Most mainstream moviegoers got their first glimpse of Scottish actor Gerard Butler when he uttered three lines as the “leading seaman” in the 1997 Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Lots of parts followed, including the title roles in “Dracula 2000” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Though Butler has worked in animation (the voice of Stoick in “How to Train Your Dragon”) and romantic comedy (“P.S. I Love You”), the former lawyer/former rock singer (in the Scottish band Speed) found his calling when he stripped off his shirt, wielded a sword and stepped in front of a blue screen as King Leonidas in the epic “300.”

Butler has since stayed busy in action roles, and lucked into a strong one in 2012 when the script for “Olympus Has Fallen,” in which he played Secret Service agent Mike Banning, fell into his lap. The sequel “London Has Fallen” followed, and now “Angel Has Fallen,” the third film, officially making it a franchise, has arrived. The character is the same, the action is still in high gear, but the script goes in darker, more emotional directions as Banning finds himself, in the film’s first few minutes, framed for an attempted assassination of the U.S. president.

Butler, 49, insisting that he be called Gerry, spoke about the film in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you get involved with “Olympus Has Fallen?”
A: Many years ago, I was in a restaurant, and the producer Danny Lerner was sitting at a table close to me. He sends his wife over with a card saying, “I will give you X amount to make any movie you want.” I thought it was a bit of a joke, but we stayed in touch. He sent me a bunch of scripts and I told him there were two that I liked. One was like a kind of “Hobbs & Shaw,” and the other was “Olympus Has Fallen.” He said, “The only thing is, if you don’t make ‘Olympus’ now, you won’t be able to, because ‘White House Down’ is being made and we can come out before it but there’s no way we can come out after it.” So, I said, “OK, let’s make ‘Olympus Has Fallen.’”

Q: And you brought in Antoine Fuqua to direct?
A: Yeah, he and I were developing some projects. He said, “Dude, we could have fun with this, let’s go deep.” There was always a great story but there weren’t enough twists and turns and it wasn’t quite believable, so we were trying to figure how we could make it exciting and surprising and brutal and just keep throwing it in your face, yet keep it emotional ... and it just all seemed to work. We were a great team, right from the start, working on the script, just making it sing a bit more.

Q: Then there was a sequel and now another one. Did you think twice about signing on to those?
A: Oh, for sure. It’s always great to get a franchise going, but you don’t want to start one if you’re just going to make a fool of yourself. Your intention is not to do that. Now, I’m not saying you always get it right, but with “London,” we had some highfalutin ideas. The first film was so nationally based, and it did very well in America, but not so great around the world. We thought let’s take it abroad, then we can bring in the Japanese, the French, the Russians. We thought if we can make that leap, then we were on to something. And it was a super fun ride. But with “Angel,” we grew up a bit. I think we matured and we decided to deal with some real issues. We’d keep all the action, but ground it and make it more real, with less special effects - so the explosions you see in it are real.

Q: Mike is a much more vulnerable character in the new film. Was that part of what attracted you to it?
A: Yeah. We were coming up with a lot of ideas, but none of them really felt right. Then when we came up with the idea of “The Fugitive,” we thought, “OK, what if this guy is struggling with personal problems?” That created a whole new opportunity for telling a story of a guy who does hurt, who does have to cover things up, who may have problems with addiction. But he’s doing it for all the right reasons. The story looks at what we have to do to get through life, the different directions we have to take and the struggles we have. You know this guy loves his job and he loves protecting the president, and by the way, probably has an addiction to the thrill of it.

Q: There are a couple of points where the film is stolen away by Nick Nolte, who plays Mike’s father.
A: He makes this movie! What an inspired decision! It’s funny, often you bandy about names for different roles and sometimes you talk and talk and you throw out names. And then a name comes up, and everybody looks at each other, going, “Why didn’t we think of that before? That’s perfect!” But then that excitement turns to fear as you go, “But what if he’s already working? What if he doesn’t want to do it?” But he did it, and he was great.

“Angel Has Fallen” opens on Aug. 23.

Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.