Gerard Butler has a Scottish accent strong enough to inflate a set of bagpipes.
But in order to garner the title role of “Attila,” USA’s new miniseries on the infamous fifth century barbarian chieftain, Butler’s Highlands burr had to go.
“It was a concern,” says Butler. “One of the main men at USA really wanted an American actor. So, one, I wasn’t an American actor, and naturally I had a Scottish accent. So I went to a voice coach and worked on it and sounded more like an American and I got the part. Then they cast an English boy as my son and an English guy to play me as a boy, and now I look like an American who didn’t bother to learn an English accent.”
The accent’s really on spectacle in “Attila,” which airs Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST. Filmed in Lithuania with a cast that includes veterans Powers Boothe, Tim Curry, Alice Krige and Steven Berkoff, the miniseries is an atlas of vast Eurasian plains, “Braveheart”-like battlescapes, besieged castles and the inside-the-Appian Way politics of ancient Rome.
“I think people are going to enjoy it because it’s a throwback to ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Ben-Hur,'” says Butler. “It has a little bit of everything. It’s gripping, it’s educational, it’s been written and performed in a realistic way.”
Boothe, who plays Attila’s military nemesis, Roman general Flavius Aetius, likens the miniseries to one of last summer’s big box-office hits, “Gladiator.”
“I went over to Lithuania and shot a couple weeks, and then I had three weeks off, so I came home (to the States),” says Boothe. ‘”Gladiator’ had been released and it was interesting to go see that film and see what they did. I found it very fascinating and it didn’t hurt that it was successful, that people are interested in the era of ancient Rome.”
Attila, too, was interested in ancient Rome interested in gobbling it up, along with all the other lands he had conquered in the first half of the fifth century. Known as “The Scourge of God,” Attila led the fierce, barbaric Huns in a marauding manifest destiny that swept out of Asia and overran large stretches of Central Europe southward to the Roman empire.
Standing in Attila’s way was the formidable Roman army, led by Flavius Aetius, a brilliant schemer and tactician intent on saving his country, though he had no love for its young, flaccid emperor, Valentinian (Reg Rogers), or his scheming mother, Placidia (Krige).
The miniseries’ plot, in fact, is full of plotting, with betrayal and Machiavellian intrigue skulking in every shadow. There’s also romance, tweaked at times into Harlequin novel-like melodrama. Simmone Jade MacKinnon, whose biggest credit is “Baywatch Hawaii,” plays a dual role Attila’s curvaceous Hunnie, N’Kara, his great love, and a seductive, duplicitous slave named Ilidico.
“Attila” should bring the 32-year-old Butler whose handsome, muscular Attila is a more palatable version of the squat, ugly, brutal Hun leader of history greater recognition.
Says Boothe, “Gerry’s young and full of fire and he’s going to go a long way.”
The latest in a growing clan of rising Scottish actors, along with Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Dougray Scott, Peter Mullan, Angus MacFadyen and Billy Connolly, Butler is a lawyer turned actor who made his film debut in 1997’s “Mrs. Brown.” His biggest credit before “Attila” was in the title role of the recent Wes Craven-produced film “Dracula 2000.”
“For me, it’s a very exciting time,” says Butler. “When you have the opportunity to play different roles like Dracula and Attila, it gets me excited because there’s such a lot of options open to me. I have to jump at these chances. I feel like I can do pretty much anything. I love comedy, I love classical things. As a person and as an actor, I’m up to anything.”
Copyright 2001 Newhouse News Service