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Interview: Gerard Butler

Category: 300 News
Article Date: February 21, 2007 | Publication: Moviehole | Author: Staff

Posted by: DaisyMay

Scottish actor Gerard Butler sang for his supper as the ill-fated 'Phantom of the Opera' and not to be outdone, takes on the mythical King Leonidas in the much anticipated '300', a stylized retelling of the Spartan attempt to do battle against the mammoth Persian army. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, to Margaret and Edward Butler, Gerard Butler was raised (along with his older brother and sister) in his mother's hometown of Paisley, Scotland (he also spent some of his early youth in Canada). His parents divorced when he was a child and he and his siblings were raised primarily by their mother, who later remarried. He had no contact with his father until he was 16 years old, after which time they became close. His father passed away when Gerard was in his early 20s. Butler went on to attend Glasgow University, where he studied to be a lawyer/solicitor. He was president of the school's law society thanks to his outgoing personality and great social skills.

His acting career began when he was approached in a London coffee shop by actor Steven Berkoff (who later appeared alongside Butler in 'Attila', who gave him a role in the play "Coriolanus", and Butler decided to give up law school for acting. He was later cast as Ewan McGregor's character Renton in the stage adaptation of 'Trainspotting' (1996). His film debut was as Billy Connolly's younger brother in 'Mrs. Brown' (1997). While filming the movie in Scotland he was enjoying a picnic with his mother, near the River Tay, when they heard the shouts of a young boy who had been swimming with a friend who was in some trouble. Butler jumped in and saved the young boy from drowning. He received a "Certificate of Bravery" from the Royal Humane Society. He felt he only did what anyone in the situation would have done.

His film career continued with small roles in the James Bond movie 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997) and Russell Mulcahy's 'Tale of the Mummy' (1998). In 2000 Butler was cast in his breakthrough roles, the first being Attila the Hun in the USA film 'Attila'. The film's producers wanted a known actor to play the part but kept coming back to Butler's screen tests and decided he was their man. He had to lose the thick Scottish accent, but managed well. Around the time "Attila" was being filmed, casting was in progress for Wes Craven's new take on the 'Dracula' legacy, also wanting a known name (so Butler wasn't much of a consideration). His unending tenacity and drive drove him to hounding the producers. Eventually, he sent them a clip of his portrayal of "Attila". Evidently they liked it because 'Dracula 2000' (2000) was cast in the form of Gerard Butler. "Attila's producers, thinking that his big-screen role might help with their own film's ratings, finished shooting a little early so he could get to work on "Dracula 2000". "Attila" ended up being the second highest rated TV movie ever. Following these two roles, Butler developed quite a fan base and internet sites and lists started popping up everywhere.

Since then he has appeared in 'Reign of Fire' (2002) as Creedy and 'Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life' (2003) as Terry Sheridan, alongside Angelina Jolie. The role that has garnered him much attention from both moviegoers and moviemakers was that of Andre Marek in the big-screen adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel 'Timeline' (2003). Butler played an archaeologist who was sent back in time with a team of students to rescue a colleague. Last year he appeared in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'The Phantom of the Opera' (2004), playing the title character in the successful adaptation of the stage musical, and was a role that has brought him much international attention. Other projects include 'Dear Frankie' (2004), 'The Game of Their Lives' (2005) and 'Beowulf & Grendel' (2005).

Apart from '300', based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, Butler has completed 'Butterfly on a Wheel' and 'PS I Love You'. Butler, in good humour, spoke to Paul Fischer.

What was the challenge for you to play a character in which youíre marrying technology and performance: trying to get the performance right against what was going on technologically.
Gerard: I canít worry about technology. The challenge for me is just to give the best performance that I can. However, youíre right. Youíre always aware that youíre working in a different environment and for me thatís Ė every film you do for one reason or another requires a different thought process or a different approach. And for me itís almost leaving yourself open to that in a weird way. Itís not even necessarily a technique but leaving yourself open to trying to feel, almost by osmosis this different feeling thatís going on there. And then thinking about it as quickly as possible like Phantom of the Opera, I tried to learn so many things in the first few days about performing while singing and literally youíre like Ė itís ridiculous things that you wouldnít even think about like when youíre singing, donít open your mouth so wide because you know all the camera can see is this big open mouth, whereas youíre thinking ĎIím opening my mouthí. But no thatís not how it works. So there it was definitely about trusting. Really trusting the world you were living in because I think the temptation was to force it a little because thereís nothing there and yet sometimes it felt you were performing in a vacuum and in that respect, in using your imagination to create it, might push you towards more theatricality or perhaps explaining things a little more just with your voice and it was about trusting that and trusting who youíre dealing with, your kind of immediate partners in crime if you like.

