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MACHINE GUN PREACHER

About The Casting
Gerard Butler, who portrays Childers in Machine Gun Preacher, has played his share of larger-than-life warriors, including the Spartan King Leonidas in 300 and the Norse hero Beowulf in Beowulf & Grendel, but Childers' exploits blew him away. "When I first read it, I thought, are you kidding me?” admits Butler. "This couldn't all have happened. But it did and much more. The man has experienced more than most people would in 10 lifetimes.”

Many top actors were interested in the role, says Brenner, but Butler's intense personal passion won the filmmakers over. "Gerry had a real connection to the material,” she says. "It's actually like nothing else in his body of work and it really challenged him in a profound way. Sam is complex and checkered and so volatile. Yet he tries so hard to walk a righteous path. Gerry really wanted to bring integrity and honesty to the role of Sam. He rolled up his sleeves and did immense research about the children of Sudan. He worked with a dialect coach to get Sam's idiosyncratic way of talking. He was incredibly meticulous and focused on creating and understanding this character down to his very core.”

The actor immersed himself in the details of Childers' life, reading books and watching videos about Sudan. If his character had to fix a sink or repair a roof or ride a motorcycle, he trained with plumbers, contractors and tattooed bikers to make sure he got it right.

Director Marc Forster praises Butler for his ability to maintain the precarious balance between Childers' personal flaws and his extraordinary actions. "Gerry brought an incredible amount of passion and commitment to this project,” says Forster. "The character he plays could easily be dislikable, but he manages to walk the line. He has that charismatic screen presence and brings real depth to this role. I think he really gave it everything he has.”

For Butler, the script's ability to capture those two aspects of Childers and his astonishing life story are what make it unique. "It takes place on two continents, in two completely different cultures, which so perfectly expresses the duality of Sam,” the actor says. "Sam in Africa, Sam in America. The younger out-of-control Sam with no God but himself and his pain and his pleasure, and then the Sam who found this higher purpose.

"It's a harrowing and powerful story,” he continues. "Jason Keller has written an astonishing script that takes us through this man's life, so that we understand what made him end up in Africa doing these extraordinary things.”

Butler made a pilgrimage to Pennsylvania to spend time with the Childers family in preparation for the film. "I watched him preach in his church,” says the actor. "I taped hours of conversations so I could listen to how he expresses himself. He's such a fascinating guy and he has an awful lot of amazing stories. I found I sometimes had to reel myself back in and think, how does that relate to this movie?”

The scenes in Africa were more emotionally wrenching than the actor could have imagined. "I really had to take myself to places that I had never been before. Sam is the eyes and ears of the audience in Sudan. What he sees is heartbreaking. It is beyond our imagination what people are capable of doing to each other.”

The importance of the work Childers has shouldered has made the film more important to Butler on a personal level than any other role he has played. "It's the one that I've been most involved in as well,” he notes. "Marc and I worked closely together for over a year and every day was epic. It's just been a marathon. On a single day, we might do a scene where Sam breaks down like his life is over, then another scene where he's been high on crack for a month and has to deal with his family. In between, I'm sitting with my folders of visual aids, images from Sudan of kids burned, people hacked up, cut-off, babies… Sometimes I would think, I can't do this again. It was a hard movie to make, but it's the hard ones that pay off big.”

Equally important to understanding the remarkable journey Childers has made is his wife Lynn, played by Michelle Monaghan. Lynn provides Sam with the emotional ballast he needs to keep going. "Lynn is a very strong woman,” says Forster. "She is courageous on many levels and she has stuck with him even though she was left behind, not just once, but many times. There are not many women who could do that.”

Monaghan counts herself fortunate to have been involved in the project. "The script was so powerful,” she says. "And I just thought, this story has to be told and I really want to be a part of telling it. I don't want to make movies that I don't want to watch, and this is a movie that makes me proud.”

Monaghan says screenwriter Keller perfectly captured Lynn's voice in his script. "Jason poured his blood, sweat, and tears into this project and it shows. He had spent so much time with her so he really wrote in her voice. I felt I understood her even before I met her.

Once Monaghan did meet Lynn Childers, she learned how significant her role is in Sam Childers' life and work. "It became very apparent to me that Lynn is a quiet giant,” the actress says. "None of this would have been possible without her. She has endured a lot and always maintained a very strong sense of family and faith. It can't be easy to keep your family intact when your husband leaves for months at a time to risk his life in a dangerous place. But she gave him the strength and the confidence to pursue Angels of East Africa and she is the one who keeps the show running in the U.S.”

The actress says Lynn Childers was generous and open with her as she prepared for the role. Nothing Monaghan wanted to know was off limits. "She allowed me to ask her anything I wanted. She opened her home and her heart to me, and it was invaluable to have the freedom to pick her brain. I was impressed by how comfortable she is in her faith. She says all she needs is God, Paige, and Sam, in that order.”

Monaghan says her co-stars and director surpassed her wildest expectations. "Marc is just a terrific filmmaker. He breathed such life and authenticity into this movie. He has such ease and confidence, and that makes him amazing with actors. Once he finishes casting, he has complete faith and trust in them. He's very specific with his direction and I found that he's always right.

"And it's a dream cast. Gerard is incredibly talented and I have been a fan of Kathy Baker for so many years. She didn't disappoint on any level.”

Baker plays Childers' mother, Daisy, the other rock in his foundation. "Daisy is a real firecracker,” says Baker. "She's a woman who is so passionate and so full of belief that she feels everything that's happened with Sam and this movie is because of God. She knows her son went through a great deal to get where he is today, and she believes that it was her faith and Lynn's faith that got the family through it all. They called on God to help them turn Sam around and He made it all happen. Talking to her, you can imagine what it would be like to live in a house of women who are quietly, faithfully and patiently guiding Sam, letting him act out and go crazy, knowing he's going to come back to the fold in time.”

Baker's only doubt about playing the part was purely sartorial. "I wanted to play her exactly as she is,” says the actress. "I wanted my hair to be just like hers, and my clothes. Then at one point, Lynn sad, ‘Daisy loves shoes and she always wears these little high heels.' And I thought, oh gosh, I'm not going to be able to do that. But Marc assured me that he didn't want an exact replica;

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