Gerard Butler: An Actor of Many Surprises
Category: GB.Net Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: June 23, 2004 | Publication: GerardButler.Net | Author: Tamara Halstead with Kim Ziervogel
PART TWO - EXCLUSIVE FAN SITE INTERVIEW
The phone is ringing as I run across the room to prevent my toddler from breaking yet another sentimental collectible.
“Hello?” I pick up knowing who it is already.
“Hello, can I speak to Tamara?” The deep voice resonates as he actually pronounces my name correctly.
“Speaking.” I reply as the anxiety and thrill of doing this interview reaches its peak.
“Tamara. It’s Gerry.”
Gerry? Gerry is the name of a Spice Girl. Gerry was the name of my last boyfriend before I met my husband, albeit minus the killer Scottish accent.
No, this was Gerard. The same Gerard I have looked at and read about almost every day for more than three years in the administration of the fan website GerardButler.Net. Yet, after a couple of minutes of conversation about cell phones, girls and politicians, I am not sure I can ever say “Gerard” comfortably again.
Gerry, the informal and casual name, is endearingly right for Gerry, the man, who laughs easily, remains humble and puts a little bit of himself into every role he plays. Even amongst the anticipation of his roles in Dear Frankie and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, he barrels ahead on new journeys of acting with Beowulf & Grendel and Burns.
But this interview was really more about the fans. They supplied the questions. Gerry supplied the answers…and more. Gerry had agreed to do this interview, knowing it would be the fans asking the questions this time around. Not being a journalist, I was a little nervous but the fans’ questions were to be a guide to get us both through the process.
When we were about to get down to business Gerry says, “How does this work? So tell me. I don’t know what to do.”
Not so simple.
I explain that the list we sent to him was the bulk of what we had chosen from all the fan questions we had received. We joke a bit about what would not be asked, personal details fans really wanted to know, but wouldn’t find out in this interview.
“It’s as simple as that?” he asks. Sure is I thought but I quickly realized that no answer was simple for Gerard….uh….Gerry Butler.
A simple inquiry about The Jury, a miniseries in which Gerard portrayed Johnnie Donne, one member of a 12-person jury, all with personal dilemmas outside of the life altering case they were there to decide, turned into a recollection of the filming of the final scene in question.
“A lot of the stuff in that scene was adlibbed… a very real feel because that was the time when it was all about the energy between all these people. Finally you had a combination of all these lives coming together and the combination of the case coming together. And it was the time when you really wanted the scene to be more truthful and energetic. I loved that scene. It was kind of a massive scene, but it was very gripping.”
It was with this that I knew we have been given a glimpse into the man Gerard is with every role. Even when all is said and done, the moment, the feelings continue to live with him and a little bit of himself is left behind on film.
Take Dear Frankie, a small Scottish film that had just had a successful screening at the Cannes International Film Festival the week before we spoke. Gerry could not contain his excitement for the film itself and the reception it was given by a notoriously tough Cannes crowd.
“I’ve never seen a reaction like that [in Cannes]. We got like a ten minute standing ovation,” he marvels. “We didn’t even know if the audience would like it.”
“In terms of applause and credit, and I haven’t done a huge amount of movie festivals, but I can say in all my life I haven’t seen a reaction like that afterwards.”
“It was essentially a small sweet little feature. It was a great experience right from the start and the producer was there, the director, the writer. It was the director’s first feature, the writer’s first feature and there was no pretension about them as we walked up the blue carpet. They’d come to me, they were like, ‘We’re so excited, this is lovely’ and I was excited for them because this was great.”
“But then to go in and then to watch the movie and not know if I was going to turn around to an empty cinema, or was there going to be a trickle of applause. You know as the movie’s going on, you are listening to the Scottish accents and it’s a movie that you have to be patient with it’s just very well drawn out but it’s not in any way an action packed movie.”
“It’s all about emotion and humanity and you panic cause you don’t know if they are going to get it and to turn around at the end, and see, like a thousand people, clapping, cheering, shouting, but yet crying and smiling. I swear there was like three or four friends who said they had never seen a room so full of love. It seemed at that moment everyone had forgotten their life and was enjoying the kind of warmth and happiness of that space and what they movie had done. It was more powerful because we didn’t expect it.”
“It’s just been one great thing after another with that movie. Miramax basically [fought] for it and just to see the reaction that people have which is lovely when you feel something, which is very powerful but in an understated way, because this is a kind of gentle movie. When you feel like other people get that, which they really did, because everybody was crying and at the same time smiling in this massive theater so full of love then you think, ‘Oh My God, that’s what it’s all about.’”
