have reunited for a story about a family trying to come back together, only for their hopes of a return to normalcy to be interrupted by a planet-killing comet's impending arrival.

As they fight for survival, John Garrity (Butler), his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their young son (Roger Dale Floyd) look to avoid both the comet's fragments and a decaying society. Thankfully, with the apocalypse approaching, there appears to be the possibility of a desperate, last-minute safe haven.

In addition to debuting the Greenland first look (above and below), EW chatted with Butler and Waugh about approaching a sci-fi epic as a "simple family drama," finding a different kind of hero, and being blown away by the unpredictable similarities between their movie and the current world.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about the concept, script, and character that drew you to Greenland?

GERARD BUTLER: If we talk about it at its basics, I just loved this idea of a family. It starts off with a feeling of an almost simple family drama: a family struggling to get back together, the husband has just moved back into the house, the son is not sure what is going on, and you feel like it's going one way but in the background something more sinister is developing. And then through their drama you're thrown into this much larger, epic, overpowering scenario that they have no control over, and it becomes this fight for survival, but with a family you're already grounded with and care about. It becomes this road trip to save themselves, and also what they experience along the way and how is the rest of humanity dealing with this. But ultimately, it feels like this journey into love and support and connections and understanding what really is important in life. And I felt like that was a very powerful and inspiring message.

Does it feel a bit eerie preparing to release a movie about the possible end of the world as we've been watching all that has unfolded over the last few months?

RIC ROMAN WAUGH: The irony of what is happening is we made this movie last year, like there was no such thing as COVID when we filmed this movie, there wasn't the strife that is in the world that we're dealing with today, that is really about life and death and massive change. So there was this interesting kind of dichotomy to the material for me. I think life-and-death circumstances really have a way of showing you what is most important. We build all of this artifice into our lives of what we think makes us relevant: our job status, our vanity, the people around of us, these kind of status things that we think validate us as humans. And then when it becomes about true life and death, it really has a way of stripping all that way and realizing it's all bulls—, and the only thing that really does matter to us is that we don't want to die alone and that human bond that we all share. I remember Gerry, [producer] Basil Iwanyk, and I were talking about how that is the hard part to ground because it kind of feels a bit far-fetched. Like, would society collapse like this? Would these things happen? And then the movie was completely edited, we had previewed it, we had already tested really well, all this happened before COVID, and then suddenly we're in the finishing stages and I'm watching the movie, and I'm like, "I can't believe it, all of this came true." And suddenly what used to feel like far-fetched or fictional suddenly became way more relevant than we'd ever thought.

Our beast is not a pandemic, it's not racism, and it's not a lot of the things that are really testing the world today to hopefully become a better place, but we used to joke about all the articles we'd get saying, "Here's another asteroid coming, it's going to barely scoot by Earth." We used to say, "See, we're really relevant!" But the irony is that from the start, Gerry and I wanted to make a movie about humanity, and to find the bond of what human beings are about, that we do need each other. It is a fun, big action ride and it has this huge spectacle to it, and we hopefully give them all the bells and whistles, but at the core of it is this family realizing how crucial they are to each other. And hopefully that will resonate with people and they realize this movie is not about scare tactics, it's about relevancy of who we are as a people and how we can survive together.

BUTLER: The realization of how vulnerable we are as humans. With ours, it was more of the threat to the environment and to the planet, but then it's almost uncanny the similarity to what's going on today with COVID, with Black Lives Matter protests, because we always felt that our message was about humanity coming together. And these things always tend to bring us together.

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When we talked about Angel Has Fallen, you cited The Fugitive as an inspiration. Were there any specific films you looked at when putting Greenland together?

WAUGH: There was nothing that was on the nose of what we were going to make, but the two movies that I know Gerry and I spoke about were Children of Men and A Quiet Place. Both of those movies took bigger concepts, these beasts that could kill you if they hear you or what if the world went infertile and suddenly a woman is pregnant, but at the center they were character journeys and intimate portrayals from the inside out, versus the bigger movies that are all about the spectacle. We felt like those movies did it the right way, of being from the inside out, and that was always our journey. Even on Angel Has Fallen, I felt an enormous responsibility to Gerry because he trusted me to come onto that franchise that he had already built, and for all respective purposes not to f— it up. To have the sense of scope and spectacle that the Fallen franchise had, but how do we put something new into it? And it was about getting into Mike Banning's world from the inside out, and it was really interesting getting to do that with Greenland, and I'm very blessed that we're about go do it again on this movie Kandahar.

Gerry, what differentiates John Garrity from a guy like Mike Banning, or some of your other hero types?

BUTLER: Well, John Garrity is about as different from Mike Banning as you can get. We always had fun with taking Mike to almost superhuman levels, this inability to die. Whereas John Garrity is just a regular human being and a man full of imperfections who hasn't done everything in his life right. But at the end of the day, the similarity between him and Banning is that he will do everything, and anything, to protect his family. But I did love that he doesn't have the ability to throw on a gun or the expert training. He's just an engineer who is living a normal life in a suburban neighborhood and really trying to make his marriage work and be a good father to his kid. He hasn't necessarily done the best job in that, but just like Ric was talking about, the level of humanity of trying to survive, this is pulled out of him, just taking everything that he can and being willing to sacrifice it to protect his wife and his kids. And then more than that, what comes out of him is his connection to others. Another thing that I love in this movie is, how do people react in these circumstances? When good people are suddenly doing bad things but for the right reasons, or bad people doing good things for the wrong reasons.

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Ric mentioned it a bit, but you've now worked together on Angel Has Fallen and Greenland, and next up is a third collaboration. So why has this partnership worked so well and been something you keep revisiting?

WAUGH: Well, Gerry is the only one who will put up with me. [Both laugh] Without naming names, I think some of the best collaborations between filmmakers and stars haven't been one-offs, they've been a body of work. I interviewed for Law Abiding Citizen and I didn't get the job, but it sparked a really great friendship with Gerry and I really appreciated that he saw something in me as a filmmaker. And so when he called me about Angel Has Fallen, it was a dream come true. At least for me, I knew from day one that we had this really undeniable chemistry. We're able to push each other, we're unfiltered with each other.

Also, what I really appreciate about Gerry is he's completely fearless with his performances. A lot of movie stars will be more guarded of exposing themselves out of a box that they think the audience wants to see them in, and what I love about Gerry is he doesn't care about the box. When you play a guy like Mike Banning, here he's an action star, but he's not playing it as an action star; he's playing it as a real, flawed human being and giving it this different type of gravitas. And then you take it and completely take all of the action and hero part away and make it just this beautiful role about humanity and a man who is flawed. He's also a wonderful human being with a tremendous heart, and that comes out of his performances. Because he comes from such a truthful place, you're able to make these moments plausible and real and have empathy for a man who is capable of extreme violence like Mike Banning, or a guy like John Garrity who has made mistakes but is owning up to who he is and moving forward. And so for me, I've got a great partnership with a guy who is a truthful human being in life, and he's able to bring that truth into a world that I like to try and make authentic.

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Greenland opens Aug. 14 in theaters.

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