300 is a blood-soaked, steroid-fueled, ultra-stylized adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about 300 Spartan warriors who, for three days in 480 B.C., fought a million-man-strong army of Persian soldiers to a standstill at Thermopylae. Their inevitable deaths inspired the rest of Greece to unify as a democracy. Gerard Butler, who plays the bulky King Leonidas, recently took some time to talk about how a modern man becomes a big-screen Spartan.
Talk about the training that turned you into a Greek statue.
It was intense. We were in Los Angeles, and we trained in the Valley. It was so hot — and that was the cardiovascular stuff. The drilling. So you were always jumping about. I lost a lot of weight there. I tell you, I was not in good shape when we started.
Did you realize you weren’t in good shape?
Oh, I realized it and, trust me, everybody else did as well. 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. But to be honest, I function well with that, you know. Fear. I operate well with fear.
Like a Spartan?
Like a Spartan, exactly. Then the film trainer came on, Mark Twight — this nutjob mountain climber who trains other mountain climbers, cage fighters, undercover operatives — and we would do circle training that was competitive, based on results. We were using primitive things like kettlebells, medicine balls, and rings. It was just about learning to endure absolute exhaustion and pain.
That’s wasn’t all of it, though, was it?
Then I went off to train with my own guy `a body builder`, because I always wanted to get bigger. This is where I departed slightly from Zack `Snyder, 300’s director` and the producer’s P.O.V. 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.
What effect did all of this have on your performance as a Spartan warrior?
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. 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.
Did you spend much time researching the part of Leonidas?
The graphic novel is where it’s at. 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.
Did you ever get to watch The 300 Spartans that inspired Miller to create his graphic novel?
I did. I didn’t get quite as inspired.