Gerard Butler Interview, Frank Miller's 300Posted by: Sheila Roberts
In 2004, Butler won the coveted title role in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." He also earned critical acclaim for his work opposite Emily Mortimer in the independent feature "Dear Frankie," which screened at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Butler's other recent film credits include "Beowulf & Grendel," "The Game of Their Lives," "Timeline," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "Reign of Fire."
Born in Scotland, Butler made his stage debut at the age of 12 in the musical "Oliver," at Glasgow's famous Kings Theatre. As a young man, his dreams of acting were deterred and he went on to study law for seven years before returning to the stage in London. In 1996, he landed the lead role in the acclaimed stage production of "Trainspotting." He later starred on the London stage in such plays as "Snatch" and the Donmar Warehouse production of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer," opposite Rachel Weisz. In 1997, Butler made his feature film debut in John Madden's award-winning drama "Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown," starring Judi Dench. His early film work also includes "Fast Food," "One More Kiss," the 1999 screen adaptation of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," and "Harrison's Flowers.". Please make note this page is currently in the midst of an overhaul so you may encounter some bugs as we complete it. Here is what Gerard had to tell us about his latest project, Frank Miller's 300.
Q: I was on the set when you guys were shooting the film and you were yelling and in your interview you were like â€˜arrrgghhâ€™ and then the next time I saw you -- you know when you guys showed that 25 minutes -- you were calm and much thinner. Did you feel like there was a major change once youâ€™d wrapped the film?
Gerard: When I wrapped the film? Yeah, definitely. Youâ€™re always flounder for a few days, especially the more of a transformation youâ€™ve had to make. You know, you have been in a way in somebody elseâ€™s mind and somebody elseâ€™s body. This role was a huge transformation for me. And then you finish filming and one, itâ€™s the whole routine changes and suddenly you donâ€™t have to do what you did any more and itâ€™s kind of weird. You feel a little lost and you donâ€™t have to hold yourself the same way physically. Because I noticed in watching the video playback, even when I wasnâ€™t performing I was still walking around as the King and talking like him. And I think in a way youâ€™re still talking like that and holding yourself and then youâ€™re like, â€˜Wait a minute. I donâ€™t do that any more,â€™ you know I can slouch again. So thereâ€™s definitely a period of adjustment and physical pain, because I stopped training and in actual fact thatâ€™s probably the worst thing I couldâ€™ve done. I was crazy.
Q: What was the challenge for you to play a character in which youâ€™re marrying technology and performance: trying to get the performance right against what was going on technologically?
Gerard: I canâ€™t worry about technology. The challenge for me is just to give the best performance that I can. However, youâ€™re right. Youâ€™re always aware that youâ€™re working in a different environment and for me thatâ€™s â€“ every film you do for one reason or another requires a different thought process or a different approach. And for me itâ€™s almost leaving yourself open to that in a weird way. Itâ€™s not even necessarily a technique but leaving yourself open to trying to feel, almost by osmosis this different feeling thatâ€™s 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 youâ€™re like â€“ itâ€™s ridiculous things that you wouldnâ€™t even think about like when youâ€™re singing, donâ€™t open your mouth so wide because you know all the camera can see is this big open mouth, whereas youâ€™re thinking â€˜Iâ€™m performing it.
My mouth isâ€¦â€™ But no thatâ€™s 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 thereâ€™s 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 youâ€™re dealing with, your kind of immediate partners in crime if you like.
Q: 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 wasnâ€™t really excited about the script then I wouldnâ€™t want to do it because thatâ€™s happened before and I hated it. Likewise if it was a great script but a character that I didnâ€™t love, I wouldnâ€™t want to do it. Because Iâ€™ve done that before and I hated it.
Q: Which one was that?
Gerard: This film had it all. It was a character that Iâ€™d never come across before. Yes I have played similar characters but Iâ€™d 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, â€˜Jesus these bad guys actually seem kind of nice.
Theyâ€™re very reasonableâ€™. You know, there is a confidence and an arrogance about this king and even in terms of the political dealings with either messengers or Xerxes that itâ€™s quite risky in terms of keeping an audience kind of in your favour. We really pushed that. Thereâ€™s never an apology about who they are. They stayed focused and simple and principled and they never budged on that. And it doesnâ€™t really matter what actions come out of those beliefs, thereâ€™s no conscience there in that respect when it comes to fighting which I loved because as an audience member Iâ€™m always saying in my head to the hero, â€˜Just f*ckinâ€™ kill â€˜em. Kick the shit out of â€˜em. Now! You know heâ€™s a bad dude.â€™ And in this, thatâ€™s what they do. So I think that itâ€™s really cool that at every turn it kind of goes the way you wouldnâ€™t necessarily expect and itâ€™s also a great excuse for more violence and more action.
