Most people know Gerard Butler from his work as the rough and tough guy in the film “300.” What’s interesting about Butler’s film career is that his films roles have varied significantly in scope. He’s played a single dad in “Nim’s Island” and tackled comedy in “The Ugly Truth.” Many people are also familiar with his myriad of work in independent films.
In the film “Machine Gun Preacher” he plays a real life guy, Sam Childers, a former drug dealer and ex con whose life is transformed by his belief in God and his strong-willed wife (played by Michelle Monaghan). Ultimately, Childers takes a trip to Sudan, Africa and begins an all out campaign to help orphaned and kidnapped children. He rescues kids, gives them a place to stay in the orphanage he built, preaches and shoots his machine gun if necessary.
Butler was in Chicago on a whirlwind press tour promoting his new film. We met along with other journalists in the conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel on August 23, 2011 on a clear, crisp day.
Butler has played other epic characters and this one certainly fits that description. When asked how he approached portraying Sam Childers, Butler stated that if you compare Sam to other characters that he has played, Sam falls into that category along with other aspects.
Butler said, “The Phantom from “Phantom of the Opera,” Beowulf in “Beowulf & Grendel” and King Leonidas in “300,” all have really exceptional powers whereas Sam is a very charismatic man, but he’s still just a man. What I really connected with was the fact that he had all of that going on. He had incredible courage, incredible determination and endurance and yet, at the same time, he’s full of shame and anger. This violence just kind of simmers underneath the surface and that to me was how to make this character more fascinating and more gripping.”
Childers is also somewhat controversial and it was important to Butler (a producer of the film) to show all of those components that make up the person.
“The fact that Childers is a hero is really interesting, but in making the movie, his downside and the fallout that you get when you come across a man like this also needed to be told,” explained Butler.
What was it like for Butler to step into a historical film with a character based on real life drama?
Butler replied, “I forgot how much action there was in the movie until I saw it again. To me, the most powerful moments are when he (Sam) was on his own, what he went through as a person.”
I prefaced my question to Butler with a compliment, regarding his work with children. I told him that I was happy to see him working with kids again and that I enjoyed his work with Abilgail Breslin in “Nim’s Island.” I asked Butler to tell us what the kids in this film have taught him.
Butler smiled and paused, then he began by saying, “You know, that would be my favorite thing about working on this movie, the kids. I think in the news now days you hear about problems with kids and the family unit and what is happening in our world and the youth, and yet when I made this movie – it gives you so much faith and pride in our future leaders and who we have that’s making up our society. For instance, the two kids that played my children in the movie at different ages were such phenomenal little girls: humble, smart, cool and funny.
He continued stating, “More than anything, the kids that I worked with in Africa was my favorite part of making this film. I was surrounded by hundreds of them everyday. Getting to know them was truly the most fun experience for me and actually turned out to be very profound because it’s the same kids that are going through these unspeakable horrors. Then there’s the fear that they’re left with and the emotional damage that is done to them already. I spent more time with these kids and was having so much fun every day. They were just so cool. It was a tough, very tough movie to do. (Butler paused and took a deep breath; he was visibly moved and tears were in his eyes at this point.)
He continued, “But very rewarding as well and really, it was an honor to tell their story.”
When asked what he takes away from a film like this.
Butler replied, “I hope to take away the same thing that an audience member would: to be inspired and touched, to have an effect on people. The film is a complete education. I can’t imagine that people will not be impacted by it.”
What role will we be seeing Butler in on the big screen next?
Right now, it’s a surfing film and he guesses that is where he will challenge himself, as he needs to learn to ‘surf a bit.’ Butler let us in on a secret that he doesn’t know how to surf and will be spending most of his time learning.
Butler laughed as he stated, “That’s six months of your life trying to ‘surf a bit.’”
Sarah Adamson© September 29, 2011