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Training Days

It's Good To Be The King--But Gerard Butler Took A Demanding Road To Get There For 300

FEEL THE URN: Gerard Butler shows off his ancient six pack.

By Cole Haddon | Posted 3/7/2007

"How can you train to be a Spartan?" Gerard Butler, star of 300, asks in his heavy Scottish brogue. "The best you can do is use the elements around you, so, for me, I made it my training regimen. I made a training regimen so fucking tough, I really felt like I was at the Battle of Thermopylae."

The man who would be King Leonidas, the Greek warrior who led 300 Spartans against a million invading Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C., still carries a lot of the bulk he put on for the blood-soaked, steroid-fueled, hyperstylized adaptation of Frank Miller's award-winning graphic novel. Yet, for a man who looks like he could rip your head off with his bare hands--and, if he's anything like his latest big-screen persona, cackle maniacally while he does it--he doesn't come across as anything more dangerous than a loud drunk. In fact, just loud. Gerard Butler is very loud. He loves to laugh. He loves what he does for a living. He's the proverbial kid who landed in the proverbial candy store.

"Honestly, when I got into that kind of mind conditioning and that focus, it gave me such confidence that I felt like a lion, like I could take on an army," he continues, sitting in a Beverly Hilton hotel room a few weeks ago, arms flailing about enthusiastically. "I might not have been able to kick one person's ass, but I felt like I could kick everybody's ass--and I felt like I wanted to."

That's when he lets loose one of those laughs he loves so much, loud and rolling. Kind of what you'd imagine all Scottish men sound like laughing. Butler is the man's man Hollywood has forgot, a burlier Hugh Jackman, and, just like Jackman, he's got a singing voice, too. This is the guy who auditioned and won the lead in Joel Schumacher's atrocious The Phantom of the Opera without ever taking one singing lesson.

"Fear--I operate well with fear," he declares, just like a Spartan, Greece's legendary warriors. That's how he got Phantom, and that's how he physically prepared to become a spear-wielding, larger-than-life Greek statue despite being in less-than-statuesque shape.

When asked if he had realized just how unfit he was before the physical training began, his lips twist about, a woeful smile, and he laughs again. "Oh, I realized it, and, trust me, everybody else did as well," he says. "When I get into my Coca-Colas and my desserts, I get into my Coca-Colas and desserts. So, I knew I had a big challenge."

First came the cardiovascular work, where he and the rest of the cast started burning off excess weight. "Then the film trainer came on, Mark Twight, this nut-job mountain climber who trains other mountain climbers, cage fighters, undercover operatives--and we would do circle training that was competitive, based on results," Butler explains. "It was just about learning to endure absolute exhaustion and pain."

That wasn't enough, not for a king. "Then I went off to train with my own guy, because I always wanted to get bigger," he continues. "And this is where I departed slightly from [director] Zack [Snyder] and the producer's POV of just sticking with Mark. I think I knew that the king had to be this bigger persona. If you look at the graphic novel, there's just something big about him in every way--that beard, the braid, the helmet he has. So I trained with a body builder here and then a body builder in Montreal. Unfortunately, that meant that I was training two hours with this guy, two hours with Mark, and then two hours with the swords and spears guys."

This commitment to bringing to life Miller's work shows an understanding of the literary source material most actors don't generally possess. Butler is fiercely defensive and proud of it, and says as much when asked if he turned to outside historical material to research Leonidas. "The graphic novel is where it's at," he says. "That's what it's about. The drawings, the tone, the dialogue, that's the world we're dealing with. I find that you can use a lot of history, but it only affects subtle parts of your performance. Because if it takes a larger part, it only complicates the larger story the graphic novel is trying to tell."

The payoff for his hard work came when he got to preview the movie, which opens March 9, and see for the first time the way Snyder had married his and his co-stars' chiseled bodies, battle re-creations, and almost always shouted dialogue with a CGI world not entirely different than the one used in another Frank Miller adaptation, Sin City--except in full color. "The cool thing about it is . . . I'm like an audience member," Butler says. "I'm like, `Oh, wow, that looks awwwesome. I didn't realize that was going to look like that.' I'm in this for the same reason as the audience."

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