Q: Nothing like a good decapitation as far as Iâ€™m concerned.
Gerald: Ouch, in life or in film.
Q: Whatâ€™s interesting is that, and Iâ€™m not going to give away the end of the movie, but you never feel bad for whatâ€™s happening to the Leonidas and his men because theyâ€™re doing what they were born to do. Usually when things happen to the main characters in movies like what happens to them you feel bad, but never for â€¦.
Gerald: Now thatâ€™s interesting because that was actually a very risky path to tread. Because if you focus too much on these menâ€™s willingness to die in battle, then their ultimate death doesnâ€™t mean a thing because you know theyâ€™re happy. And I donâ€™t think that as an audience you really want to feel like that. I personally felt very sad when they died because what had happened was, in that uncompromising unwavering belief that they had that at times as I say, can push an audience to go â€˜Wait a minute, are these really our heroes?â€™ By the end, you respect them for that very thing because when you finally see what happens to them, you go, â€˜They were true lions.â€™
Every single one of them, you know, in terms of their commitment, their passion, their sacrifice. But I did feel bad for them. And we also had to play up, I had to go along in the belief of â€˜Yeah, OK maybe those men are happy to die in battle, but we want to win. We want to take these 300 men and kick the asses of a million men,â€™ you know. Yes, the sacrifice I knew had a deeper meaning and in fact I believe that there was a deeper meaning even in his mind. I feel that with Leonidas there was an element of mysticism, that it wasnâ€™t even about these men dying for him. It was almost like he knew 2500 years later they were going to make a film about it and itâ€™s going to be not just that but itâ€™s going to be a great film. There were many other things going on in his mind but at the end of the day I think the focus has to be that they believed they could win, you know. But if they died, that didnâ€™t matter.
Q: 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 documentaries and 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 â€“ you always end up to me probably 90% of where this character and where this film came from was Frank Millerâ€™s 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. Thereâ€™s a very, Iâ€™ve got to be honest, really quite a simple true but yet mythological tale going on there and if you start messing â€“ 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 thatâ€™s for the History Channel.
Q: What are you doing next?
Gerard: I donâ€™t know. Going to bed.
Q: Is there anything after 300?
Gerard: Well itâ€™s been weird because after P.S. I Love You I couldnâ€™t 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 Iâ€™m, you know, Iâ€™m in a really good place right now. Iâ€™m happy with what I have coming out and Iâ€™m just going to wait until, you know, see what comes along.
Q: Would you ever do another film that required you to work out this intensely and to train this intensely?
Gerard: I donâ€™t think so, but I think somebody would have to understand just how intensely I trained for this film. I think itâ€™s pretty impossible to surpass, at least in my book. I wouldnâ€™t want to do it again and I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d ever really need to do it again. Itâ€™s not where I would necessary go now.
Q: Youâ€™re the romantic lead in P.S. I Love You I take it?
Q: Was it a nice change of pace going to that?
Gerard: Oh I loved doing that.
Q: How much training, working out did you do for that movie?
Gerard: Well funnily enough I did. Because I had to do a Menâ€™s Health shoot in the middle of it. The cover of Menâ€™s Health magazine.
Q: 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, â€˜I canâ€™t â€“ thatâ€™s not this guyâ€™ and I had to do a strip tease in front of Hillary, so I had to do this banana curve into not getting into too great a shape and then trying in the last week to get into really good shape for the Menâ€™s Health cover. So it was kind of strange but I loved that film.
Q: You trained for the strip tease?
Gerard: Um, yeah. You just messed around with how can you be as silly as â€“ I mean I stripped with a pair of boxer shorts on and suspenders and Chelsea boots and scrappy socks. I mean, there was an element of â€˜OK letâ€™s think about some funny moves I could doâ€™ but at the same time I wanted it to be spontaneous.
Q: It sounds like a nice film.
Gerald: Mmm. Itâ€™s great. Iâ€™m really excited about it.
Q: Cool. And your leading lady in this movie was not too shabby either.
Gerald: Rodrigo? I know. [laughter]
Q: Iâ€™m glad the recorders are still going actually.
Gerald: I love Rodrigo but Lena is very cool. You know, Lenaâ€™s from the north of England. Sheâ€™s a Newcastle lass so she has this really kind of classically beautiful face but then sheâ€™s out, she drinks beer, she dances, she jumps about, sheâ€™s like one of the guys, and thatâ€™s my kind of girl.
300 will hit theatres everywhere March 9th. Based on the epic graphic novel by Frank Miller, 300 is a ferocious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. Facing insurmountable odds, their valor and sacrifice inspire all of Greece to unite against their Persian enemy, drawing a line in the sand for democracy. The film brings Millerâ€™s (Sin City) acclaimed graphic novel to life by combining live action with virtual backgrounds that capture his distinct vision of this ancient historic tale