It’s about inspiration and admiration as well. One fan wanted to know what actors he admires. No easy answer for this fan of movies. He couldn’t name just one, but puts Gary Oldman at the top of his list for his ability to transform himself for a role. A quality Gerry obviously admires.
“I don’t do it to the same extent, but I think one of the reasons I’m still largely unrecognized [is] I play very different characters, a lot of which hasn’t been seen because I’ve done a lot of independent work. The look and the physicalities of [the characters he’s portrayed] are so very different.”
“You do something like Dear Frankie and then the Phantom. Then you play an Italian-American in a soccer movie. And next I would love to go out and do some pretty zany comedy. I want to let the real me out.”
He continues to reflect on where his career has taken him and how he has left a little bit of himself in each role he has portrayed.
“A lot of my career, in a more commercial worldly way, I had never done before. Before I went to America I had never played a role like Attila or Dracula. That made me take myself somewhere, and fortunately I could do that, and then I went to the other side and did something like the Phantom, but yet I still don’t feel like I have had a chance to do some solid acting roles where you can see Gerry Butler, the man. I love the fact that I’ve managed to do all these roles without ever letting anybody in to Gerry Butler, the man, who has all of those things going on. Has the zaniness, has the darkness, has the sensitivity…all the good and the bad, the warts and all. I haven’t had a chance to do that [in just one role] and yet it’s all there [in many roles].”
What about the future of his career?
“There are a lot of [roles] I’m looking at right now. I am sure even if I was to watch an actor play the Phantom and then see him do this role that I’m considering I would have to say the question ‘Is that the same guy?”
“You know, I love that!”
“My biggest passion about this is to be able to constantly surprise people and hopefully the more time goes on the more I can surprise people. I don’t feel, having done a few action movies, which all served me well, that I haven’t had the opportunity to surprise as much as I would like.”
He’s got to be kidding. Taking the role of a lifetime in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera didn’t surprise people? There was a lot of negative reaction from Phantom loyalists to the announcement that Gerry would be the big screen’s Phantom in Lloyd Webber’s version of the haunted tale. Even Butler admits to being surprised at even receiving the script, but then laments, “…in some ways it was the easiest role I ever got…”
He recalls a meeting with Joel Schumacher many months before hearing of the director’s involvement with the Phantom project. They talked about “pretty much everything except acting.”
Yet now, Gerry reflects, “I think now he was already thinking of me for the Phantom then but he didn’t mention it at that point. He just wanted to meet me and say hello.”
He recalls receiving the script shortly after that and thinking, “What the hell is this?”
But slowly, he began to convince himself that the idea of him playing the Phantom was not so far fetched. “I sat down and listened to the music while I read it and it suddenly blew me away and I thought I have so much in common with this guy…coming from my dark places, but I felt by the end of reading that script that I was this guy and it went from there.”
To hear him describe it, the Phantom landing in his lap was destiny.
“This project could have been made 15 years ago with somebody completely different, or 10 years ago or 5 years ago or even 2 years ago. I probably would not have been either right or in the proper stage of my career but it all just coincided perfectly. Just in the right stage for somebody like Joel to come along and say that’s my man and he’s not a huge star…and on top of that, my identification with the role.”
“I went from thinking what the hell am I reading to I HAVE to play this role and if I don’t get it I’m going to be devastated. That’s what happens to me and that’s why once I like something I become very dogged about it. I take as many precautions as possible and I’m as pro-active as possible to make sure that I get the role.”
And proactive he was. After already being given a vote of confidence from Schumacher at their first meeting about Phantom, Gerry says “he essentially said there and then once he found out how I felt about the Phantom, ‘I’m so happy you feel that way because I really want you to play this role. I’m not looking at anybody else.’ So it was just if I could sing.”
The singing was what would determine if he got the role so he began a long journey to strengthen his vocal skills for the job. He dove into voice training, driving his co-stars crazy on the sets of Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life and Dear Frankie with vocal exercises between every take.
“That’s the thing that drives me down to compulsiveness and is what has fueled a lot of my success. If I want something I work like a bastard to get it.”
That’s when I wonder to him, echoing the Phantom critics, even after all that practice, if he was confident enough in his vocal skills to get the part he had become obsessed about. His answer is straightforward and honest.
“It wasn’t up to me. I can go and I can sing for them and they can decide whether I can do this or not. I had to pass a lot of tests.”
Auditions with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joel Schumacher and musical director Simon Lee would follow.
“They were very keen for me to do the role. Nobody denied that I needed work because you suddenly start singing with completely different rules than you’re used to and that’s what I am good at. Getting my head down and getting on with the work.”