Was it the character that was interesting for you when you decided to take this on or was it the whole sort of process?
Gerard: It was the whole thing. If I read a script where I had an interesting character but I wasnít really excited about the script then I wouldnít want to do it because thatís happened before and I hated it. Likewise if it was a great script but a character that I didnít love, I wouldnít want to do it. Because Iíve done that before and I hated it. This film had it all. It was a character that Iíd never come across before. Yes I have played similar characters but Iíd never come across one that really pushed the envelope in terms of what it takes to be a hero and what it takes to be a villain because, I have to say, there were times when I thought, ĎJesus these bad guys actually seem kind of nice. Theyíre very reasonableí. You know, there is a confidence and an arrogance about this king and even in terms of the political dealings either messengers or Xerxes that itís quite risky in terms of keeping an audience kind of in your favour. We really pushed that. Thereís never an apology about who they are. They stayed focussed and simple and principled and they never budged on that. And it doesnít really matter what actions come out of those beliefs, thereís no conscience there in that respect when it comes to fighting which I loved because as an audience member Iím always saying in my head to the hero, ĎJust fucken kill Ďem. Kick the shit out of Ďem now. You know heís a bad dudeí. And in this, thatís what they do. So I think that itís really cool that at every turn it kind of goes the way you wouldnít necessarily expect and itís also a great excuse for more violence and more action.

Nothing like a good decapitation as far as Iím concerned.
Gerald: Ouch, in life or in film.

Could you afford to allow yourself to do a lot of research on this? Did you do historical research or not worry?
Gerard: No, I do historical research but I have to say my experiences as, it was the same with Zack, you do all this research and there are some great books, fictional and historical, and then general historical books about the minds of generals and the soul of battle by Victor Davis Hanson or Hanson David Ė you always end up to me probably 90% of where this character and where this film came from was Frank Millerís graphic novel. Because often when you go too much into the past and bring up interesting facts it only muddies the water of your own story. Thereís a very, Iíve got to be honest, really quite a simple true but yet mythological tale going on there and if you start messing Ė you know what? That action story was way more complicated than what it is in the film, as is every story that you see in a film and thatís for the History Channel.

What are you doing next?
Gerard: I donít know. Going to bed.

Is there anything after 300?
Gerard: Well itís been weird because after P.S. I Love You I couldnít do anything early on in the year because of this, because of the press stuff. And I was quite happy to take a rest but now Iím, you know, Iím in a really good place right now. Iím happy with what I have coming out and Iím just going to wait until, you know, see what comes along.

Would you ever do another film that required you work out this intensely and train this intensely?
Gerard: I donít think so, but I think somebody would have to understand just how intensely I trained for this film. I think itís pretty impossible to surpass, at least in my book, I wouldnít want to do it again and I donít think Iíd ever really need to do it again. Itís not where I would necessary go now.

Youíre the romantic lead in P.S. I Love You I take it?
Gerard: Yeah.

Was it a nice change of pace going to that?
Gerard: Oh I loved doing that.

How much training, working out did you do for that movie?
Gerard: Well funnily enough I did. Because I had to do a Menís Health shoot in the middle of it. The cover of Menís Health magazine.

For this movie?
Gerard: Well it was for this movie but it was while I was filming P.S. And the weird thing is I was training in the gym. But then I started getting pumped and quite big and I thought, ĎI canít Ė thatís not this guyí and I had to do a strip tease in front of Hillary, so I had to do this banana cove and to not get in too great shape and then trying in the last week get into really good shape for the Menís Health cover. So it was kind of strange but I loved that film.

You trained for the strip tease?
Gerard: Um, yeah. You just messed around with how can you be as silly as Ė I mean I stripped with a pair of boxer shorts on and suspenders and Chelsea boots and sleepy socks. I mean, there was an element of ĎOK letís think about some funny moves I could doí but at the same time I wanted it to be spontaneous.

It sounds like a nice film.
Gerald: Mmm. Itís great. Iím really excited about it.

Cool. And your leading lady in 300 was not shabby
Gerald: Rodrigo? I know. I love Rodrigo but Lena is very cool. You know, Lenaís from the north of England. Sheís a Newcastle lass and has this really kind of classically beautiful face but then sheís out, she drinks beer, she dances, she jumps about, sheís like one of the guys, and thatís my kind of girl.


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