Gerard Butler interview
Los Angeles - Born in Glasgow, Scotland to Margaret and Edward Butler, who are of Irish ancestry. Gerard is the youngest of three children. He spent the first few years of his life in Montreal, Canada before returning to Paisley, Scotland after his parents' separation. He grew up with his mother, who remarried a few years later. He had no contact with his father until age 16. Butler studied law at Glasgow University, where he received top grades and served as President of the school's Law Society and worked as a trainee solicitor after graduation.
His first acting roles were in the stage plays Coriolanus and in Trainspotting, after which he landed his first film role in Mrs. Brown (1997). While filming the movie in Scotland with Dame Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, 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 trouble. Butler jumped into the river and consequently 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.
That same year he appeared in Tomorrow Never Dies, with his first major role being the title character in Dracula 2000 (2000). The movie Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) in which Butler starred opposite Angelina Jolie was one that put him on the map, but his breakthrough came when he played the title role of Attila in the United States television serial Attila (2001). He also appeared in the United Kingdom television serial The Jury.
He began taking formal singing lessons before he was even cast for the title role in Joel Schumacher's film rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, training for hours a day from January 2003 to June 2004. He became very close to his co-star Emmy Rossum, whom he sees as a little sister.
2005 saw the release of Beowulf & Grendel in Canada, followed by the U.S. and other countries.
In 2005, rumours surfaced that he was to play James Bond in Casino Royale but the role later went to English actor Daniel Craig.
Butler plays the Spartan King Leonidas in 300, an adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel (also called 300) based on the heroism of 300 elite Spartan warriors at the ancient battle of Thermopylae in Greece. Filming took place from October 2005 - January 2006 in Montreal. "300" was released in theaters and in IMAX, in the US on March 9, 2007. Despite mixed reviews, the movie made box-office history for the month of March.
WAM: What was the challenge for you to play a character in which you're marrying technology and performance: trying to get the performance right against what was going on technologically?
Gerard Butler: I can't worry about technology. The challenge for me is just to give the best performance that I can. However, you're right. You're always aware that you're working in a different environment and for me that's – every film you do for one reason or another requires a different thought process or a different approach. And for me it's almost leaving yourself open to that in a weird way. It's not even necessarily a technique but leaving yourself open to trying to feel, almost by osmosis this different feeling that'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 you're like – it's ridiculous things that you wouldn't even think about like when you're singing, don't open your mouth so wide because you know all the camera can see is this big open mouth, whereas you're thinking 'I'm performing it.
My mouth is…' But no that'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 there'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 you're dealing with, your kind of immediate partners in crime if you like.
WAM: 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 Butler: It was the whole thing. If I read a script where I had an interesting character but I wasn't really excited about the script then I wouldn't want to do it because that's happened before and I hated it. Likewise if it was a great script but a character that I didn't love, I wouldn't want to do it. Because I've done that before and I hated it.
WAM: Which one was that?
Gerard Butler: This film had it all. It was a character that I'd never come across before. Yes I have played similar characters but I'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, 'Jesus these bad guys actually seem kind of nice.
They're very reasonable'. 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 it's quite risky in terms of keeping an audience kind of in your favour. We really pushed that. There's never an apology about who they are. They stayed focused and simple and principled and they never budged on that. And it doesn't really matter what actions come out of those beliefs, there's no conscience there in that respect when it comes to fighting which I loved because as an audience member I'm always saying in my head to the hero, 'Just fuckin' kill 'em. Kick the shit out of 'em. Now! You know he's a bad dude.' And in this, that's what they do. So I think that it's really cool that at every turn it kind of goes the way you wouldn't necessarily expect and it's also a great excuse for more violence and more action.
WAM: Nothing like a good decapitation as far as I'm concerned.
Gerard Butler: Ouch, in life or in film.
WAM: What's interesting is that, and I'm not going to give away the end of the movie for our readers, but you never feel bad for what's happening to the Leonidas and his men because they'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...
Gerard Butler: Now that's interesting because that was actually a very risky path to tread. Because if you focus too much on these men's willingness to die in battle, then their ultimate death doesn't mean a thing because you know they're happy. And I don'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 'Wait a minute, are these really our heroes?' By the end, you respect them for that very thing because when you finally see what happens to them, you go, 'They were true lions.'
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 '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,' 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 wasn'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 it's going to be not just that but it'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 didn't matter.
WAM: Could you afford to allow yourself to do a lot of research on this? Did you do historical research or not worry?
Gerard Butler: 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 – you always end up to me probably 90% of where this character and where this film came from was Frank Miller'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. There's a very, I've got to be honest, really quite a simple true but yet mythological tale going on there and if you start messing – 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 that's for the History Channel.
WAM: What are you doing next?
Gerard Butler: I don't know. Going to bed.
WAM: Is there anything after 300?
Gerard Butler: Well it's been weird because after 'P.S. I Love You' I couldn'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 I'm, you know, I'm in a really good place right now. I'm happy with what I have coming out and I'm just going to wait until, you know, see what comes along.
WAM: Would you ever do another film that required you to work out this intensely and to train this intensely?
Gerard Butler: I don't think so, but I think somebody would have to understand just how intensely I trained for this film. I think it's pretty impossible to surpass, at least in my book. I wouldn't want to do it again and I don't think I'd ever really need to do it again. It's not where I would necessary go now.
WAM: You're the romantic lead in 'P.S. I Love You' I take it?
Gerard Butler: Yeah.
WAM: Was it a nice change of pace going to that?
Gerard Butler: Oh I loved doing that.
WAM: How much training, working out did you do for that movie?
Gerard Butler: Well funnily enough I did. Because I had to do a Men's Health shoot in the middle of it. The cover of Men's Health magazine.
WAM: For this movie?
Gerard Butler: 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, 'I can't – that's not this guy' 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 Men's Health cover. So it was kind of strange but I loved that film.
WAM: You trained for the strip tease?
Gerard Butler: Um, yeah. You just messed around with how can you be as silly as – 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 'OK let's think about some funny moves I could do' but at the same time I wanted it to be spontaneous.
WAM: It sounds like a nice film.
Gerard Butler: Mmm. It's great. I'm really excited about it.
WAM: And your leading lady in this movie was not too shabby either.
Gerard Butler: Rodrigo? [the queeny king Xerxes in "300"] I know.
WAM: I'm glad the recorders are still going actually.
Gerard Butler: I love Rodrigo but Lena is very cool. You know, Lena's from the north of England. She's a Newcastle lass so she has this really kind of classically beautiful face but then she's out, she drinks beer, she dances, she jumps about, she's like one of the guys, and that's my kind of girl.
Go "Behind The Scenes" of "300."