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Q&A: With '300's Gerard Butler and Zack Snyder

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 7, 2007 | Publication: The Towerlight | Author: Becki Lee

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Gerard Butler - Actor

With several epic roles tucked underneath his belt already - Dracula, Beowulf, the Phantom of the Opera - Gerard Butler was primed for the part of King Leonidas in Frank Miller's "300," the story of Sparta's last stand against King Xerxes I and his massive army. Director Zack Snyder has said that Butler didn't just act; he was Leonidas. Miller portrays Leonidas as a leader of such strength of character that his people, in their unwavering loyalty, would follow him to their deaths. To prepare for this challenging role, Butler underwent a strict training regimen, pushing his body to its limit alongside the other actors, developing strength of character - a taste of life as a Spartan - along with rippling muscles. The training sessions fostered a sense of unity among the actors, but at the same time encouraged a healthy spirit of competition by posting each actor's individual results for all to see.

How did you adjust to working almost entirely with blue screens?

It was a very different experience, long and laborious. Everything is just wrapped in blue. But when it gets down to the nitty gritty, it builds a kind of strength because you don't have that natural environment. It has to be a leap of faith. And when you finally see the film, you say, "Oh, that's how it's supposed to look."

Working with the blue screen, it was hard to keep everything rooted in reality. You're standing on top of fiberglass, and you often had to imagine there were armies of a million to your north, and archers to the west. It's a little weird, but you have to just use your imagination, and trust yourself and the director.

What was it like, preparing for the movie with so much physical training?

The physicality of the part leads into so much strength of character, of self-belief, of confidence, of fearlessness. We'd train on set in between scenes, pumping iron. It keeps the fire burning inside you.It was a chance to play at making myself look and feel as powerful as possible without being stiff. The character has to be larger than life, but still needs to have a heart and soul�.The power of these guys is almost monstrous and animal-like. They couldn't be any more masculine.

How was this role different from your other roles thus far?

It was filmed in one big bloody warehouse. It was kind of weird, and required more physical strength than my other roles. More blood, sweat, tears. It was very different. I always felt, as we were working, that in some ways this was epic, dark and edgy. It felt like new, fresh cinema.

What appealed to you about this role?

First, I loved the script. There was a certain class and elegance about it - yet it was so violent, so brutal. The nobility and valor of Leonidas was obvious. You immediately meet the guy [in the film] and he's an absolute commander with the unwavering loyalty of all his men. It was kind of great. Kickass.

Zack Snyder - Director

Zack Snyder made his directorial debut with his remake of "Dawn of the Dead" in 2004, which achieved positive reviews despite its graphic nature. Now he's applied his directing skills to Frank Miller's "300," which hits theaters March 9.

"300" is a film adaptation of Miller's graphic novel of the same name, focusing on the Battle of Thermopylae from the Spartans' point of view. King Xerxes I and his Persian army aim to take over Greece, but King Leonidas of Sparta is determined to stop them at all costs - even if it costs him his life and the lives of his soldiers. Sparta's famous last stand against the Persian army pits only 300 Spartans against the hordes of Persians, a hopeless match but one that exemplifies the strength of character of the Grecian warriors.

How involved was Frank with the directing process? Did you guys collaborate?

Frank and I were involved to different degrees. We did have appointments together. He wanted to see if I was going to screw up his book or not. [laughter] We'd bounce ideas off of each other, but in the end it was me doing most of it.What particular challenges did you find in writing the screenplay?

I have so much respect for Frank's graphic novel. I didn't want it to see it get turned into a movie, which sounds funny, but I didn't want to see it Hollywoodized. So I made it myself. The color of the book was unique to Frank's world as well. His retelling of the events was different from what you see in a lot of comic book movies. We'd take Frank's frames and try to make them real�it was all done out of reverence of Frank's work. I'm knocking on a lot of wood right now.

Is there a link between the events of the movie and current events - say, with the war in Iraq?

Though people want to draw parallels, we didn't really think about it when we were actually shooting. A few people find metaphors on our set, and some people have actually asked, "So who's supposed to be George Bush?" But that wasn't our intention. Our intention was to get to the Spartans' viewpoint. And maybe it'll inspire debate, which can lead to change or discussion.

Have you been a fan of Frank Miller's work before getting involved in this movie?

Yeah, I've been a fan of Frank's work for quite a while. The shot to bring his graphic novel to screen was a dream come true.

Most of the movie was shot in a soundstage in Montreal. You utilized blue screens to have greater control of the look and feel of the movie in order to more closely resemble Frank's book. How did you get the actors to visualize what was going on?

I do credit the actors with being able to transform the area around them in their minds to ancient Sparta or Greece. They really sell the reality of the performance. They would really work well together - if you gave two actors the same thing they would play off of each other.


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