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Behind the Screens: 300's Gerard Butler

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 2, 2007 | Publication: Fandango | Author: Richard Horgan

Posted by: DaisyMay

The Scottish Actor Readies for His Close-up as Hollywoodís Latest Action Star

There are signs that 300 will do for Gerard Butler this spring what Casino Royale did for Daniel Craig last fall - namely elevate a versatile UK actor to worldwide stardom. The buzz on the Internet is huge, response to early screenings has been overwhelming, advance ticket sales are surging and early user reviews on Fandango are calling it a ďMust Go!Ē

Itís no wonder. Although there has already been a Hollywood movie (1962ís The 300 Spartans) about the epic battle between 300 Greeks and hundreds of thousands of Persians in 480 B.C., Zack Snyderís adaptation of Frank Millerís graphic novel is like nothing youíve ever seen. And as the bare-chested Spartan king, Leonidas, the 37-year-old Scottish born Butler steps out from behind the mask he wore in The Phantom of the Opera and his supporting role in Angelina Jolieís Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2 to claim a piece of action movie history. During a recent interview, the former stage actor talked about how he prepared for the epic movie, which was shot entirely in front of green screens on soundstages in Montreal, Canada.

Question: What was your training regimen for 300?

Gerard Butler: Well, first of all, I remember the unsolicited comments from people that I didnít even know, when I was on holiday in Italy, about me being fat. So I guess I had a bit of work to do. My frameís always been pretty good since the days of Attila [a 2001 British TV movie] and Iíve been fortunate that various jobs have required me to do a lot of physical things. But when I started training for this, I was probably at one of my lowest [states], so I felt like I had a mountain to climb. In fact, I did have a mountain to climb. I think I trained harder for this one than I did for any other role.

Q: Did you sustain any injuries during the shoot?

Butler: A few. I have a scar on my knuckle from when I tried to spear somebody and ended up punching the shield. Iíve got a bunch of bruises. I pulled my hip flexor. Iíve got tendonitis on both my elbows and shoulders. Iíve gone through a lot in this film. After a couple months, it really starts to take its toll.

I think I overdid my training at the start. Thatís what I do. I dive into these things and I donít always judge it very well. But Iím glad now: I imagine how our king would be feeling, because Iím sure heís had a few bumps and bruises in battles. To me, itís all part of the experience.

Q: What other factors guided your physical preparation?

Butler: I was also concerned with fitting the [image] I felt the King needed. When you take a look at the way [King] Leonidas has to braid his hair, it requires a big body underneath that hair. No matter how strong I was, it wasnít going to work if you saw a skinny body underneath this hair, so I knew I had to get big and strong as well.

The first couple of months, I was training six hours a day because I was also doing two hours of sword fighting in this crazy place out in the Valley in LA with no air conditioning. That was a good way to lose weight because I sweat so much there! Then I would train with the movie trainer and then I would train with my own trainer. Itís as much mental endurance as physical endurance. Itís taken its toll on my body I have to say. I really feel it.

Q: Did you consult the source graphic novel by Frank Miller much?

Butler: Absolutely, I spent a lot of time looking at the comic and so did [director] Zach [Snyder]. There are certain moments in the graphic novel where the king has such incredible stances or positions that weíve tried to emulate in the film. I often found myself referring to the book even when it was not something we were trying to emulate, just to get a feeling of the mood Leonidas was in.

But youíve got to temper it with the fact that if you take certain things too far, it would just look ridiculous. You try to find that fine line between believability and the fantasy elements of the piece. Itís all hyper-real Ė and real at the same time. Itís finding that fine line between this manís absolute brutality Ė and the fact that heís a hero who pushes the definition of ďheroĒ to the edge.

Sometimes you might feel that the Spartans are the bad guys because we kick so much butt the whole way through the movie. Weíre not just killing them; we love it. This is what we were born and bred to do. At the same time, remember that we didnít start [this] war. We were being attacked. Now we are going to make it as bloody and as much fun as possible, because this is what we live for.

Q: Was it fun running around battling with all those swords and shields?

Butler: Itís great, but itís hard as well. My back, legs and shoulders were killing me, because youíre carrying the shield and youíre slashing with the sword. You have a big cape, and after twelve hours, it really starts to feel heavy on you.

I worked with the best stuntmen Iíve ever worked with. Not just in terms of their incredible talent, but in terms of how much they give you of their souls and how encouraging they are, how patient they are. However good I [may] look on screen, they make me look ten times better.

Q: Were you self-conscious at all about wearing a codpiece?

Butler: I was at the start. The first time I tried it on, I had to walk past a lot of the crew who hadnít really seen anybody dressed like this yet. I was dressed in a pair of trainerís black socks and a leather codpiece, with nothing else on. The crew was watching me walk past and I could see the smiles on their face, and I thought, ĎIs it going to be months of this?!í But the funny thing is, eventually they didnít blink an eye.

Q: Whatís it like working on a set where itís basically a green screen, with not much else there?

Butler: Itís definitely challenging. In something like the movie of The Phantom of the Opera, you had the theatre setting. You were surrounded by the dancers and all the crowds. I had my lair downstairs where there were elements to look at, to feel, touch and smell. Whereas here, sometimes youíre just standing next to one false rock, and youíre supposed to be looking at an army of a million that isnít there. Youíre talking to an army of 300 that might only be made up of about 10 guys at that point.

Q: Was there a certain element of theatricality to the experience of filming 300?

Butler: It did often feel like theatre. The only difference is that in theatre, you get to tell the story from the start. So when youíre in the middle of it, youíre not really thinking about [the experience], youíre just there. You donít even have to think about where you are, and I miss that. Thatís a big difference between the theatre and film.

I was always checking that nice balance between the comic book character and the theatrical elements of 300, and not pushing it too much either way. Itís whatís fascinating about this project. Sometimes I would go, ĎI have no idea what weíre making here.í But I also knew we were making something that has never been seen before.

For a list of other recent Behind the Screens columns, click here.


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