Gerard Butler is no stranger to using his body to bolster his performances in action movies like 300 and Olympus Has Fallen, but it’s his voice that does the heavy lifting in How to Train Your Dragon 2, in which he reprises his role as the stubborn but goodhearted Viking chieftain Stoick, father of the trailblazing dragon rider Hiccup.
Just as Stoick has jumped into the thick of the action (and maybe even the romance) for the DreamWorks Animation sequel, Butler has charged ahead with an impressive slate of tentpole projects. In an interview with Spinoff Online, the actor shares his thoughts on his ambitious workload, controlling his brogue and losing himself to fantasy worlds.
Spinoff Online: We’ve spoken on the phone a few times recently, but I haven’t seen you in person in quite a while – apparently because you’ve been working pretty hard!
Gerard Butler: Working bloody hard on Gods of Egypt! And I just got back yesterday morning from three and a half months down in Sidney doing a really fun film, Gods of Egypt – It’s really cool, yeah, and I’m playing a villain, a god: Set, who’s the God of darkness. I don’t know, man, I had really good fun making that role and just developing it because I spent a lot of time working with the guys to make it something special. And by the time I finished, I left going, I don’t know, it feels like it’s a really interesting character and I think the movie’s going to be something that nobody’s ever seen before, so a lot of being involved. Not like this. Every now and again, you hit lucky – and I think with this movie, you do your thing and you give it your best, but really, the director and the creatives take it to such another level and you just get lucky with how talented or not they are. And then this, they are not just talented – they’re talented and they’re so artistic, but they’re so brave as well in the world that they’ve taken us into. It’s such an enticing, enthralling thing to behold, but it’s also dark and weird!
The first Dragons film kind of sneaked up on everybody and became so beloved, and now today we’re frequently getting these great sequels to animated movies, not just cheap cash grabs. And your character got a particularly juicy part in the sequel. So did you even expect that it was going to work out that nicely for you?
No – listen, when I made the first one, the first one turned out beautifully and I was happy with what I did, and I felt like they were happy with what I did, so I didn’t think that I’d be relegated to the minor leagues. But at the same time, I was given great opportunity to do something that was fun and gregarious, and yet frustrated and lost and then powerful and commanding, and then confused and heartbroken, and I tried to bring as many colors as I could. And they gave me opportunity by the role that they created. So it was lovely when you see those things develop that you go, “Oh, this is cool! I like where they’re going with this!” I love the relationship that I have with Hiccup and getting into that. We’ve really pulled out so many facets of a father/son relationship and gone deeply into them – in a funny way, in a silly way, in a painful way, an inspiring way and provocative way that that’s been cool to be a part of.
I imagine for each role you take on you have to filter a degree of your accent out of it – but with Stoick do you get to go full-throttle Scottish?
Yeah, exactly! By the way, this is not even full Scottish, because [you] definitely make it thicker and more muscular, and you hit the Rs a little bit more, but at the same time, you don’t want to go full Scottish because people just wouldn’t understand a lot of it. But there’s a way to do Scottish that is thick, but at the same time, you can comprehend it. You can understand it. And that’s a judgment – the first movie I did, I actually thought my accent was too soft! And I watched the movie, and I went back and I redid everything because I thought there wasn’t enough muscularity in the voice, because you can bring so much more character to it and Viking-ness and Stoick-ness by thickening it. And I did and I was so happy that I was able to do this. In fact, by the way, it’s now a habit of mine: I watched the second movie, and even though I was very happy with it I also knew that when you finally see it – it’s not just the accent, but you only do bits at a time, and you never get to see the whole picture, and you never get to see animated. So suddenly when you see it animated and you go “Wait a minute – I wouldn’t have actually said it like that,” or you go, “I’d be different in this scene; I’d be more powerful in this; I’d be quieter in this scene.” And then there’s still the accent thing. You get more of a chance to go through it at the same time, and I did the same thing. I went back in and spent a couple days redoing everything – well, not everything, but maybe 75 percent of it.
This movie on your upcoming slate — London Has Fallen, Gods of Egypt, Geostorm – are all big, spectacle-filled movies with different, boundary-pushing technological challenges. We first really “met” you in a movie like that with 300 — what do you love about the types movies that you’re getting to make right now?
Well, it’s fun for me to move into more – how do you say? – more kind of epic, bombastic, weird and different movies, because other than 300, I haven’t made a huge amount of those movies – which is surprising. I made Gamer, which was very much a kind of event-style movie, but it wasn’t a massive budget. So I’ve never made movies at the budgets that I’m making them at now. And the bigger the budget then, as long as you’re trying – you make sure at the end of the day, your budget is only important up to a point. What’s most important is the script. If you get a great script, then you know you have the budget to create this incredible world, and that’s what has to be done in these movies. And that’s fun because that’s part of what got me into wanting to act was a chance to go and live in another world, because I was always there in my head. I was always in another world, and I was in my daily life and I was in my dreams as well. And it was a dream: a dream of being in one of these movies, like this movie, that made me think, “God. I just have that dream of these worlds. What if I was to go be in those worlds?” And that’s why, for this movie, I love it all the more because I kind of am, even if they animated me. My voice made it in, and you get to take that journey. And I remember how powerful that was for me when I would watch those movies growing up. They become almost defining experiences in your life, where you never forget the journeys that you took. And you learn about living because it’s a very entertaining way to tell people a way to approach courage and loyalty or fathering or responsibility, is to do it in a magical world that you totally get lost in.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 opens Friday nationwide.