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Butler at ease filling movie's king-size shoes

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: The Toronto Star | Author: Richard Ouzounian

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Taps into 'eternal energy' as Leonidas in 300, writes Richard Ouzounian

Gerard Butler's King Leonidas may have been able to withstand the mighty Persian army in the film 300, which opens today, but he couldn't triumph over Canadian immigration.

"We had just finished shooting in Montreal," he recalled in an interview this week in Toronto, "and I was in the airport on my way home (to London). My hands were all bloody and battered and covered with scabs because of the battle scenes I had been doing and the woman at immigration wanted to know why I was in such terrible shape.

"I told her I was an actor and she just looked at me strangely and put me in another room for an hour. Then another guy came in, said, 'I recognize you. You were in Beowulf. Off you go.' But by then, I had missed my plane and had to wait another day to get back home."

In a way, that was an appropriate coda for his experience of appearing in Zack Snyder's film inspired by the Frank Miller graphic novel about the famous Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, where 300 valiant Spartan soldiers held off thousands of Persian troops in a courageous act of military defiance.

"All throughout making this movie," says Butler, "the things I thought would be hard were easy and the easy things were hard.

"Everybody asks me about the physical training we went through to get ourselves into shape and sure, it was demanding. But once you committed to it, there were no surprises.

"What did catch you off guard was the emotional level of intensity you had to bring to every scene you were in. It's easy to get caught up in strutting and doing the peacock routine, but I wanted everyone to believe that every feeling really was mine.

"Everything has to come from within yourself."

Butler eagerly admits he has no trouble tapping into the "eternal energy" that lies behind playing such epic historical roles.

"As a kid," he recalls, "I always had this incredible relationship with fantasy and times gone by. Coming from Scotland, I spent a lot of time in the Highlands and we'd be driving up the West Coast and I'd see myself there walking over the hills at night in an army or a hunting party."

His gift for visualization also helped him out during the complex shooting of the movie as nearly 90 per cent of the film was shot in a studio against a blue screen. The backgrounds were added later through CGI.

"At first," he confesses, "I couldn't do it. I thought, 'I need some reality.' But then I changed my mind and looked on it as a place where we were making our own magic."

The boldness of Butler's performance raises the question of how he became free enough to act with such abandon, which he just shrugs off.

"There's a time when you have you have to just let it rip and not worry about what everyone is going to think. Forget about people saying, 'Oh, it's not Braveheart.'"

But in the end, what ultimately gave Butler the courage was the gravity of the questions 300 raises. "How far would I go before I sell out?" he asks. "How far would I go for what I believe in?"

A few U.S. critics have seen the film as a parable of Americans fighting against the forces of foreign enemies with the examples of Sept. 11 and the Alamo being invoked.

Butler denies that was the intention.

"When we were making the film," Butler insists, "I can say, hand on heart, that none of us were creating it with any political connotations.

"Sure, wars are about clashing cultures and, of course, there are going to be similar implications about other battles. But just because one army is from the east and the other is from the west doesn't mean it has to be about a specific scenario today.

"What do I think 300 is? I think it's a kick-ass tale, mate."


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