Gerard Butler is back on the big screen as he returns to voice the character of Stoick in How To Train Your Dragon 2.
- The original film was fantastic; was it surprising to you that it connected with audiences so strongly?
I had no idea it would be so successful. But when I watched the movie, I went, ‘Where have they taken us?’ It is one of my favorites of all my movies and one of my favorite animated movies ever.
I think it was the genius of the animation and the flying, and the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless that were so powerful and magical.
- What excited you about the story and the film in the first place?
When I was asked: ‘Hey do you want to do this movie, How To Train Your Dragon, you’ll be playing the chief of a village?’ I was so excited.
The day that they ask you to play a lead in an animated movie marks a career milestone, because it means they’re not even looking at your face, they are thinking only of your voice.
It is almost like your voice is being cast, not you. So when that happens, you go, ‘Alright, I’ve arrived!’
Also I loved the idea of making a Viking movie, which would be fun for kids and adults alike. I have so much affinity and affection for Stoick. I’ve had such a great time getting my teeth into this guy.
- What was your response when you heard about the sequel?
At first I thought it would be impossible to surpass the first one, which was so magical, but they have surpassed it.
There are some fantastic surprises in this film and we get to see the other sides of Stoick. I love the relationship between Stoick and Toothless, it’s hilarious, it’s touching, it’s heartbreaking and really inspiring.
I think audiences will relate to that relationship because we’ve all been there. We have all had issues with our parents who have affected us in powerful ways and many people have kids, so they’ll relate in that way too.
- What kind of man is Stoick?
Stoick the Vast is still a big, hairy mountain of a man (laughs). He’s burly and brawny and he’s loud and obnoxious, but he’s also a great leader and protector.
He cares more about his people than he does about himself. He has learned that his way is not necessarily the way it should have been. He has learned from his son that there is such a thing as tolerance and trusting.
- What is happening when we meet him and Hiccup at the start of the movie?
There is a lightness to Berk and the Viking way of life right now. They are playing more sports than doing heavy training.
The Vikings are friends with the dragons and it’s fun in the village. Stoick has a future daughter-in-law (Astrid played by America Ferrera) whom he loves.
He is proud of her. He is very proud of his son too, but he is still frustrated by Hiccup because he is always going off exploring.
Stoick thinks: ‘Where is he off to? What trouble is he going to bring to us now?’ He thinks Hiccup is not quite living up to his responsibilities as a future ruler.
- What are Stoic’s rules and values as a leader?
Well number one: you live for the people. You’re a warrior. You have to be ready to lay down your life for those greater principles.
It’s all about defending custom and principles and tradition. Stoick is bound by those principles in a way that’s stupidly stubborn, but he believes it’s the only way this place [Berk] is going to survive... if everybody toes the line. He tries to pass that on to his son.
- What can you reveal about the bad guy in this movie, Drago, who is threatening the people of Berk?
Drago Bludvist is a dark, dark soul, who even puts the fear of God into me, Stoick. He has killed many of my men; he has killed great Vikings.
And now he’s back on the map, which could have pretty dire consequences for me and my people. Berk is at risk.
- How much fun is it playing Stoick with a thick Scottish accent?
It is fantastic, but I think I make Dean crazy (laughs). When we were doing the first movie, I watched it and I loved it, but I said ‘I need to go back in and change my voice,’ because it wasn’t strong enough. So I redid about 75 percent of my lines.
I did it again this time, not necessarily because of the accent, but because I’m a perfectionist. Doing it again allowed me to give the journey more richness. I redid about 90 percent of my lines.
You don’t get the opportunity to make many animated movies, so I wanted it to be great. However, they may not have used 90 percent, I just said, ‘Here, take these and if you want them, all the better.’
- What was it like working with Dean DeBlois again?
Dean is great. He’s the nicest, maybe the most humble director I’ve ever worked with and he’s such a smart guy. The way he approaches character and story is phenomenal.
I love working with him. They have to kick me out of the studio I have so much fun with him! (laughs). Dean loves the fact that I’m really into the role.
- Without giving away the plot, there are some moving moments aren’t there?
There are some special moments. I think if I put in all those hours just to achieve one of the moments that makes you ‘bubble’, then I have succeeded. I love the feeling that people all around the world will experience those moments.
- How close is this role to your heart, playing a Viking Chieftain?
Vikings are in our blood in Scotland. Everything that I’ve been given as an actor comes from my culture, my nation and through my blood. So the role was fantastic for me. There is a warrior mentality in Scotland.
Even as I was doing [the 2007 film] 300, I would think of the hills in Scotland, I would think of my ancestors and what they’d been through. I used my passion for my country to play Leonidas in 300. I would almost hear his voice echoing through the ages.
And it was the same with Stoick. My favorite three places on the planet are Scotland, India and Iceland. Whenever I think of those countries, my stomach starts churning in the best kind of way, just bristling with excitement. Scotland means the most to me, though, because it’s my life.
I grew up in that country, wanting to make it as an actor and wanting to go to Hollywood. But it was always through the prism of me as a Scottish kid - a Scottish kid doing well.
