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Gerard Butler in 'Machine Gun Preacher'
By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY
Gerard Butler has never shied away from real-life warriors, both heroic (Spartan ruler Leonidas in 300) and villainous (the heinous Hun in Attila).
But as the God-fearing, firepower-toting Sam Childers in Machine Gun Preacher, opening Sept. 23, the Scottish actor plays a man whose ongoing 13-year quest to end atrocities committed against the children of Sudan sometimes places him on the moral divide between right and wrong.
"Those other roles were based on historic characters who became the stuff of legend, but Sam is a guy of our times," Butler says of the Pennsylvania-based crusader who founded an orphanage in Africa as a haven for the abused would-be recruits of the Lord's Resistance Army. "There is more complexity in a modern-day character who's a drug addict and a biker turned businessman, missionary and soldier. You don't get roles like this very often."
Especially one that gave him the somewhat daunting opportunity to do research in person.
"When I walked into Sam's house, he had been so built up by everyone, I didn't know what to expect," Butler says. "I met this absolutely dominant alpha male who on one hand loves the attention but on the other hand loves the company of his family and friends. This is his story and this is his moment to tell it to the world. I had to bow down to that. But there is a darkness in him as well. He could not go through all the things that are in the movie by being Mr. Nice Guy."
Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) was eager to present an imperfect hero on-screen. And he felt Butler was the perfect choice. "He's one of those movie stars today that I feel is a real man. There are very few around. He has this incredible rawness."
As effective as Childers is as a savior, his use of violent means has made him controversial, and Butler says that can make him seem like a self-appointed vigilante.
But all the actor had to do to remind himself of the reason behind his character's extreme actions was to flip through a book with photos of rescued children, many mutilated by their captors. As he says, "They are some of the most beautiful children I have ever seen."