300 - Gerard Butler interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
GERARD Butler talks about playing the role of King Leonidas in 300 and what the overwhelming success of the film means to him personally.
He also reveals why he had to sell himself to studios as part of the casting process and why he’s glad risks were taken throughout every part of the filming process…
Q. Did you grow up fantasising about roles like Leonidas as a child?
Gerard Butler: Yeah, I did. As a kid we spent a lot of time as a family, every weekend heading up the west coast of Scotland to the Highlands. All we seemed to do was head through beautiful hills and valleys that were filled with the great history. So you were steeped in that history of Robert The Bruce, William Wallace and Bonnie Prince Charlie and all those great stories. It was always in my head.
Even having read Lord of the Rings when I was younger, it was always my fantasy to live in a fantasy. Funnily enough, I saw Krull when I was 15… I watched it recently and thought: “What a terrible movie.” I loved it when I was younger. But then I had a dream a month later that I was in the film looking at all these wizards on the top of the mountain. I was standing there with the princess and I think we were blowing flames out of our mouth or our arse or something! I woke up the next day and that feeling as an actor to go into those worlds, or any world, was so powerful.
It was always in peaks and troughs of course. I’d ask myself: “Did I really want to do this?” Sometimes it was: “No, be sensible. Be a lawyer.” But it kept coming back to haunt me and I kind of feel that it must have been my destiny in some ways.
Q. Obviously, the opening box office figures were a shock. But did it make all the hard work you put in feel worth it?
Gerard Butler: So much. I’ve been so proud of this project right from when we first started because of what everybody was trying to do. Right down to the beard. We had a beard that was short, sexy and strong but we said: “Fuck that. Let’s go for the big beard.” Look how far we went with Rodrigo. At any point, we could have played safe but at every point we took risks with how far we wanted to go that could have made it fall on its face or which could have made it stay out there in that extreme pocket.
It seems to me that this is one where so many things have come together. I don’t know if it’s just good fortune or there’s a lot of genius going into it. But it seems to work on a lot of different levels and yet stay brave, different, edgy and not cross over that line where the main mass of people accept it, embrace it and love it for that. It never tries to go down that regular path, even with the attitude of the heroes in the narrative. We never try and ask for the audience’s sympathy. We say: “This is what we do. We kill the messengers, we kill the fucking babies! We’re not necessarily good guys and we’re not going to explain ourselves to anybody. This is our path…”
Q. How big was the challenge of taking on the character in the first place?
Gerard Butler: You try and take on a character like this and there’s a lot of pressure straight away. It’s Frank Miller, the thing you’re doing is based on a graphic novel and you’re working with blue screens. At the end of the day, the character you’re playing doesn’t really speak that much and yet he has to show a strength that’s almost incomprehensible to a modern person, and a belief and leadership quality, as well as an insanity, a humour and a cockiness. He’s like a little mouse looking up at an elephant and saying: “Well, come on show me what you’ve got.” It’s a bad example, perhaps, so maybe a scorpion and an elephant – that’s better.
Q. Did you have to sell yourself to the studio to get the part?
Gerard Butler: I had to sell myself, yes. I don’t know how much that was necessary but it was politically the way we went because it was all very tender at the beginning. When it was greenlit I think everybody was a bit nervous to announce a man who wasn’t a name like Russell Crowe or Leonardo DiCaprio… When we sat around, I was told by every director and producer that they wanted me for the role. But at that point, we just didn’t know what Warner Bros was going to say. So, I was told that they thought it best if I called Alan Horn on your own.
I knew Alan from Phantom [of the Opera] but it’s still a little strange for a guy to ask if I could come in and have a chat. He told me that there is a process they go through that meant I had to be chosen by everybody who would then go to him. I knew I’d been chosen already but I couldn’t tell him that, so I had to keep my mouth shut. We actually had a great time when we met but I still had to sell myself. I got the offer the next day which made me wonder if that was necessary.
But I think it all helped because I believe the more you earn something, the more you appreciate it. The Spartans earned their glory, their toughness and endurance and they earned their cockiness.
Q. What do you think of people now saying that you’re the next Russell Crowe?
Gerard Butler: I’m Gerry Butler. I know there are similarities between the roles of Leonidas and his character in Gladiator. But I have a romantic comedy coming out. I want to be able to do all sorts of different things, including zany or dark comedy. I want to be able to dip into anything that interests me.
Q. You’ve had a number of big films that didn’t ignite the box office. Had you ever started to think that maybe your chance had gone?
Gerard Butler: Not really. I don’t know whether it’s spiritual development or trying to learn the psychologically with being an actor, but I realise the more I get into it that this was something I was always supposed to do. That allowed me to sit easiser in the life I was living. But that doesn’t mean to say you just stroll through it. It takes work and the work is not always about acting. It’s sometimes about how you deal with the ups and downs of hope, of expectation. I never got caught up in people saying: “This is the one.” Or: “Why did this happen, or why didn’t it?”
To me, all those jobs I did have been amazing experiences for one reason or another. I got paid [laughs] and I learned something. I think that’s what helped me carry on because I’ve never really given out that energy of, “oh, I’ve lost my chance” or missed it in some way.
Q. So do you largely ignore people when they predict you’ll be “the next big thing”?
Gerard Butler: Yeah. Even this weekend when it went crazy, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it – it was awesome – but I didn’t get overwhelmed by it. I have an ability, sometimes to my detriment, just to keep that self-congratulation or expectation in check. It was unbelievable and fantastic, but I still have to call my mum and I still have to get on with my day. But it just makes me really proud.
Q. What sort of preparation did you do for the role?
Gerard Butler: I have to say, considering how much time that I was training – working six hours a day – at that time most of your preparation comes from what’s going on in your life, like a meditation. My training was all a meditation towards being this powerful person, sucking it all in and then going into my own life and examining the values that I have, that I don’t have… I don’t know hot to give you a quick answer really. There was a lot of historical reading, the graphic novel, the training, the sword fighting, whatever. But it really came back to myself.
Q. How did you feel when you first started to play the role?
Gerard Butler: There were definitely some nerves floating about in there but I’ve done a lot of these big jobs where you know the pressure is on you but I can’t do everybody else’s thinking for them. I’ve learned to say: “Get on with your job, if you focus on your job and what you have to do everything else is an extreme waste of time.”
If I’m sitting there worried about what the producers are thinking – and don’t say I haven’t done that – but if I can focus my energy into the story, what I’m trying to do and who I’m working with, that’s a good way of keeping those things at bay. Some days you can even turn them into fun things. It’s amazing some of the reactions you get when you take a role like the Phantom, you can use that energy to pump you up.
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