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|Subject: Machine Gun Preacher star on confronting the brutality of civil war Tue Nov 15, 2011 12:16 am|| |
As a proud Glaswegian, Gerard Butler was never going to go in for the airy-fairy luvvy stuff. Today, despite being a bona fide A list Hollywood leading man, he is dressed in a faded grey t-shirt, combat trousers and big black work boots and looks more like a surfer than a thespian. Modest and self-deprecating, he is as unassuming an actor as one is ever likely to meet.
“Where I’m from airs and graces just don’t work,” he smiles, his Glaswegian accent entirely intact even after decades away from home. “I went back to Glasgow recently and met an old buddy of mine and he put his arms around me and said, ‘You know you haven’t changed at all.’ He was really drunk. And I was thinking that’s really nice and then he said, ‘Aye you’re still a prick!’"
And yet Butler is big news across the water and is likely to get bigger. For his latest picture, Machine Gun Preacher, directed by the formidable Marc ‘Kite Runner’ Foster, he excels as Sam Childers, the former biker gang member, junky and robber who turned to God and built his own church in Pennsylvania. Childers then journeyed to East Africa to help rebuild homes lost in the civil war and encountered the horrors meted out by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who kidnap kids and turn them into soldiers. He decided to build an orphanage and goes on raiding missions to bring back said children armed with machine guns and rocket launchers.
A complex man, Butler renders him perfectly. “When I first read about, I thought this couldn’t be true,” chuckles Butler. “But it is.”
For the role, Butler was required to conduct some pretty gruesome research. “I went through photos of babies who had been cut in half, just lying there together with mothers who’d been slaughtered,” he winces. “Being the middle of that and dealing with it is a scary prospect, but it makes you want to go and kill every single one of those fuckers.
The problem is that the perpetrators of the worst violence are the young kids the LRA has turned into monsters.
“In the movie there is a scene of a really young kid being made to kill his own mother and there are thousands of reported cases about it,” he says. “That’s a great way to emotionally kill the kid and cut his ties with any kind of family, then he’s got nowhere to go and no boundaries as he has already done his worst. So the captors become his family.”
Butler hung out with the firebrand preacher for long lengths of time. Though glad of the attention that will help his cause, Childers remained defensive and cautious. None of which fazed Butler.
“People ask if I was intimidated by Sam, this man who kills people on a regular basis and I say, yes, but not in the way that you think. I grew up with that all rough stuff around me and it not only makes you ready and able to look after yourself it also gives you that ability to play the warrior. It’s my upbringing that helps me walk into these situations.“
Butler was born on November 13, 1969, in Paisley where, with the exception of a few years in Canada as an infant, he grew up. His father left the family home when the actor was two, leaving his mum to look after the three kids.
Subsequently he studied law at Glasgow University and was talent spotted by actor Steven Berkoff in a coffee shop who then gave him a part in Coriolanus. Small roles followed until he landed the lead role in the film of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Phantom of The Opera followed by the part of Spartan King Leonidas in the blockbusting 300, based on Frank Millers comic. Accordingly parts flooded in. He played opposite twice Oscar-winner Hilary Swank in PS I Love You and stole the show as the star of Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla. In the soon-to-be released Playing The Field, he stars as a football coach who dallies with Catherine Zeta Jones, Uma Thurman and Jessica Biel. But it is Machine Gun Preacher that will truly launch him into the stratosphere.
What’s it like being Hollywood’s hottest actor? “I think that’s funny, but just to answer that would be presuming I am Hollywood’s hottest actor.” he chuckles.
“I don’t know if that’s the case, but let’s just assume for a second that it is. I’d say it feels pretty great.
“But I had a life before I was an actor I’ve lived life as an actor so for me, it’s a job,” he adds after a pause. “So in that respect I can always remember to be good and decent with people, which, by the way, can be hard because often people aren’t decent with you. It’s amazing the respect you get as an actor, but it’s also amazing the lack of respect you get too. People will grab you take pictures with you and if you try and get on your way cause you’re running late for a meeting or something it’s like ‘how dare you?’ As an actor you got to be well-behaved but everyone else is allowed to do what they want.”
After Machine Gun Preacher, we’ll see Butler co-star opposite Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus, the latter’s adaptation of the Shakespeare play.
“Coriolanus was my first professional job as an actor – although I only had about six or seven lines,” he recalls. “So coming back to do the movie and have one of the biggest roles was huge for me. It’s definitely given me a taste for theatre again, so I’d love to do a West End or Broadway stage production.”
Another of the actor’s passions is football, specifically his beloved Hoops. “I don’t get to see Celtic as much as I’d like to as the games are on in the middle of the night in LA,” he says. “But I’ve been playing a lot because I play a soccer player turned coach for my next film.”
The role has brought an unexpected perk for Butler. “I just played for Celtic against Man United a month ago,” he beams. ”It was for a charity game and I played and Roy Keene was playing and Keith Sutton, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke. To this day, over all my career that is the coolest most exciting thing I have ever done.”
In person, Butler bristles with good health. Now resident in Hollywood he admits to taking full advantage of all that LA has to offer. “I’ve been surfing all summer,” he says. “And I do a whole bunch of cardio and biking and hiking which is the best thing about LA.”
He has also given up the demon drink for which, if rumour has it, he was a something of a fiend. “It’s so weird because when you give it up at first it seems unimaginable to never drink again and then as time goes on you lose that compulsion. Now it’s almost like I never had a drink,” he says. “When I see people drinking I sometimes think that that will be fun, but then you get beyond that and see you don’t need it.”
With a slew of scribes waiting to talk to the actor I have time left for just one question, Does he think there should be an independent Scotland?
“Oh my god. Umm… I can’t see why not?”
Machine Gun Preacher is in cinemas now. To donate to Sam Childers’ charity see www.machinegunpreacher.org/donate