The 44-year-old Gerard Butler looks very buff, having pumped a lot of iron for â€œGods of Egypt,â€ which he just finished shooting in Australia for Alex Proyas (â€œDark Cityâ€). At one point, the actor says, he did 12 straight days of sword fighting, sometimes 15 hours a day and carrying 30 to 60 pounds of armor.
â€œSo when you get to step into the booth of an animated movie, you get to do all of that same kind of action, but you don’t have to go through the pain and suffering,â€ says Butler with a smile.
â€œThe other great advantage is that I do my thing and then I let go. Then, when I come back, there is this terrific piece of art. It’s an incredible stimulating visceral journey. I love that.â€
In â€œHow to Train Your Dragon 2,â€ he reprises the role of Stoick the Vast, the chieftain of the Viking tribe and father of the story’s hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), who was the first to train a dragon. Missing in the original film was Hiccup’s mother. In â€œ2,â€ Cate Blanchett voices Valka, who had disappeared from Stoick’s life after Hiccup’s birth. Her sudden re-emergance mirrors something that happened in Butler’s own life.
When he was 16, his father â€” whom he hadn’t seen since he was a toddler â€” suddenly arranged a meeting in a restaurant with him.
â€œI guess I’m more Hiccup than Stoick â€” to have this person who should have been a huge part of your life suddenly part of your life again,â€ Butler says. â€œWhen I saw him, though, I knew it was going to happen. I didn’t realize how much feeling I had about it till I sat down and asked him why he didn’t stay in touch. I then started crying.â€
The actor says he cried â€œhystericallyâ€ for hours. â€œI couldn’t stop. I couldn’t talk. It’s interesting to see how much is built up in you that you don’t even know is there.â€
Butler commends â€œDragon 2,â€ written and directed by Dean DeBlois, for dealing with such an emotional moment.
â€œThey were brave with that. They really trusted the audience, especially the kids. They can take in and understand more than most filmmakers think they can.â€
Though he’s playing a Viking, Butler got to keep his Scottish accent in the â€œDragonâ€ movies, and even â€œput it on a bit more.â€
To give Stoick that â€œreal bombastic masculine Viking feel, you really have to exaggerate the muscularity and get back into the throatiness and the power of the voice and the power of the consonants,â€ he says.
In his career, the actor also has played a lot of Americans, including the disgraced ex-Secret Service agent Mike Banning in last year’s hit â€œOlympus Has Fallen,â€ which he also produced. When he portrays an American, Butler tries to stay in character throughout shooting, even off camera. So, ironically, he sometimes feels like he is â€œliterally pretending to be a Scotâ€ when he finally returns to his native accent.
Accents and acting weren’t originally in the cards for Butler. Though he had the acting itch as a youth, he was headed toward being a lawyer until he was â€œguided by other forces.â€ He had his college degree and was finishing training at an Edinburgh law firm when those other forces took over.
â€œWhat happened was, I was a week away from qualifying when I was fired because I was a little bit crazy,â€ Butler says. â€œLiterally the next day, I packed my bags and moved from Scotland to London. I thought, ‘Well I messed up everything so massively that I might as well give (acting) a shot.’
â€œThat was seven years gone. I don’t know if I would’ve made the decision to give it all up after seven years.â€
But it did not take long for Butler, then 25, to be cast in a major stage production of Shakespeare’s â€œCoriolanus.â€ Though he was part of the ensemble, other roles soon followed. In 2000, he moved to Los Angeles and was cast in â€œReign of Fireâ€ with Christian Bale, â€œLara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Lifeâ€ opposite Angelina Jolie and the coveted title role in â€œThe Phantom of the Opera.â€ â€œ300â€ made him a sexy poster boy. He even returned to do a major role in the 2011 film â€œCoriolanusâ€ opposite Ralph Fiennes.
Up next for Butler â€” depending how the production schedules go â€” is either Dean Devlin’s big sci-fi epic â€œGeostormâ€ or â€œLondon Has Fallen,â€ a sequel to â€œOlympus,â€ which he is also producing.
â€œThe one thing that came out of being fired,â€ he says, â€œwas that it freed me completely.â€