- The visuals in How To Train Your Dragon 2 are amazing. What do you think of the 3D animation?
It is like being in a magical, enchanted world. We are flying above the water. It is animated and yet it is so real; I’ve never seen flying scenes that are more fun or enthralling or exhilarating in an animated movie.
We are really taking the audience with us into this world of fairytale kingdoms and monsters and Vikings and dragons.
- What are your views on the wonderful cast?
It is incredible. There are actors of the caliber of Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou, which is a testament to Dean DeBlois and the whole team. The original cast is fantastic too. Jay Baruchel is phenomenal playing Hiccup.
Jonah Hill, America Ferrera and Kristen Wiig are great. There is so much humor in the film and those kids really get that.
Craig Ferguson plays my best buddy (Gobber) in the movie and he is a friend of mine in real life. He just hits it; he’s great. It is a joy for me to be a part of this team.
- Can you discuss Cate Blanchett’s pivotal role in the story as Valka, your wife and Hiccup’s mother?
In the first film we never really know what happened to my wife. But I talk about her with affection and you see how important she was to me, and how sad I am that she is not a part of Hiccup’s life.
Suddenly, in this film, Valka is there and we realize that she was abducted in a dragon attack twenty years ago. We had assumed she was dead. Never for a second would we have thought that she had now become part of the dragons’ world and learned their ways, and become their biggest protector.
This is a chance for me (Stoick) to have something I had never thought would be possible: to have my wife back and to have a family again. The story is both romantic and heartbreaking. Meeting her again takes me back to being a kid, when I was wooing her and singing to her.
- The scene in which you are singing is very memorable. Of course you sang previously in The Phantom Of The Opera.
In The Phantom, the most powerful moments for me that make your heart soar, were when my voice was breaking, rather than singing, I was really speaking in a singing voice, whispering.
I remember the coach I was working with, he said when you are gentle and you hear the little imperfections, when you can’t get a word out or when you sigh a word, that is what makes your heart soar. That is what I wanted to do here [in How To Train Your Dragon 2].
Stoick is a burly Viking. He doesn’t know how to sing, but in this scene he’s like a child again, so he gives the song life and vivacity. I just understood that scene from the second they gave it to me. I knew what to do.’
- How much collaboration was there in the scene between you and the composer and Dean?
The composer John Powell is phenomenal, he was helping to direct the scene with Dean and they gave me little pointers, putting in magical sighs and hesitation in the voice, knowing that underlying what is happening in that moment is a man who has rediscovered the love of his life.
They are having fun. He is remembering the days when they were falling in love and it’s a very moving scene. It is interesting for me because for 14 years I didn’t see my own father. I didn’t even know he was alive.
- Is that what you tapped into?
Yes, it was very powerful for me when I finally met my father. At the time it was like: ‘That’s my father. He’s not actually dead.
I only discovered this one hour ago, now he’s in front of me.’ I found out that he was still alive and then I was in a restaurant with him. It was a very emotional thing, and then I was with him when he died as well.
This was 22 years ago. He had bone cancer, which got gradually worse and he was paralyzed. I sat with him every day until he passed away. But I’m so glad I did because then I realized what a warrior my father was.
He didn’t look like a warrior, but that man was cracking jokes until the day he died. Even when he was barely awake, he would make jokes out of his situation. Then I saw what courage he had.
- It sounds like he was very inspiring.
Yes but my mother is the real inspiration. She took three kids, left Canada (where we were living), and brought us home to Scotland, with literally two dollars in her pocket.
We lived in my gran’s [grandmother’s] house, which had one-and-a-half bedrooms, for a year, until we got our own house. My mother then had to go and study at a night school.
She ended up as a teacher in that college and then she became a senior lecturer. She brought up three kids on her own and instilled incredible values. She led with an iron fist and a loving touch as well.
She has an amazing personality, which she gave to me. My dad gave me some pretty profound moments in my life but my mum gave me my life.
- Coming back to the film, what do you think about the dragons and what they represent in a broad sense? The story is so entertaining and fun, but are there also metaphors about tolerance and compassion?
Yes, the theme of tolerance is something that I have a very strong opinion about and it is an interesting question. Both movies are about tolerance and the courage that comes with tolerance.
The Vikings are learning to trust and they actually realize that dragons are beautiful. That is great because it’s often natural for Mankind to fight instead of trusting.
People go: ‘Kill, destroy, defend,’ whether it’s fighting between races or cultures or nationalities. But we can be brave and rise above that. One little kid [Hiccup] comes along and says, ‘Why don’t we just listen and pay attention and really see each other?’
You realize that these dragons have their own integrity and they’re as scared as we are. This new film shows how we can face people who are way less tolerant than us and come from a dark place.
I think that is a great lesson for the world we live in right now. It’s hard to be able to say, ‘You know I don’t agree with you, but let’s not go to war. Let’s not kill each other.’
If everyone would just pay a little more attention and be a little more tolerant, we would live in a far better place.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is released 10th July.
Tagged in Gerard Butler