300, Dead Man Who Talks

Category: Interviews | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: March 1, 2007 | Publication: Italian Vanity Fair | Author: Francesca Scorcucchi
Publication/Article Link:Scans of Vanity Fair in Gallery

~thanks to GelatoLuvr for this translation

Gerard Butler is the King of Sparta in 300, The kolossal (term used to describe big motion pictures) that brings back to life the battle of Thermopylae. In this interview he explains, among other things, who taught him how to handle the blade: a certain LEONIDAS. The fact that he had lived 2,500 years ago, to him, it's only a detail.

P.104 - Only one man in command.
Scottish actor, Gerard Butler, 37, plays King Leonidas in the movie 300, opening on March 23, which recreates the famous battle of Thermopylae. To the right, a scene (from the movie)

P.106 "Don't give me that look. I'm not crazy. But I really have to stop telling people about this. Every time I do it, they look at me with their eyes widened and the jaw all stiff, as if they were desperately trying not to laugh".

I admit it. I was desperately trying not to laugh while Gerard Butler, 37, Scottish from Glasgow, was explaining me that during the filming he was constantly communicating with his character. Meaning Leonidas, the 17th king of Sparta, hero of the Thermopylae battle (480AD), known for his courage, who with a limited group of Spartans (300, precisely) held Xerxes' great Persian army of thousands for three days before giving way to it. "It was really him, Leonidas, who taught me how to handle a blade or a spear".

"You too think I'm crazy?". The question is not entirely out of place. Not that Gerard Butler, Gerry, friends call him, is actually out of his mind (although, by the end of the interview, as you will all realize too, he himself starts to have some doubts). But he has the determined look -almost obsessed- that geniuses have, with fire-breathing eyes (green ones, gorgeous), capable of filling with enthusiasm everything he does, even when it comes to simply answering the questions of a journalist. To play Leonidas, after all, having a little bit of craziness isn't a bad thing. "He sure was nuts, savagely nuts. He left with 300 soldiers to stop an entire army and he wasn't even thinking about death! He thought that his few, worthy men would defeat Xerxes' army".

Obligatory explanation: 300, in our theatres starting Mach 23, is a blockbuster in the United States (bringing in 70 million dollars during the first weekend, ten more than what was spent to produce it). The movie, a dark-shaded kolossal very well-liked by the younger audience, has unleashed quite a few controversies: in the US, it's been compared, although pushing it, to the current War on Iraq, while in Iran there have been a number of really harsh official complaints regarding the way the Persians are being portrayed. 300 is based on the comic of the same name by Frank Mille, author of Sin City and Daredevil, which just narrates the battle of Thermopylae.

It's astonishing to see how precisely the movie has been recreated from the comic. Even the screaming..
"Yeah, it's weird. You read the comic and it's clear to you that they are yelling, you can even feel the intensity of their yelling.. but they aren't actually yelling! I mean, it's a comic, they are just written words. Regardless, it's true, the Spartans yell a lot and, just like the readers can sense the intensity of the yelling, director Zack Snyder was able to recreate it incredibly well".

But who is Leonidas?
"A true hero, very human, close to his people, the family, in love with his wife and son. But for a Spartan, what matters the most is fighting and the only honorable death is in the battlefield... and back then, at the time of the Thermopylae battle, he was starting to age, with the risk of drying in his sleep. Such thing was just unacceptable for a Spartan”.

So he went to "kill himself" with his men.
"Exactly: all looking for a beautiful death. No matter how many characters I play, between now and eternity, I'll never get another chance to be as macho".

Are you happy that your fame as sex symbol has been steadied?

Yes, and that's it?
"You should be glad. You gave me an opportunity to give you an answer that was shorter than your question, and let me assure you that it has never happened before. My problem, actually, is that I can never give a short answer - you see? - I'm lengthening myself already. Normally, I'm not even interested in questions that won't allow me to talk for at least 10 minutes".

Perhaps it's because he's really a little crazy, or maybe it's just memories from the past. Butler obtained a degree in Law, at the University of Glasgow, before beginning a career as an actor, but his dreams of becoming a lawyer drowned after he lost his job at the practice where he was working, just one week before his Law School Admission Test .

“I'll be honest, I don't give a damn about being a sex symbol. I'm much more interested in being a good actor, choosing good movies, and doing a great job in those movies. Then, if people say that I'm a hunk and that I'm sexy, okay, thanks, I'll take that. It's always better than being told I'm disgusting. Isn't it? “

But is there anything that Gerry Butler takes seriously?
“Soccer. When I was a kid, not a day went by that I did not play ball. I'm a fan of the Celtic club from Glasgow. Jersey, shorts, cleats: that's the uniform I'm most comfortable in”.

In the movie you're wearing a different uniform: leather boxer shorts, cape and shield. How does that feel?
“The only thing that's really complicated is the cape. You have no idea how annoying it gets. That "thing" has a life on its own and it keeps trying to "participate" in the battle. Sometimes it even tries to kill you, it just wraps all around you right as a soldier has their blade pointed at your head, and there you are trying to break free, because you only have a moment before having to face fifteen coworkers. They are supposed to be coming up against you one at a time, and you're supposed to be killing them one by one, but instead there you are, fighting against your own cape, and at times you even get hurt”.

Did you hurt yourself?
“Everyday. You just can't film a movie of this kind, practically naked on scene, without getting hurt. You'd be fighting, and then you end up hitting the edge of the shield of the guy next to you, you fall and your spear falls on you, and if you don't move out of the way quickly enough, you get hit. Or you end up getting frustrated, like I did right before we filmed the last scene: I spent two or three minutes on the ground, kicking, screaming, scratching the soil... I still can’t explain what I was trying to accomplish, I just know that eventually I got up and found myself with a burning temperature, my hands were full of cuts, but I felt ready for the final battle. Next thing I know it was time to leave and I got stuck at the immigration office”.

“Yeah, the movie was over and I had to return to Los Angeles from Montreal, which is where we filmed it. But then they stopped me and wouldn't let me get on the plane”.

Are you kidding?
“No, I'm serious. At the immigration office this one lady, an American agent, asked me: "Why are your hands all scratched up?", I replied by simply telling her the truth. "You see, I'm an actor, I just filmed a scene with swords, and I hurt myself scraping the ground with my hands.." She, who didn't know who I was, looked at me like I was crazy. But to you, do I look crazy?"

P.24 (Index)
Gerard Butler The Warrior
From Scotland to Thermopylae what a hero!