Gerard Butler took a beating in the swords-and-sandals epic “300,” but his opponent in his latest film would make a fella yearn for a battle with an invading Persian Army.
“Chasing Mavericks,” which hits theaters today, depicts an early chapter in the life of surfing legend Jay Moriarity, who, as a teen, rode the infamous Northern California break for the title.
Newcomer Johnny Weston plays Moriarity and Butler plays his mentor, Frosty Sesson. And playing the mighty Mavericks, home to some of the most dangerous waves in the world: the Mavericks.
Much to any dainty actor’s chagrin, the film’s surfing action was shot in and around Moriarity’s home field, where waves can reach the size of five-story buildings.
“One wrong turn,” Frosty warns at one point, “you’re hitting the water like concrete at 50 miles an hour.”
Butler would know: While filming a scene at Mavericks in December, a mean barrel from the outside took the actor down and held him there for a set before washing him through the rocks. A medical team eventually plucked the actor from harm’s wave and whisked him to Stanford Medical Center.
“Yeah, I spent the night in the hospital,” says the star, who’d surfed only a handful of times prior to filming. “We hadn’t seen waves like that in a couple of weeks. It was a massive set, and I was right in the worst place.”
Cast members openly wonder whether the incident was a love-tap from Moriarity, who’d go on to become one of the biggest names in big-wave surfing before a tragic diving accident in the Maldives in 2001 ended his life.
What message was the film’s subject attempting to convey from above?
“Check this out!” Butler offers. “You gotta earn the right to be in my movie!”
Shot by directors Curtis Hanson ("8 Mile") and Michael Apted (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”), the film from Fox and Walden Media features some of the best surfing from recent cinema.
But it is, at its heart, a love letter to Moriarity, whose easy smile, kind soul and zest for life endeared him to all who crossed his path. Revered by the surf world over, the inspired boy who inspired a movie remains the pride and joy of his hometown of Santa Cruz, where locals have coined a motto in his memory: “Live Like Jay.”
“Somebody like this comes along once in a blue moon,” Butler says, “where everything about their character is so inspirational and yet humble and yet tenacious -- all of the things that are required to be that one-in-a-million, that person who achieves something special. And he did: Jay surfed that wave at 15 years old. He also died at 22 years old. Everything about him was almost informed by destiny.”
Elsewhere at the nexus of sports and entertainment:
TUBE NEWS: NASCAR GOES YELLOW AND SEXY FISHING?
• Jeff Gordon’s “Drive for Five” is all but over, which may explain the four-time NASCAR champ’s visit to Springfield in the Nov. 11 episode of “The Simpsons,” titled “Adventures in Baby-Getting.” He’ll hit up Moe’s Tavern, presumably to Duff his Chase troubles away.
• In production now and airing on Animal Planet next spring: an ambitious competitive-fishing reality show that will see 10 expert fishermen do battle at remote holes over eight weeks. To be honest, Blitz doesn’t fish and probably won’t ever watch this program, but the series bears mention if only for its amazing title: “Top Hooker.”
TEAM DOCS: DUNKING A DISABILITY AND WHEN TONY HAWK HAD PIMPLES
• Think “Murderball” meets “Hoop Dreams” and you’ve got “Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story,” opening Oct. 26 in NYC. Filmmaker Franklin Martin documents the inspiring journey of a 6-foot-11, one-armed baller from his battles with bias through his pursuit of a Division-I basketball scholarship.
• “Bones Brigade,” in theaters Nov. 2, rewinds to the 1980s, when X Games was nothing more than a reference to a former girlfriend’s antics. The documentary remembers how a gang of young misfits -- including a 13-year-old runt named Tony Hawk -- invented new tricks, brought the cool and revolutionized skateboarding. Former pro-turned-documentarian Stacey Paralta (“Dogtown & Z-Boys”) reunites the crew for a look back.
GAME FILM: A NOT-SO-BALLER’S LIFE
• Opening Friday in L.A.: “The Last Fall,” written and directed by former NFL receiver Matthew Cherry, tells the semi-autobiographical story of an out-of-work pro gridder (Lance Gross) who takes a gig at his hometown gym and rekindles a romance with a high school flame.
“Most of us don’t get that Tom Brady contract,” says Cherry, who made the NFL cut for three seasons but only played in one pro game (for the Bengals). “I wanted to humanize the typical pro athlete, the practice-squad guys who don’t have a game plan for when teams stop calling.”
Cherry’s game plan: After retiring in 2007, he moved to Hollywood to pursue filmmaking, first cutting his teeth as a production assistant before directing music videos. “I didn’t tell anybody about my football background because of the bias that comes with it,” Cherry says. “It was humbling, but it’s paying off.”