Exclusive: Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber on Den of Thieves
With his scruffy demeanour and Scottish twang, Gerard Butler made a significant mark in Hollywood with his portrayal of Leonidas, King of Sparta, in the 2007 film, 300. From then on, he has played a series of memorable roles, from the male chauvinist correspondent in The Ugly Truth to the heartbreaking Gerry in PS I Love You. Let’s also not forget, he also lent his voice to Stoick the Vast, the protective chieftain of the Viking tribe, in the How to Train Your Dragon series. Now, he’s back with the heist thriller Den of Thieves, an elaborate script with intense underworld action drama, co-written, directed and produced by Christian Gudegast, who’s making his directorial debut with this film. On screen, Gerard shares space with rapper 50 cent, Pablo Schreiber from Orange is the New Black, and O’Shea Jackson of Straight Outta Compton fame. We caught up with Butler and Schieber to chat about Den of Thieves.
Tell us about your character Big Nick O’Brien, and the Regulators.
Gerard Butler: Big Nick is a powerful, driven, alpha male in the world of alpha males, that is, the Regulators. He handpicked each one of them on the basis of their wildness, brutality and smartness. He lives in a world where you have to be willing to go to any length to get ahead, and that is the danger you inherit, that’s the amount of hours you work, it’s that complete obsessiveness for the job at hand. In this process, the smallest things rub off on you...
And, he’s not living the best of his life. He’s drinking too much, participating in many other activities, and that’s kind of a disaster for his marriage. The more he devotes to the job, the less time he has for his wife, and he’s failing miserably as a husband, and as a father. At first, you’ll think that this guy is a punk, but as the story goes on, you realise how the pressures play on him.
Explain to us, who are these Outlaws?
GB:The Outlaws are the ex-military. A lot of them grew up together, served together, so you know that they have this incredibly tight bond, you know that they are this incredible piece of working machinery. They are fearless and they have a code of conduct, so they won’t touch civilians, but they’ll shoot uniforms, so you are in more danger if you are a cop taking them on. They don’t like Big Nick taking over because no criminal wants a regulator on top of them.
And Pablo, you play Ray Merrimen.
Pablo Schreiber: Ray Merrimen has just got out of jail after six years. He went to jail for robbing banks, which he got into after he came back from military deployment and could not find the same kind of excitement in his life that he had overseas. He ended up going into the life of crime. He had a couple of successfully robberies and then one of the jobs went bad, so he ended up in jail for six years. He’s reassembling his guys and he’s going after a big fish. He’s been preparing for the moment when he would be released.
Tell us about the rivalry between your character and Gerard’s in the film.
PS: The two are adversaries of equal authority — men on opposite sides of the law, but who share many similarities, as well as a degree of mutual respect. They come from the same environment. They may not know each other, but they understand each other, to a degree. There are these places where their worlds collide — at the same time, they enjoy being each other, although there is a lot of animosity between them. Merramin takes down the biggest challenge, and wants to do the impossible.
What intrigued you most about the character of Merrimen?
PS: I was intrigued by his lack of fear. There’s a real nihilism to the character. He’s not afraid of death and actually embraces the idea of it. If he’s going to go out, he wants to go out on his terms. There’s no way he’ll ever let Nick cuff him.
What did you like about the script?
Gerard Butler: When I read the story, what I really liked about is that I had never seen anything like it before. It takes you into a world that is gritty, and real, but has so much heart as well. On one hand, it is very complex heist which is fascinating to get involved with, but you also follow these characters, their families and the hardships that they go through and how living this kind of lives play on them and also how human they really are. End of the day, they are still trying to have families, and trying to live a regular life in some way.
That part of the story is so efficiently told, it has a surprising amount of heart and emotion. Then you go through the whole emotion that the world you’re going through is not necessarily the world you’re in. There are twists and turns in a way that I have never seen, it’s a script with so many surprises.
How was it working with first-time director Christian Gudegast?
GB: Christian is like a master, it’s like he’s been doing this his whole life. He has no egos, and is so great to work with. He has such an understanding of films, film history and filmmaking. The way he puts scenes and shots together and the pacing is something that really surprised me. Also, his manner on sets — allowing you to experiment, have fun and to go for it, being incredibly encouraging and sensitive to your needs… that’s something you don’t often get with a first-time director. Another thing about Christian is that he’s a strong, masculine guy. He’s all about his martial arts, he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met, but at the same time, he’s incredibly soulful, and one of the most sensitive individuals that I have ever met.
Was there some rivalry on sets, with the boot camp creating competition?
PS: The Regulators would come to the training ground around the time we were leaving, or vice versa. We kept having these moments where we’d be passing each other, and there was animosity and a lot of cold stares – as well as jokes thrown from long distance. It bred this healthy competition, which was good for Gerry and me to have, because it bumped things up.
What about 50 Cent, who plays Enson?
GB: 50 Cent is a bubbly kind of a guy. With his character Enson, he takes the gravitas he has and lets it shine. When he speaks, it’s crazy. During the read-through, he barely raised his voice, but when he was talking, you don’t listen to anyone in the room more than you listen to him. When he said something, he meant something — and that’s who he is. He’s a powerful and quiet person, so when he says he’ll back you up, he means it.
A word for O’Shea Jackson as Donnie?
GB: O’Shea is the find of this movie. I gotta tell you, that kid is amazing. His mind is extraordinary.
Den of Thieves releases today.