By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Gerard Butler lends his voice once again as the elder Viking leader Stoick the Vast in the action-adventure animated feature, “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”
On the heels of the 2010 film, which introduced audiences to Stoick, leader of a proud dragon-fighting Viking clan, and his teenage son Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who goes against convention and befriends an injured dragon called Toothless, thus changing forever the relationship between humans and fire-breathers, the sequel uncovers family secrets and a new threat in the form of a power-hungry villain named Drago (Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou) and his dragon-trapper henchman Eret (“Game of Thrones” Kit Harington). In addition to Butler and Baruchel, other actors returning to voice their characters include Craig Ferguson as Gobber, America Ferrera as Astrid, Jonah Hill as Snotlout and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs.
The Scottish actor, best known for his live-action role in “300,” says the story of Hiccup finding Valka, his mother (voiced by Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett), who abandoned the family long ago, affected him on an emotional level. He says the storyline, combined with the action and new adventures in the sequel, will hopefully also strike a chord with audiences.
Looking tanned and muscular, Butler spoke about his family-friendly sequel, due out in time for Father’s Day.
Q: This movie is set five years after the first one. How has Stoick changed since in that time?
Butler: At the beginning of the movie, you meet a Stoick, who is much more relaxed and having fun. The pressure is off. There’s not a constant war with the dragons and his son’s doing great. (Hiccup’s) not the kind of weird, effeminate boy that he was growing up, so it’s a different world where it’s full of fun and adventure. I also feel that my time is coming to an end. I have a kind of sense that I want to pass on the mantle to him. It’s time for him, not just to show he can slay dragons, which he’s done, but to show he can be a leader and take some serious responsibility.
Q: This movie opens on Father’s Day weekend. What do you think the movie teaches about fatherhood?
Butler: Stoick wants to teach Hiccup that there’s a time for fun and games. Hiccup has proved himself and what’s also interesting is what my character learns from him, what Stoick picks up. There’s a different way to deal with challenges and the younger generation can actually show the older generation how to do it. He’s off adventuring, and he has different views on how to deal with these new challenges. I’m trying to teach him about a different type of responsibility, where it’s not just about how you would like to deal with something, but you’re thinking about the other people around you as well. He has (to think about) the future of other people. He can’t deal with it always in his own headstrong way. That’s my own headstrong opinion about how he should do it. I’m not always right either. The point is you just see the love that I have for my boy and the love that everybody has for everybody in this movie. They might not always agree or see eye-to-eye, but everybody really wants the best … except Djimon’s character. (He laughs.)
Q: How do you see the relationship between Stoick and his estranged wife, Valka?
Butler: That’s the reason people are getting so much out of this movie. Visually, it’s incredible, but it’s the story itself that really stands out. It goes to deeper and darker in places than most animated movies dare to go. The issues are separation and abandonment, because Valka abandoned her child. She’s apologetic about it and she had a deeper cause that she wanted to fight for, but she could have returned or even checked up on (Hiccup). “How’s he growing up? How’s he doing?” and she never did. Part of me wanted to yell, “Where were you? What the ****? Not even a ‘hello?’ I’m making helmets out of your breastplate and you are having a blast tickling dragons under the chin.” At the same time, it’s so emotional.
Q; Do you relate to Hiccup’s experience?
Butler: Yeah, this happened to me. I didn’t see my father for 14 years. I didn’t even know he was alive, and he turned up out of the blue when I came home one night. I’d had a dream and went to my mom and said “I’m never gonna see my dad again, am I?” and she said “No. I don’t think so.” I came home one night and my stepdad said “Keep your jacket on. Your dad’s here.” I had to go and walk around this packed restaurant going from table to table, literally, looking at men going, “Is that my dad?” He stood up and was the weirdest-looking guy in the restaurant. So that part of the movie was profound for me, but not just for me, it’s profound for a lot of people to imagine that a parent you didn’t think was there or the love of your life that you thought was gone, is actually still alive and well and there is a chance to rekindle everything you thought you had lost in your life.
Q: What was it like going into the recording booth the second time around, and did you get to work with Craig Ferguson or Cate Blanchett?
Butler: I’d met Cate before but I never met her on this movie. I kind of wanted to make it up and say I did, and we did all our scenes together and it was magical, but it’s not true. I specifically asked not to spend time with Craig in the booth. (He laughs.) We did in the first one, and I to be honest, I wish we could do that more. There was one day that we did with Jay and we had a blast. It was fun. But, in this movie, we didn’t get the chance, but it’s fine. By this point, you know who you are, you know the voice, you know the guy and you can throw off extra things a little bit more and play with it more. What’s cool about the movie is there was already a momentum from the first one and that can kill you if you don’t live up to that, but if you get it right and put a lot of thought into where you can take those characters, then that momentum becomes something really powerful and that’s what I think they did in this movie. We had a chance to go richer and deeper and had a really cool story.
Q: Were you anxious about doing a sequel?
Butler: Yes, because I’m a worrier, once we were making the second, I wondered, “How is this going to live up to that?” But I think the second one is even better. It pushes the limits and the stakes in so many ways. Animation has come along so much and they’ve made absolute beautiful use of that to make this a visually exhilarating ride you go on yet never shied away from bringing up darker issues and keeping it exciting and emotional. I’ve seen it now with two audiences. It’s great to see it with an audience, because they get so into it and everybody is crying or cheering. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Q: What’s coming up next for you?
Butler: I just finished a movie two days ago called “Gods of Egypt,” which is a huge “Avatar”-meets-“Lord of the Rings”-style movie. I play the villain, the god Set. It’s kind of cool. I kill my brother and, according to Egyptian mythology, my mother, who was probably my sister or my lover as well. (He laughs.) I kill my father and my wife. I kill pretty much everybody else, so it was fun playing him in a really magical world as well. Also, I’m doing a remake of “London is Falling,” and I’m doing a movie called “Geo Storm,” which is a huge, epic movie about building a system of satellites around the planet because of global warming. It’s fun. I’m excited about that one too.