Category: Misc./General Career News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: January 30, 2007 | Publication: Men's Health | Author: editor
To become fit for a king, 300 star Gerard Butler trained harder than most pro athletes for 4 months straight. But his biggest challenge came when the cameras stopped rolling
As Gerard Butler rushes into his hotel lobby, he seems slightly disoriented. Maybe it's the chill winds buffeting New York City. But more likely, it's the lingering effects of his just-completed session of eye- movement desensitization and reprocessing, a laser-light show of sorts that supposedly hot-wires the synapses of your gray matter. "It's normally used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder," the 37-year-old actor says. However, his hope is that it will help coordinate the analytical and creative lobes of his brain, enabling him to better manage his life.
Perhaps he should ask for a refund. Butler not only is 45 minutes late for our interview, but also requires an additional 5 minutes to tidy up -- his pug puppy is in heat -- and then another 10 when his room key won't open the door. Once inside, he quickly apologizes for the clutter of brochures and tile samples, which he attributes to the overdue renovation of his Manhattan condo -- the one he bought in early 2004 but has yet to occupy.
While all of this frustrates Butler enough to take a stab at laser-light therapy, at least he can justify his disorganized personal life as an occupational hazard. After all, his success as an actor depends on his ability to inhabit the mind of another person and then stay in character for months. And when you consider his larger-than-life roles in modern-day epics such as Dracula 2000, Attila the Hun, and the newly released 300 -- in which he plays Leonidas, King of Sparta (*1) -- you understand why he might run late for an appointment or take 3 years to remodel his apartment. Would a vampire heed deadlines? Would a king compare swatches?
To become King Leonidas, Butler, who by his own admission was in less- than-ideal shape when he was tapped for the starring role in 300, spent 4 months transforming both his body and his mind. Early on, it became an all-consuming task. That's because the intense training required to build a warrior's physique -- aesthetically and functionally -- simultaneously cultivated a warrior's mentality. Or maybe it was vice versa.
Either way, it's the reason Butler enlisted the help of Mark Twight, a former world-class mountain climber who, based on personal experience, believes in training as if your life depends on it. In fact, Twight would argue that a good workout should make you feel almost queasy upon hearing what lies ahead. For example, to hasten Butler's mind-body transformation, he created what he calls the "300-rep Spartan workout." (Trust us, 100 reps is plenty hard.) (*2) It goes like this: Without resting between exercises, Butler performs 25 pullups, 50 deadlifts with 135 pounds, 50 pushups, 50 jumps on a 24-inch box, 50 floor wipers (*3), 50 single-arm clean-and-presses using a 36-pound kettle bell, and 25 more pullups. All this, in addition to utilizing other unconventional yet equally taxing training methods, such as tire flipping and gymnastics-style ring training. Sound like hell? It is. In fact, upon receiving his marching orders for a Spartan workout, one of Butler's costars told Twight, "It feels like you just killed my dog."
Five weeks before the cameras were to roll, Butler took on extra sessions with a Venezuelan bodybuilder named Franco LiCastro in order to exaggerate the physique he was after. "I wanted to look really strong," says Butler. "I've seen so many actors play these kinds of roles, and you see all this equipment on either a big belly or skinny little arms." It worked in more ways than one: On-screen, the bearded actor lords over the battlefield like testosterone incarnate, with the steely gaze, cobblestone abs, and broad, chiseled shoulders you suspect one would need to command 300 men to their slaughter.
"You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you've pumped -- the history of that is all in your eyes," says Butler of his dedication. "That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, Shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion."
Of course, the downside to an extreme transformation is just that -- it's extreme. Case in point: During production, Butler would often train with Twight, train with LiCastro, and then do his sword-and-shield work for hours on end. As a result, every joint in his 6'2'' body ached by the time he set down his shield for the last time. And at some point along the way, he became overtrained, a state in which the stress of training has surpassed the body's ability to recover fully from it. (*4) As a result, once filming wrapped, Butler stopped working out as abruptly as he'd started. Understandably, his body -- and mind -- needed a break. But the upshot was that his no-holds-barred training regimen turned into an equally hard-to-shake layoff, one that would last 8 months. Neither approach is healthy long term.
