It's a few hours before sunset, the light hitting the trees just right. Butler is in the yard, enjoying another Diet Coke. "I wish life could be at this time of day all the time," he says. Then, as if summoned by a director, a single-engine chopper the color of red wine comes whooshwhooshwhoosh-ing over the trees. It belongs to a guy named Freddie, who's a friend of David Myatt's. Butler has arranged for us to take a ride. We dash under the rotors and climb inside.
We take off and head east, following the Red River as it snakes through town. "I love this river!" Butler says. We pass over the house that Sony built for its remake of Straw Dogs and above the replica White House where Butler is filming 'Olympus.' He points out the window: "There used to be two guardhouses back there, but we blew them to shit. And that bus – we blew that up yesterday." Then Freddie asks Butler if he wants to take the controls.
Butler was actually taking helicopter lessons for a while, around the time he was learning to surf ("I was Mr. Action"). But he hasn't flown in about a year. "I probably shouldn't be flying at all, to be honest," he says. But as he guides us around the outskirts of Shreveport, and over a nearby Air Force base with its squadron of B-52s, he seems like he has it totally under control. "Hey, you really know what you're doing!" Freddie tells him. "Most people are real jerky, but you're keeping it smooth."
"Thank you!" Butler says, beaming.
Butler banks left, and we head across town to the lake where he's staying. We pass over a rocky island where a flock of white egrets is taking off, like a scene out of 'Jurassic Park.' "Oh, I used to kayak out there," Butler says. We fly a little farther and he points out his house, a plantation-style mansion with a wraparound white porch. "Do me a favor – take this for a second?" he says to Freddie. "I want to tell my girlfriend to come out."
Butler pulls out his phone and starts typing a text. We approach the house, and there, standing at the end of the dock, is Ghenea, looking very Romanian-lingerie-model-y. "There's Madi!" Butler says. We hover for a few minutes, while the two of them take pictures of each other and wave.
It's almost sunset now, so we head back. We're ready to call it a day when Myatt asks if we want to ride four-wheelers with him and his son-in-law, Mike.
Butler, unsurprisingly, is game. "These guys," he says, smiling, "they fucking fly."
The four of us set out, ripping through the woods in the coming darkness. Butler charges ahead, taking hills and dodging rocks without so much as tapping the brakes. "Whoooo!" he screams. This is the kind of shit he lives for.
But then suddenly, out of nowhere, Mike's four-wheeler hits a stump. He goes flying and hits the ground with a thud. The four-wheeler lands upside down next to him, inches from his head, wheels still spinning. "Call 911," Mike grimaces. "I need an ambulance!"
Butler leaps off his four-wheeler and races over. "All right, just lie down, try not to move," he says. "What hurts?"
"It's between my shoulder blades," Mike says. "I heard a crunch."
"All right," Butler says, crouching down. He dials 911; they say they'll send an ambulance right away.
For a few minutes we just stand there, comforting Mike but feeling basically helpless. Butler, in particular, seems especially pained – a man of action with nothing to do. He spots the offending stump and, for lack of a better option, carries it down to the lake, where he heaves it in with an angry grunt. Splash. Justice.
After a few minutes, Mike starts to feel a bit better. "I think my legs are good," he says. "I think I can get up."
"That's a crazy idea," says Butler. "You're not going anywhere."
"No, it's OK," he insists. "I'm just gonna stand up and take care of these bugs."
But Butler is adamant. "If you have a back injury and you move, you'll do way more damage. Where are the bugs?" Mike points to his ankle, and Butler leans over and tenderly starts scratching the spot where the mosquitoes are biting. "Better?" he asks.
"Yeah," Mike says. "Thank you."
After a while, it becomes apparent that Mike's spine isn't broken. (Later we'll learn he has a broken collarbone, three cracked ribs, and a partially collapsed lung.) Butler starts to brighten. "Well, this'll be a story for the grandkids," he says. Two EMTs from Caddo Parish Fire District 5 arrive and load Mike into the ambulance, and Butler walks over to see him off. "I gotta tell you," he says by way of a farewell. "That was a fucking crash to be proud of."
Back at the man cave, he's more candid. "God, that was horrible. He's so lucky! If that thing had landed on his head, he'd be dead." He's shaken up about Mike, of course. But he also seems a little freaked by the fact that he was 10 feet away from singlehandedly sinking an $80 million movie, all because of an ATV ride. "Can you imagine?" he says, vaguely horrified. A pause. "Anyway, you want a drink? Water? Coke?"
And that's pretty much how things work for Butler. He pushes the limit, goes right up to the edge – and somehow things turn out OK. For all his mishaps, you get the sense that he's leading a pretty charmed life – and he would be the first one to agree.
"Don't get me wrong," Butler says, kicking back with a final Diet Coke. "I bust my balls, whether people like the movies or not. But I'm one of the luckiest guys on the planet."
Sometimes a part of him is tempted to chuck it all – to just get on his bike and ride somewhere, maybe South America or Asia. "Travel the world," he says. "Go to a mountain and sit next to some spiritual wizard, or get on a bike and head into nowhere." Or maybe he'd do the opposite: "Find a place up in the mountains, a little cabin with a great view, and just kick back and stick my feet up."
But in his heart of hearts, he knows that won't happen. "After two months I'd probably go, 'Let me back, I miss it!'" he says. "I'm always telling my agent I need time away, that I work too much, and they always go, 'But you're fucking miserable when you're not working!' That's not totally true, but I get what they're saying. Because when I'm working, I'm focused. I've got something that scares me and excites me, and when it's happening, I just feel like I'm on it, man – like I'm flying."
"And that," he says, smiling, "is a great feeling."