“Probably the hardest task was [not only] learning the technicalities of [singing] and getting through all that but then getting the soul and the heart and the longing and the pain and the sexuality back into [the Phantom].
His emotional connection to the character is obvious. As much as he seemed to master the technicalities of the vocal requirements of the role, Butler also fought to bring originality, freshness and soul to the character for another generation of Phantom fans.
“…you get so caught up in musical line…you think ’I don’t feel like singing anymore.’ That’s when you have a serious confidence crisis but you know you fight through it and you trust that you’ll get better again and that’s what happens. By the end, I was singing so much, I was singing every morning with my technical teacher Mary Harmon. I would go out and sing with Simon Lee and we would go in a room and play the piano and sing songs and mess around with them. I would also sing with other people who were brought in. I would be singing all day on set…by the end of it I was very serious about the singing and my voice was always improving and always giving me more and was allowing me to express myself in a freer way but also with a stronger voice.”
Even once filming began Gerry recalls a sense of anxious anticipation on the set. Several weeks of filming would happen before he would even take his place in a full scene.
“They had been filming for five weeks by the time I started filming and every day I had to go onto the set because I would be training around there. Movement classes, singing classes, costume fittings, chats with Joel, sometimes rehearsal. And everyday there was hundreds of people there and they would say “when do you start, when do you start” and that was the pressure that I felt more than anything.”
“The people physically there, they were only being nice, but they were driving me crazy with “when do you start, when do you start” because I knew the pressure of ‘who is this guy playing the Phantom, what has he got for us?’”
It was his entrance onto the soundstage, in his Don Juan costume, that he describes as his favorite scene and the realization by all involved that he WAS the Phantom.
“I walked out on that stage and it reminded me of my first day as an actor in a full on role when I played Renton in Trainspotting. I think everybody was a little scared in rehearsals as to whether I could do it, right up until the night I walked out on stage and then it just came alive.”
His voice fills with excitement as he recalls that first scene. “It was electric. There were people from every part of the crew coming up and they could barely speak after that scene just because of the music and the sets and Emmy (Rossum, who plays Christine) and I working together. It was so powerful and so sad and so heartbreaking and to do all those things at the one time. I love it when acting can do things that are diametrically opposed feelings one of incredible sadness or one of incredible sexuality or one of sadness, but sweetness, or one of comedy and frustration. And that scene to me felt like that. I felt such incredible power within my body as I was doing the scene. I really felt, ‘Oh My God’, I didn’t expect to discover the Phantom so quickly.”
So confident were the crew in the realization that Gerard was the right choice for the role, a call was placed to Andrew Lloyd Webber to come down and view the scene and witness the power of his musical creation finally being immortalized on film.
He laughs about how hard it is to impress a reaction-less crew that make movies for a living, and how it’s one aspect of acting he dislikes. “Even these people were coming up and a lot of them were speechless and they were saying, ‘What a great scene.’“
But along with the good, comes difficulties in playing any part. For Gerard those were all about make-up and where he had to take himself to bring life and reality to the character.
“There were so many difficult parts of playing the Phantom, but at the same time I always knew I was on a journey. I was on a journey to find this guy’s soul to his voice.”
“Wearing a mask, it was all the more important I express so much with my voice and he is so much more an emotional character than any other character that I have played.”
“It was the physical exhaustion of playing it because much of the Phantom’s story is spent, especially in much of the first act, going down into madness, into heartache and complete destruction and bitterness and anger and to have to play that solidly every day for two and a half months sometimes after six hours of prosthetics…it’s like torture or what I would imagine torture would be like.”
“You can’t move and people are sticking their fingers in your eyes, they’re gluing your eyes together and they’re pulling your skin. It drove me crazy.”
“Then I had to go and film for 12 hours and literally always be in the darkest saddest space and to do that day after day, sometimes I would literally get home and have 4 ½ hours sleep knowing that I had another five days of finishing up late at night and getting up at 5 in the morning to go through the prosthetics again. There was a couple of times that I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ But there was also the constant alert knowing that I was making something very special and that I was working with the most incredible people.”
Despite the difficulties of transforming into the Phantom every day and forcing himself into the dark despair of the role, he recalls fondly that the project “was just a powerful and rewarding experience.”
“I’ve seen a ten minute preview and I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a fantastic preview. It makes the hairs all over my body stand on end and I cry every time I watch it. It’s beautiful and the music is better than ever.”
Despite his confidence in the project, he is well aware of the concerns of Phantom loyalists although it surprised Gerry when I remark that some of his own fans had a similar reaction to the news he would be playing the man with the mask.
