Gerard Butler toting a machine gun isn't a surprise -- he did star in 'Machine Gun Preacher' earlier this year -- but his latest role as a soldier has a twist: The film is modern-day but the dialogue is pure Shakespeare. In the first big-screen adaptation of Shakepeare's play 'Coriolanus,' Butler plays the sworn enemy of Ralph Fiennes's title character, until circumstances forces Coriolanus to switch sides and seek him out as an ally. Butler spoke to Moviefone about his history with this particular Shakespeare play and what Fiennes, who steps behind the camera for the first time, is like as a director.
People might be surprised to learn you have a Shakespearean background.
That is an interesting story. The first professional job I had as an actor was 'Coriolanus.' I begged the director to let me come in and read, and I got the role. Even thought I was only in the ensemble, I suddenly had a job as an actor and it was the happiest moment of my life. Then I was performing on the West End every night and I was thinking, "How did I get here? I am an impostor." Cut to a few years later, there's a script sitting on my desk and my agent tells me, "Ralph's called a bunch of times and he's desperate for you to play this role." And I just thought, "Oh my God!" It's kind of a great yardstick for measuring your success. The script was phenomenal, just stripped down beautifully by John Logan, who wrote 'Gladiator' and 'The Aviator.'
What was filming like?
It was a great experience. My first two days, I was working with Vanessa Redgrave who was giving a big speech and I think that I witnessed the greatest speech I've ever witnessed from an actor. It was her doing this as an Oscar-winning performance. The film itself is very powerful and of the moment. I've had the good fortune of seeing it screened in front of audiences and it goes down a storm and it's been brilliantly reviewed.
How is Ralph as a director?
He's a master. It was his directorial debut but you have a hard time convincing me of that, because it felt like he was coming off movie number 50. He had such control of everything and especially the performances. I felt free to do whatever I wanted and completely supported. Because it was a big deal, me taking on a large Shakespeare role and yet I felt like I was in incredibly confident, intelligent and appreciative hands. I knew whenever he stepped in, his notes were very specific. Artistically I knew we were making something that was really going to stand out. I saw the way he handled actors far greater than myself like Redgrave and Brian Cox and the respect that they had for him. And yet Ralph is also one of the best actors who ever lived. So you're kind of being handled from all sides in the best way, both form a directorial and actor's perspective. He has such an understanding of humanity, of culture, of storytelling, of narrative and stylistically as well. It was really a treat to be part of it, to try and bring my game up to be a part of it.
'Coriolanus' is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It'll open in more cities on January 20.
[Photo: Weinstein Co.]
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