Gerard Butler told Movie Fanatic that he had tried surfing only three or four times before accepting the role in Chasing Mavericks. The film is a true story about Frosty Hesson (Butler) and his training of a teenage surfer Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston) to tackle the most dangerous waves on the West Coast, known affectionately by the surfing community as Mavericks.
Butler was learning to fly helicopters flying over Malibu, looking below at the hundreds on their boards waiting for the next wave when it hit him: His next film was booked. “I was like, ‘Look at this. What am I thinking? I need to get a place in Malibu and spend a little bit of time here. I need to take this movie and learn how to surf,’” Butler recalled.
He landed the helicopter and phoned his agent and said, “Let’s do it.”
Chasing Mavericks is more than a surfing movie. The film, co-directed by Curtis Hanson (8 Mile) and Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough), is an inspirational tale of triumphing over fear and what the human body is capable of when it is met with fierce motivation.
Butler himself was beyond driven to tackle surfing, not only to serve the story of Frosty and Jay, but for himself as the sport seemed to have been calling to him. “I found the whole experience really transformative. It’s incredibly meditative and spiritual. When you get up on that wave and become one with it, nothing beats it. You just become one with nature. You’re harnessing that power,” Butler said.
Learning surfing, he admitted, even helped his acting. “You have to be in the moment. You’re constantly learning. I always find that movies where you get to do that are the most enticing and rewarding.”
Tackling the athletic aspect of the character was one thing… encompassing the man who has touched so many was another.
“It was quite a daunting experience. But, you’ve obviously gotta give your interpretation. If you try to imitate somebody, it’s a different story. I’m not Frosty, and I don’t really look like him. But I tried to understand what his essence was, what he was about, what he found exciting and interesting, the way he talks about waves, the way he talks about life, and the way he likes to teach,” Butler said.
“He’s a very philosophical character, and he’s well read. So, I wanted to play that guy who enjoys that, but at the same time, he harbors a lot of pain.”
Speaking of pain, while surfing the Mavericks, Butler was instructed who was boss by an enormous wave. “I was in the water and a big wave came, and it taught me a lesson,” he said and laughed.
“It’s funny because Grant Washburn, who actually taught me to surf, talked about it before it happened. He said, ‘Sometimes the ocean will just hold you down. She’ll pin you down by the shoulders and say, I’m going to let you up this time, but I don’t have to.’ When I was down there, I realized that I was completely at the mercy of this power. I was surprised by how much it came back and hit me. It’s not a pleasant experience.”
Butler admitted he was probably in shock, but in the ambulance after being fished out of the water, he wanted out of the vehicle and back on a board. “I knew it was my last day to film any surfing stuff because we were almost done,” he said.
“I was in a pretty bad way for about 45 minutes, but in the ambulance I wanted to go back in the water. The ambulance driver said, ‘We’ve gotta take you to the hospital and check you out.’ After I’d had time to take stock of what had happened, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t hurry back out there!”
Perhaps it was the theme of Chasing Mavericks that rang through Butler’s head and had him wanting to go back and tackle a Maverick himself. And it is not so much about riding waves as it was the impact one person can have on another. “When you really stop for a moment and think about your friends and family, or go out of your way to do something, or make a sacrifice for yourself where you give up something, in order to achieve something, I find that the pay-off is often huge,” Butler said.
“That’s what came out of this movie. There were the sacrifices that Jay made, and the perseverance and dedication that he showed, and the same with Frosty towards him. And you see the surprising and yet magical results that came from that.”