February 27, 2010 | How to Train Your Dragon News, Uncategorized

[i Fellow Scots Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson have been pals for more than two decades. But it took How to Train Your Dragon, an animated movie about Vikings and dragons, to bring them together on screen [/i

Gerard Butler’s fierceness may have frightened the Persians in 300, but good luck getting the actor to remain serious during an interview.

The 40-year-old Scottish heartthrob, and his co-star Craig Ferguson, are on the phone from Los Angeles to chat about their animated kids flick How to Train Your Dragon, which opens this month along with Butler’s other movie, the action/rom-com The Bounty Hunter, which co-stars Jennifer Aniston.

How to Train Your Dragon is based on the book by Cressida Cowell and casts Butler as the Viking Stoick, chieftain of the Hairy Hooligans. The Vikings live in fear of the dragons who attack them, but when Stoick’s son, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), befriends a dragon named Toothless, he sets out to change the Vikings’ — and especially his father’s — way of thinking.

What you need to understand about Butler is that he loves to tell very funny and very self-deprecating stories to the press about his misspent early years as a roaring drunk (he’s been sober for the past 10 years), playing in a rock band, working as a carny and failing as a lawyer (he was fired from a law firm a week before earning his license).

His goofy side really lets loose during this interview because he’s paired with late-night TV talk show host Ferguson (who plays Gobber the dragon-fighting instructor), a fellow Scotsman and Butler’s good friend for the past 25 years. Put these two in the same room and giggling and silliness ensue.

Asked why they were good choices to voice Vikings, Ferguson explains, “I’m great at fighting and Gerry’s a drunk.” Butler expands the thought with, “I think we’re both big, burly, loud, obnoxious Scotsmen, and that puts us in a perfect position to play big, burly, violent, drunken Vikings.”

Butler may be a wee bit harsh when it comes to describing the movie’s kid-friendly Vikings. His character, Stoick, isn’t entirely the burn and pillage type.

“Really, he has a great warrior spirit and feels responsible for his people, for the village,” says Butler. “He’s all about sticking to tradition and the values of the Vikings, and his best friend, Gobber, is played by Mr. Craig Ferguson here.”

“Who’s kind of his lackey,” Ferguson chimes in. “Gerry’s the main one, and I’m his lackey.”

According to Ferguson, it just makes sense to cast two Scots as Vikings since Viking culture is alive and well in today’s Scotland.

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) goes for a ride in How to Train Your Dragon

“We do have a history in literature of Vikings, and we have a lot of Viking blood in Scotland, especially up north. Wherever you go you see a plastic Viking sitting outside a shop and Viking calendars, and that’s because they came down and stole all our chicks, and then some of them didn’t quite get back and ended up settling down here. So there’s a lot of Viking blood in Scotland.”

Looking over Butler’s resume you see that “animated feature” is pretty much the only genre the actor hasn’t taken for a spin.

His versatility is what makes him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors — he’s believable as a ripped Spartan king (300), a sensitive, guitar-playing dead husband (P.S. I Love You), a gun-toting London gangster (RocknRolla), a deformed singing romantic (The Phantom of the Opera) and Abigail Breslin’s dad (Nim’s Island). Voicing a cartoon character is long overdue.

“You know, I’ve never done an animated movie before,” says Butler, “so it just seemed like a lot of fun for me to get involved in this fantastic, mythical world and to take on these charismatic Vikings, and just to have a lot of fun with it.

“And I already played a Viking in a movie called Beowulf & Grendel, and I did a dragon movie called Reign of Fire.”

Standing in front of a microphone in a bare recording studio can be challenging for actors since they have to visualize a make-believe world they can’t see, but is it really that different than making CGI films that have actors standing in front of a giant green or blue screen? Butler’s experience in 300 helped him prepare for this performance.

“You know what, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the roles,” says Butler, “because both roles require using your imagination a little bit, because you’re not really in the world that you’re supposed to be in.

“So, you use your imagination and then, also, you just kind of let go and trust that what you’re saying is going to be interesting and appropriate. You just trust, and also I often look to Craig and say, ‘What’s he doing? I’m going to try some of that.’”

“I just keep talking and hope something happens that doesn’t get me fired,” jokes Ferguson.

Ingrid Randoja is the deputy editor of Famous.

Butler’s Canadian Connection

Gerard Butler’s sexy Scottish brogue is a byproduct of growing up mostly in Paisley, located on the outskirts of Glasgow. We say mostly because for a brief period of his childhood Butler lived here in Canada — Montreal, to be exact.

Butler’s parents, Edward and Margaret, immigrated to Montreal with their kids Brian, Lynn and Gerard in 1970, when Gerard was just six months old. Edward, a fun-loving bookie (who at one time owned five betting shops in Glasgow) tried his hand at various business ventures, all of which failed. So, just 18 months after arriving, Margaret went back to Scotland with the kids, leaving Edward behind.

Butler didn’t see his father again until he was 16, and after their reunion he cried for hours. In 2009 he told The Daily Telegraph, “That emotion showed me how much pain can sit in this body of yours; pain and sorrow that you don’t know you have until it is unleashed.”

Father and son eventually reconciled and became close. But when Butler was just 22, Edward was diagnosed with terminal cancer and Butler returned to Canada once more — Toronto this time — to spend time with his father before he passed away.

—Ingrid Randoja

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