According to Butler, it's all a result of his obsessive personality, which is at once an asset and a liability. As with most type A's, he's still learning to ride the positives while keeping the negatives from sending him off the rails. For instance, before he became an actor, Butler's keenly analytical mind led him to law school in his native Scotland, where he graduated with honors and became president of the Glasgow University Law Society. But that profession quickly took a backseat to his extended trips to America, where he would work really odd jobs (leading guided tours at SeaWorld; traveling with a carnival full of ex-cons) when he wasn't being arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
An active, probing mind lacking an off switch, you see, is also an easily distracted one. I catch a glimpse of this when changing the tape during our interview. Seconds later, Butler stops abruptly midsentence to ask if I just flipped it from side B back to side A -- which, of course, would erase the first half of our conversation. (It was a new tape.)
Then there's his smoking. The actor has done it for years, knows cigarettes are as deadly as any sword, and wants badly to quit. In fact, the flashing-lights treatment that made him late is also intended to help him kick the cancer sticks once and for all. (*5) Yet even for this interview -- a Men's Health cover story, mind you -- here's Butler, firing up within the first 10 minutes. For what it's worth, the irony doesn't escape him.
We all struggle to balance the mundane tasks of our daily lives with our higher purpose, real or imagined. (Why worry about that oil change or checkup when you have a sales quota to meet or a screenplay to write?)
So imagine what it's like for someone whose career depends on transforming himself into another person for extended periods of time. "A more balanced life would be better for Gerry Butler. But the obsessive, all-or-nothing way I tend to go about things worked great for playing Leonidas, who knew he had no future," says the actor of his character's self-chosen fate. "But that's a short-term view of how to live in my world."
Which is why Butler seems as driven to regain control of his personal life as he is to sketch indelible portraits on-screen. After 8 months of not working out, Butler returned to the gym 4 days a week, adopting a more balanced approach to fitness. (*6) He's also finding that the nutrition knowledge he's picked up during his character transformations has begun to stick. "My diet is still never quite as scheduled as I wish it were, but now I try to eat vegetables and chicken instead of burgers and fries like I used to," he says. The reemergence of his six-pack suggests the newfound discipline is paying dividends.
Smoothing out the roller-coaster ride onto which Butler the actor takes Butler the man in between films, while still peaking when the cameras roll, may be his most challenging role yet.
1. Never Say Die
It was history's staunchest goal-line stand: 300 Spartan warriors fending off a million-man Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC to save Greece, and perhaps even the seeds of democracy. Comic-book legend Frank Miller (Sin City) depicted the battle in a graphic novel, which hooked director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead). "This is an incredible story to begin with," says Butler, "but Frank took it and turned it into a brilliant book. And Zack turned it into this masterpiece."
2. Train For Victory
Start off by doing 100 reps using four to six different exercises, 10 to 25 reps per exercise. Build up from there until you can do 300 without rest. Feel free to swap in exercises such as jumping jacks, dumbbell curls, and Swiss-ball crunches, says Butler's current trainer, Manhattan-based Joe Dowdell, C.S.C.S.
3. Learn A New Move
"Lie on the floor holding a 135-pound bar straight overhead," says Twight. "Keeping his legs straight, Butler touches his feet to one plate, lowers them to the floor in the center, and then raises them up to touch the other plate." That's one repetition. Try it yourself, but with an empty bar first, raising your feet until they're about 8 inches away from the bar (since there's no weight plate to touch).
4. Recover Faster
To determine whether you're pushing too hard, begin measuring your heart rate upon waking. When your reading is three to five beats above normal, your ability to recover is compromised, says Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S. Downshift your training -- and try to sleep more -- until your heart rate returns to normal.
5. Stop Smoking
Rather than having lights flashed into your eyeballs to quit the lung darts, you should start wearing the nicotine patch 2 weeks before your quit date -- one study shows that this ups the success rate significantly. Wear the patch on your arm, rather than on your back or stomach, to improve absorption.
6. Strike A Balance
To see Butler's current workout with Dowdell, click here.