Interview with Gerard Butler of ďMachine Gun PreacherĒ
Dallas , Texas , September 26, 2011
PO : How did you prepare for this role?
GB: I went to visit Sam in Pennsylvania , heard him preach, visited the neighborhood bars, sat at his kitchen table, and we also visited at the site of his African mission. He came to L.A. , and I hung out with him there a few times. When he came to Detroit , I felt like I already knew him. Itís in the eyes. Itís a kind of a swagger. That spark in his eye quickly becomes a tear. Heís a fascinating character to study. Thereís so much going on in there and you donít know whatís coming next. And Sam likes to challenge people. At one point he put a gun on the table and said, ďPick it up.Ē It was like ďThe Deer Hunter.Ē To this day I donít know why he handed me a loaded gun. But it was just one of his little tests. Heís always sizing you up. But thatís the nature of this business, by the way.
PO : There are some in the religious community who feel that itís not the right way, to meet violence with violence. How do you feel about that?
GB: First, Iím playing a role. Itís lethal for me to judge a character when I go in. Samís doing what he does. Heís out there. When heís drinking, heís drinking. When heís converting, heís finding God. And then when heís out there fighting, heís just doing what he does. If I start questioning the ethics of that, thatís not going to help me any in approaching the character. Now that I can look back, thereís no easy answer to that. I have no doubt that thereís a lot of controversy behind Sam and what he does. I understand that completely. I kinda love that, as well. I love that it brings up so much deep discussion as to how to deal with this. But if you watch the movie, thereís one thing that I think is really interesting, at the end, when he says, ďIf you daughter or your son or family member was taken by a terrorist, and I told you I could get him back, would you care how I did it?Ē To be honest, thereís your answer, right there. You asking that question as an American citizen, sitting here, in Texas , itís a very different world out there. If you know anything about the Lordís Resistance Army, they truly have no function, no political agenda, except to go in and kill people. The go in, they cut people up, they burn people to death, they force kids to kill other kids, ritualized killings, they rape the children. As I was studying this, I thought, ďSurely Iím going to find something they do that gives something to the community.Ē They donít. They kidnap children, they wipe out villages, thatís all they do. In a situation like that, when I hear that question, I go, ďOK, thatís a fair point, in a world that makes sense.Ē But that world doesnít make so much sense. And therefore, if Sam had listened to that question you asked, then one thousand children would be dead. And for the last 20 years, 1500 kids a day would not have been fed. So thatís the way to almost analyze it from the converse. The other side, you know, gives me my answer.
PO : Did this role have an effect on you personally?
GB: Affected, yes. I donít know if I was changed, really. I was born Catholic, a practicing Catholic, and have always tried to stay spiritual. Now, Iím more spiritual than religious, I would say, but Iím still drawn toward religion. When I see the change in Samís life, I say, ďIs it religion or is it God?Ē Itís God. I do believe in the power of faith, and belief, and purpose.
PO : How did you prepare yourself for that conversion scene, when you came forward to be baptized at the church?
GB: That was not the most difficult scene for me; that was in Africa . But personally, Iíve had so many moments that were potentially life-changing, and I just tried to channel that energy, that hereís this big, tough, son of a bitch, standing in that pool, knowing that everything was about to change. Emotionally, standing there with my hands crossed, I felt curled up like a little baby, despite the fact that I was desperately unhappy.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephenís Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas