LOS ANGELES — He has cultivated an image as a tough guy over two decades of starring in action thrillers but no role could have prepared Gerard Butler for his excruciating motorbike crash.

The 48-year-old Scot — best known as hard-as-nails Spartan leader Leonidas in 2006 action fantasy 300 — was riding in Los Angeles in October when his motorbike and a car collided, sending him somersaulting into the air.

“I fractured five bones in my right foot and had a microfracture in each foot and a pinched nerve and a bruised bone, and injured my ankle and both knees,” he tells AFP.

The damage couldn’t have come at a worse time, as he was in the middle of publicizing climate thriller Geostorm while also shooting scenes for heist movie Den of Thieves and military actioner Hunter Killer.

“I was in seven countries over five weeks and I could barely walk, and it was maybe the toughest period of my life — going on talk shows, pretending you’re good,” he recalls with a grimace.

In terms of aches and scrapes, last year was a doozy, the actor told AFP in a recent interview in Beverly Hills to promote his role as an elite cop in Den of Thieves.

“I put on 25 pounds (11 kilograms) — at one point I was 30 pounds heavier — just to play that character and in the final day of shooting I hurt my knee during an action scene,” he said.

“Unfortunately I’d already committed to starring in another movie eight days later — Keepers, in Scotland — which, when I arrived, I realized was all on the side of a mountain — six weeks walking up and down a mountain.

“By the time I’d finished that both knees were screwed. And then I had a motorbike accident where I landed on my knees, so it’s been an interesting year of challenges.”

Born in Paisley, on the outskirts of Glasgow, Butler broke Hollywood with his legendary rippling washboard abs — some critics unkindly and inaccurately suggested they were digitally enhanced — as marauding King Leonidas in Zack Snyder’s 300.

His more than two dozen roles since have included a gangster in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (2009), a vigilante killer in Law Abiding Citizen (2009) and an alcoholic drug-abusing biker in Machine Gun Preacher (2011).

He has also shown his soft side in romantic comedies like 2007’s P.S. I Love You, The Ugly Truth in 2009 and opposite Jennifer Anniston in The Bounty Hunter (2010).

He can be still periodically be found saving the president or the planet from befalling calamity of varying degrees of ludicrousness in big, brainless actioners like Olympus Has Fallen and its sequels.

His latest project, Christian Gudegast’s Den of Thieves, opened two weeks ago to lukewarm reviews but has matched its production budget with a respectable $30-million box office.

His 48th movie, it follows the intersecting lives of the major crimes unit of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department — known as the “Regulators” — and the “Outlaws,” an elite band of robbers.

With an ensemble cast that includes hip hop star Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, rapper Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and a particularly buff looking Pablo Schreiber (The Wire, Lords of Dogtown), it may be the first movie in which Butler has had serious competition for the position of Alpha Male.

“I haven’t seen that amount of testosterone and kind of alpha, predator, apex energy since 300 — and even then not as much among the lead characters,” he joked.

He admitted there was a “healthy sizing each other up” on set but added that it was nice to work with “a bunch of good dudes with good hearts.”

No movie is above scrutiny from the Hollywood press when it comes to gender and racial diversity, and not even a self-consciously macho heist movie gets a pass.

Butler and his co-stars were asked at a recent press conference why there weren’t more women in lead roles in Den of Thieves and batted the question politely into the long grass.

AFP asked Butler afterwards if he thought the pressure for every movie to tick diversity boxes was unrealistic and he paused as he measured the tone of his response.

“I think sometimes that pressure is fair. It’s a movement I can get behind and I understand it,” he ventured.

“But then when people try and apply it to everything, including a movie about a bunch of male undercover cops and a gang of ex-military and say, ‘Shouldn’t you have some women in there?’ — then no.

“You pay lip service to the question and you smile and move on.” — AFP