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WATCH: Geostorm’s Jim Sturgess on saving Dubai, punching Ed Harris in the face

William Mullally

Published: Updated:

In the disaster film genre, destroying a man-made structure or city is, in a way, paying the ultimate compliment. In Independence Day or The Day after Tomorrow, it is landmarks such as the White House in Washington D.C. or Big Ben in London that get obliterated by earthquakes or aliens. These scenes show us the best of man’s achievements, making us feel their loss more acutely when they are taken away on screen.

In Geostorm, from first-time director Dean Devlin (producer of the Independence Day films), Dubai is the genre’s latest victim, hit by a tsunami caused by a futuristic weather-controlling satellite system.

The film stars Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess as brothers both working to stop the disaster before it’s too late. Sturgess plays Max Lawson, the head of the weather-controlling project, who uncovers a plot to destroy the world via ‘geostorm’ from within the White House.

“As I am from here, I would like to first of all thank you for your service in saving Dubai from the geostorm,” I say to Sturgess.

“Yeah Dubai gets quite badly hit in the film, if I remember. I was quite disappointed to see that London doesn’t get touched in the movie. I don’t know what that says about London.”

London has had its day. “It’s about time we have the Burj Khalfia be brought into one of these things,” I say.

In the disaster films of yore, filmmakers used miniature recreations of the landmarks and filmed their demise using slow motion cameras. In today’s movies, most special effects are done with computer-generated imagery in post-production. Sturgess, like us, only got to see the real scope of Geostorm when he finally sat down to watch it in the cinema.

“I had a couple of sequences that were green-screen special effects days, and they’re very fragmented while you’re filming it. It makes it really exciting to watch it as a film, having been a part of the process, to actually sit and watch the movie and see the giant world they create around you. It’s hugely exciting actually,” Sturgess says.

Much of the film’s character drama happens over video calls between Gerard Butler’s Jake and Sturgess’ Max, as the two brothers trade off saving the world and repairing their relationship.

“Gerard’s character is up in space and my character is down on the ground. Gerard was in the room, which was a blessing when we actually shot the scenes. We would be there for each other as eye lines. I was often up a ladder because Gerard’s eye line had to be higher than the camera. It made it complicated in that respect as you weren’t face- to-face.”

Sturgess worked more closely on set with actor Ed Harris, with whom he had become friends while filming Peter Weir’s The Way Back in 2010, filmed in Indian deserts.

“Was it difficult to punch your friend in the face?” I ask.

“I felt Ed Harris deserved getting punched by the end of the film,” Sturgess laughs.

“It was actually nice to work with an actor I’ve worked with before. It was one of the few experiences I’ve had to work with an actor who I actually know every well who was a friend. It was interesting because it was such a different environment to the other film that we worked on, where we were kind of half dying bearded in a desert somewhere. This time around we were clean-shaven wearing smart suits in the White House.”

He assures me, however, that he didn’t leave that punch up to a stunt double. That was all Sturgess and Harris.

“We actually did that. It was a night shoot and it was one of those really long nights and it was at the end of the night before the sun comes up. I think I was ready to punch anyone in the face at that point. But no—we really did it. Ed is a very physical guy, so he sold that punch pretty well, I thought.”

- Geostorm is in cinemas now -