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Q&A: Gerard Butler sings ‘Phantom of the Opera’ on a nuclear submarine

Gerard Butler recreates the "Hunter Killer" movie poster with WTOP's Jason Fraley at the Newseum. (WTOP/Jason Farley)

WASHINGTON — Gerard Butler’s career spans everything from action heroes in “300” and “Olympus Has Fallen” to heartthrobs in “P.S. I Love You” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

So, how would his Phantom describe his new submarine action thriller “Hunter Killer?”

“The Phantom of the Opera is hereeeee, but where the hell is that sub?” Butler joked. “It’s pretty exhilarating right from the start. You’re grabbing the edge of your seat. … It’s still ridiculous. You take the kernel of an idea and go to town. … That’s the idea behind great action thrillers.”

Butler plays an unproven U.S. submarine captain named Joe Glass, who teams with U.S. Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general.

“‘Hunter Killer’ is actually a type of fast-attack nuclear submarine the U.S. has that locates and destroys enemy subs and surface ships with stealth,” Butler said. “At the beginning of the movie, two submarines go down under mysterious circumstances — one Russian, one U.S. … While all the minds in the war room fight it out in Washington, we have to send in this clandestine black ops team into Russia and we find out nothing is going on as expected.”

As producer, Butler felt the timing was perfect considering recent U.S.-Russian relations.

“That’s the reason we made the movie,” Butler said. “When I read the script in 2011, there wasn’t anything going on between these [countries], there wasn’t any tension. … Then around 2015, we went, ‘OK, I can see this now.’ … You had a completely different reaction when you read the script. … It suddenly felt very plausible that step by step this situation could unfold, and it could very quickly escalate to the brink of war. Then we had a movie on our hands.”

The genre is one of Butler’s favorites from “Das Boot” to “The Hunt for Red October.”

“Huge fan,” Butler said. “Two of my Top 5 movies and three of my Top 10 movies are submarine movies, because there isn’t a better space to put nail-biting, claustrophobic, tense, contained drama anywhere in the universe. Not just death, but horrible death. … You get hit by a torpedo, what does that mean? Freezing cold water pouring in at high pressure, your body imploding, asphyxiation, carbon dioxide poisoning — it’s a terrifying place to be.”

Here, the job of creating the tension falls to director Donovan Marsh.

“I interviewed 10 directors for this movie,” Butler said. “Weirdly enough, I got this little South African movie, this fun little thriller and I thought, ‘I’m not gonna like this, it looks cheap,’ and then I started watching it training in the gym and 10 minutes in I go, ‘This is kind of cool!’ There was such a presence and energy in how he moved the camera, how tight it was in the editing.”

It doesn’t hurt having Gary Oldman, who’s fresh off his Best Actor Oscar in “Darkest Hour.”

“I taught him everything he knows,” Butler joked. “I met Gary literally the first week I moved to London. A friend of mine was a casting director and casting a movie he directed and wrote, ‘Nil By Mouth.’ I had been a trainee lawyer, a big life change for me and suddenly I’m sitting in front of Gary Oldman. He was so cool, humble and nice to me and giving me advice. Then suddenly I’m producing this movie, and let’s offer this role to Gary! How did this happen?”

Of all of Butler’s roles, his most iconic might be the action flick “300” shouting, “This is Sparta!”

“What got me ‘300’ was I went the extra step,” Butler said. “I didn’t just do the meeting. I ended up calling Alan Horn at Warner Bros. to say, ‘You have to know how much I care about this.'”

He’s also proven adept at romances from “P.S. I Love You” to “The Ugly Truth.”

“I try to do all sorts of movies,” Butler said. “I’m definitely best known for the action realm, but if I was only to do that, I would get incredibly bored. So I’m lucky enough to be able to play those different roles to be able to move from action to romantic comedy, then move to some weird, quirky psychological thriller or a musical. You know, I need to do a musical again! It’s time!”

Indeed, it’s been 14 years since he played the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“I always just sang for me, for fun,” Butler said. “I was a shower singer, then suddenly I had to sing ‘Music of the Night’ for Andrew Lloyd Webber. At that point, I had two singing lessons. I took my first singing lesson for ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ I can’t say that I sing as much as I used to. But being back in New York, I was just thinking the other day, ‘I need to go and start take singing lessons, just for the hell of it, just for fun.’ It’s a nice muscle to keep toned.”

Which musical would he like do?

“Maybe it’s a little old fashioned, but I love ‘Music Man,'” Butler said. “I don’t know if there’s a way to update that, but I love the idea of going to Ohio and pulling off something like that!”

Until then, we repeat: “The Phantom of the Opera is hereeeee, but where the hell is that sub?”

Listen to our full conversation with Gerard Butler below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Gerard Butler (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley

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