LOS ANGELES—Gerard Butler has spent two days talking to American TV and newspaper reporters about his new movie, 300. As the minutes wind down on his last interviews, being held in an L.A. hotel room, he is happy to talk to a Canadian. “Canadians are nice,” says the Glaswegian actor, who lived in Montreal as a small child. Turning to an American, he says jokingly, “You will be loud, obnoxious, and stupid, and ask ”˜So what part of London is Glasgow in?'”
He follows up by asking the American if she liked the body suit he wore in the film. “Oops, sorry,” he says. “I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, ”˜So much for my question about the weeks of physical training. That was my only question for this guy. The rest of my questions were for [director] Zack Snyder.'”
Butler did not set out to be an actor. To please his parents, he enrolled in law school, graduating with honours and eventually articling for an Edinburgh law firm. However, he had briefly moved to Los Angeles after law school and caught the acting bug. When his law training was done, he decided to try acting full-time, moving from the London stage to British films and eventually a starring role as the Phantom in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera.
In 300, he plays King Leonidas, who rules the Greek city of Sparta. When the forces of Persia's Xerxes come to conquer Sparta on their way to take Athens, he leads a band of 300 soldiers to stop their march. The film, which is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, opens Friday (March 9) in Vancouver.
Butler says the idea of spending months replicating a legendary battle was a little overwhelming. However, he says that he felt he could get through it because he had already survived another adventure film, ex-Vancouverite Sturla Gunnarsson's Iceland-set Beowulf & Grendel.
“I take absolute delight in a challenge,” he says. “I think that I would rather have one big ”˜fuck-off' problem than have a thousand little problems. In The Phantom, I looked at the singing and said, ”˜I can conquer that.' Filming in Iceland was insane. Just talking about it, my stomach is turning, but in a good way. The thing I love about big adventure films like this one and Beowulf is that you suffer, but not for negative reasons. You suffer because you are fighting to get what you need to achieve. In Beowulf, I was in every scene. We had four hurricanes every month and we were filming in weather conditions where I would be talking to someone close up and in just one gust I would be standing 10 feet away. We were climbing cliffs where we would have to go up and down 10 times, and if one person fell we were all dead. It was very intense, but that was what made it an incredible experience. When I came to this film, I felt as though I had been given the chance to put all those things together and that I could make the best possible movie.”
The movie was mostly shot in an abandoned railway terminal in Montreal. Snyder managed to keep the total cost under $65 million by creating the million men and thousands of ships through the use of computer graphics. The actors were given free rein to create their characters, with the idea that no matter what they did against the green screen, it would never be too much.
“Zack loved the upper end of the performance,” says Butler. “There was one take I did that was so big I thought the cast and crew were thinking, ”˜This guy is nuts. That was ridiculous. It was way too much.' I went over to tell Zack I was sorry and he said, ”˜No, dude, that was awesome. That is the one.' And they use that in the trailer! I am sure people look at it and think ”˜Is that all he does? He just screams throughout the whole movie?'
“Once he had given me the go-ahead, I put everything I had into the [battle] scenes. I felt that because of the [graphic novel] look of the film, you could go as far as you wanted with the character and it wouldn't be overkill. I felt that if there was ever a film to put your whole heart and soul and physicality into, this would be the one, and that is exactly what happened. So many of the things that are part of me were needed. It was an honour to play that role and be in the film.”