Hilarious. Outlandish. Scottish. Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson, friends for over two decades, finally come together (well, sort of) on the big screen through Dreamworks’ latest animated adventure, How to Train Your Dragon, opening March 26.
Their vocal stylings–accompanied by Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill, among others–bring life to burly Vikings who battle wild dragons in a mythical land originally dreamed up by British author Cressida Cowell, who penned the eponymous book.
The action comedy follows Hiccup, a Viking teen voiced by Baruchel, who doesn’t exactly fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. When he befriends a dragon named Toothless, Hiccup’s world and everything his fellow Vikingsâ€”including his father, Stoik the Vast, voiced by Butler, and his dragon-fighting instructor, Gobber the Belch, voiced by Fergusonâ€”have ever known is turned upside down.
Similarly, thirty minutes of my world were turned upside down, and filled with hilarity, when I had the opportunity to interview the two hot Scots. Here, Butler and Fergusonâ€”who morph into giggling schoolboys when they’re together, playing off of each others’ blunt sarcasm and clever quipsâ€”dish on their upcoming Viking adventureâ€¦
Sacramento Parent: What about the script or story originally caught your eye?
Gerard Butler: I didn’t know I was going to do it until I heard that Craig was going to play my best friend, and then wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the project. Actually, it just seemed like a lot of fun to get involved in this fantastic mythical world and take on these great charismatic Vikings.
Craig Ferguson: And I liked it because it’s acting but without makeup.
SP: Tell me a little bit about your characters.
CF: I play Gobber the Belch, who is adorable, which is exactly like me. Gerry’s character is sort of noble and dignified, and has a sense of purpose, which is nothing like Gerry in real life.
GB: My character is a great warrior spirit who feels responsible for his people, for the village. He’s all about sticking to tradition and the values of the Vikings and his best friend is Mr. Craig Ferguson, who’s Gobber.
CF: Who’s kind of his lackey. So, it’s like Gerry’s the main one and I’m his lackey.
SP: Why do you think they decided to cast Scotsmen as the Vikings?
CF: I think they wanted Gerry because he’s a movie star, and I was inexpensive. But, we do have a big history in the literary tradition of Vikings. You know, they came down and stole 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.
SP: Do you think you make good Vikings?
GB: I think we’re both big, burly, loud, obnoxious Scotsman. And that puts us in a perfect position to play big, burly, annoying Vikings.
SP: What aspect of Vikinghood do you wish you could get away with in everyday life?
CF: I think, for me, wearing a hat with horns on it.
SP: Gerard, how would you compare preparing to play a CG-enhanced Spartan warrior to voicing an animated Viking?
CF: You weren’t CG-enhanced, that was allâ€¦
GB: I’m curious about what part you thought was CG-enhanced.
CF: I think it was his abs. I’ve know this guy for a lot of years, and I’ve never seen him do a sit up. I don’t get that.
GB: That was a complete foam latex body suit. But, you know what? There isn’t a huge differenceâ€”both roles require using your imagination, because you’re not really in the world that you’re supposed to be in. You kind of let it go and trust that you’re speaking to the person next to you or that what you’re saying is just going to be interesting and appropriate.
SP: Speaking of, you’ve done some pretty mature and serious films. Was it easy or difficult to keep in mind that this was a family-friendly project?
GB: Oh, dear. For me, it’s not difficult being appropriate except when I’m sitting next to Craig Ferguson, then it’s a big problem.
SP: What do you think will be memorable for families? What will they walk away with?
CF: I think it has an epic cinematic quality. But it also has a fun, young visual aspect to it as well. So, it covers a broad age range so that parents won’t get bored and the young children will enjoy it as much as older children.
GB: It’s a fun story with some lovely messages behind it. Visually, it is stunning. It’s just a ride when you take a trip on the dragon with Hiccup, and you go through clouds, over the sea, up over the mountains. And then, just the story itselfâ€”it’s really touching: his relationship with this dragon and his courage to stand up for what he believes in, despite going up against all the traditions and beliefs of where he comes from… It’s a great message of truth and courage for kids. Learning to trust their own intuition and talents. There’s more to it than that, but I’m going to let Craig answer.
CF: Yes. That which you are initially frightened of may become something that is of value or a friend to you. Initially, the young boy is terrified of the dragon, and as he gets closer to it, he makes friends with it. Perhaps a fearful response to something new is not always accurate. I think that might be a very useful message for young people, too.
SP: Okay, final question. Obviously, you two naturally play off of each other so well. Were you able to improvise while recording?
CF: We would give the directors what they wanted from the script, and then we would do it properly for ourselvesâ€”Gerry and I improvising. There’s kind of a mixture of both. It’s an organic process doing these things.
GB: Yes. I’d done a bit of work with the directors before we went into the studioâ€”some of the dialogue had come from just talking about the scenes and improvising we had done. And then, sometimes you get in there and you find yourself coming off the book because it just feels right. But, I mostly stuck to the script. Because I’m not as talented as Craig when it comes to improvising.
CF: I, on the other hand, didn’t do any of the words in the script, and that’s why my character is nowhere near as interesting as Gerry’s.
GB: Oh, dear.