How To Train Your Dragon - Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson
How To Train Your Dragon- Sailing to Dragon Island in hopes of ending their centuries’-long feud with the beasts once and for all, Chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and blacksmith and Dragon Training drill sergeant Gobber (Craig Ferguson) prepare for the worst © Dreamworks

Can you imagine Gerard Butler as an enormous, red-headed, red-bearded Viking warrior? Through the magic of animation that’s exactly what he plays, well voices, in the new DreamWorks movie How to Train Your Dragon.

As Stoick the Vast, the head of the Viking tribe on the Island of Berk, he is a dragon fighter who is extremely worried about his teenage son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), who doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct. When Hiccup is enrolled in Dragon Training, with instructor Gobber (Craig Ferguson), the problem seems to be alleviated, that is until the young boy finds and befriends an injured dragon.

I spoke with Gerard Butler last Friday about his first animated movie.

What’s the best thing about doing a voice in an animated movie?

How to Train Your Dragon - Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler voices “Stoick” © Dreamworks

I think maybe the best thing was the treat that you get at the end of it to see it all come together, because really as much as I think everybody in this cast is fantastic, I think the real geniuses are the guys who wrote it, the guys who directed it and the animators who created it. Because when you see it you go, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t know this was the magical spectacular, wonderful world that we had all entered into.

Was it liberating for you getting into the booth? Your character is big and over-the-top. And did you ever get a chance to see any of the other actors in the booth or was it always just you and the directors alone?

Craig and I had a session together in LA and then myself, Craig and Jay had a really fun session in New York. That’s not to say that the session Craig and I did was not fun.

It is freeing in the way that you’re not constrained by false beards and uncomfortable costumes and you can do what you want in there (the recording booth), and you don’t have to look at 150 extras who you know are sitting going, ‘What the (hell) are you talking about?’ Or, ‘You look like an idiot in those leather underpants.’

What movie could you possibly be referring to?

(he laughs) Nim’s Island. But then again, sometimes you miss the opportunity to be out actually on location and have the true environment around you. But it was cool because it was different. It was something that I’d never done before.

Was doing your native Scottish accent as a Viking a surprise to you? I thought they were Scandinavian.

How To Train Your Dragon - Gerard Butler
During yet another nighttime dragon attack on their village, Chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) faces off against a Monstrous Nightmare © Dreamworks

The (other actors) were doing a f-king American accent. The least Viking accent you can imagine!

Actually, this was the only movie that I think I’ve ever made or will make that after watching it for the first time I realized that my accent was not Scottish enough, especially after hearing Craig Ferguson’s. I realized that I was doing a mid-Atlantic kind of accent. I was kind of stuck in the middle. I think a strong Celtic accent lends itself to Vikingness.

I think a strong Celtic accent lends itself to any kind of warrior breed, and it was the same in 300 as well.

Was it strange not to have your face on the poster for a change (for Dragon)?

I kind of like that. I like it when people are surprised that you’re in something that you’re (just) talking in. I have my face on plenty of posters so it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I think our voices are such a small part of this movie. We spent three years (recording) it every few months and the animators worked twelve hours a day to make the magnificent feat it is. So, it would be a little weird having my face on the poster. I’d feel guilty.

You’ve done many genres, do you have a favorite?

How to Train Your Dragon - Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler (Stoick) in the recording studio at DreamWorks Animation © Dreamworks

Musical, animated, romantic comedy, action comedy, thriller, drama and action – that’s six. But I don’t want to blow my own horn. I think my favorite to do out of all them I would have to say DreamWorks animated 3D movies! But last week when I was doing publicity for Bounty Hunter it was definitely action comedies.

Tt really does change, honestly sometimes I’m doing an action movie and I say, ‘I’m never doing this again,’ but most of the time I love it. And it’s like that for any genre. There’s a lot of great stuff I get out of each of them, and then there’s a lot of stuff about each of them that makes me nuts.

What do you have coming up?

I have a couple things, I’m going to do some Shakespeare with Ralph Fiennes, it’s his debut (as a director); Coriolanus. Then I’m going to be working with Marc Forster who did Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and the last Bond movie.

We’re doing a movie called Machine Gun  Preacher about a former drug dealer who, it’s a true story, is now fighting with the Southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, became a preacher, preaching in Pennsylvania, and raises money for an orphanage that he runs down in southern Sudan and literally uses machine guns to fight the rebel forces down there. Fascinating story, I think. If that’s not fascinating I don’t know what is.

Are you involved in a Phantom of the Opera sequel? (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, now on stage).

I actually went to the opening night in London.  I just happened to be there by coincidence. I didn’t plan it until five o’clock that evening.  It was very cool, a very interesting production. But, no, I don’t think I’ll be doing it.  I doubt very much they’ll be asking me. But it was great fun to watch. But, I’m sure it would be a long time away for making the movie.

What about a sequel to RocknRolla?

I have no idea. After the success of Sherlock Holmes, Guy’s (Ritchie) going to be pretty busy making two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight of those. It’s a shame because I loved RocknRolla.

Do you have a favorite of the films you’ve done?

How to Train Your Dragon is one of them; then maybe 300 and Dear Frankie, a little movie that I did.  I’m very proud of that.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.