“I find it surprising that you tell me that a lot of fans weren’t happy about me playing the Phantom. I really hope that when they see the movie they’ll understand why I did it.”
Not being able to help himself, he curiously inquires further, “They thought it was a bad career choice because I wasn’t up to it?”
I explained that the minority, but vocal sector, of his fans that felt that way are among those that just don’t care for the musical genre as a whole. He seems to accept that explanation, even though he continues with an explanation of why he accepted the challenge of the role.
“Those fans…didn’t have the benefit of sitting down and reading the draft of the script that I had, Joel Schumacher’s interpretation, which is just fantastic. It’s incredibly filmic and powerful. I hope that when they finally see the movie they will [understand the] reason behind the decision because I think there was a certain genius behind the decision.”
At the time of this interview he was working with an orchestra in finalizing the soundtrack. He has obvious love for and belief in the project, and pride in his portrayal of The Phantom, which leads to the remark that summarizes why Gerry was destined for and deserved this role, “I am very quietly confident that we have just made a classic.”
I can’t help but smile at the comment. His optimism is infectious and one can’t help but root that he is right as the world awaits the film’s release in December 2004.
What’s up next for this actor who take chances? Beowulf & Grendel.
Set to begin filming in Iceland this August with director Sturla Gunnarsson at the helm, this film is adapted from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings. The medieval adventure tells the blood-soaked tale of a Norse warrior's battle against the great and murderous troll, Grendel. Gerard has taken the lead role based on the script.
“It [the storyline] probably sounds really cheesy, but it’s one of the most beautiful, in-depth gorgeous scripts I’ve read in a long time. I love it and I also want to go hang out in Iceland for a couple of months.”
Nothing like choosing your roles by location, but it is clear that there is much more to the role for Gerry than Iceland.
“I loved this script and I loved the character. I think it’s such a great comment on life and I love this story. It’s a risk. Funnily enough there was some fighting going on with some agents because they didn’t get it. My manager got it, I got it, but they were thinking that maybe I should be moving in a different direction, but there is just something about this that just struck me that I thought I really wanted to do.”
And so, he’s back in training. Working on eating right and regaining the muscle he had while making Tomb Raider 2. All for another role, he feels passionately about.
Speaking of passion. Passion for any Scotsman is that of Robert Burns. He has signed on to play the Bard in Burns, set to begin filming in the summer of 2005.
“I’m nervous, I’m always nervous about parts, but I’m playing a Scottish icon and so as soon as you have the gall to take on a character like that, no matter what a good job you do, there will be a whole bunch of people out there to rip you apart.”
This time Gerry re-teams with his One More Kiss director, Vadim Jean. He isn’t only acing, but participating in other aspects of filmmaking for the project, a learning experience for the actor.
“That was really interesting for me at Cannes….I essentially had three movies there. There was a screening of a preview of Phantom. There was Dear Frankie and then I was with my director of Burns, Vadim Jean and my producer Andrew Boswell. I did a whole bunch of meetings with financiers and packagers and it was really interesting to be on the other side, which I have been a lot with this movie, from screen testing girls, to getting involved with suggestions for rewrites and all of that and who to go to and casting discussions. It’s been really a big learning curve for me.”
What about the rumored roles?
007? Has that rumor been some of the best free PR of his career?
“Honestly, no I don’t think so, because I’ve heard it about so many people. More recently I’ve heard quite a lot about me from more reliable sources, but so much is just press bullshit.”
Another project that even has name up on their website is The Drop. What about that project?
“No. It’s my friends who are making it. My friends who made Shooters and I at one point was going to do it, but I’ve just run out of time. I don’t think I’m going to do it. I don’t think in the time that their making it, later on the summer, I’m not going to be around to do it.”
Our questions now refer back to some of the more mundane, typical, fan questions. What cologne do you wear? What is the most exciting place you have ever visited? What types of books do you like to read? It’s then I venture to ask if he would ever do another stage play.
The answer is conflicted.
“Oh, absolutely. I would love to get back on stage I just think at the moment this is my time to do movies. Sometimes when you’re filming a lot it drives you crazy and you think I need a full journey. Because if you could pick up a film script and perform the whole thing then you’d so be in the moment. By working it and working it, it’s just such a difficult rehearsal process.”
“Your character is so much deeper and richer in theatre that I think you get chance to play it a lot deeper than you do on film and you get a journey from the whole thing and that’s a buzz. Also the live audience is exciting, but when I’m doing theatre, come 2 o’clock in the afternoon I start getting edgy and I don’t eat properly. Even when I’ve been doing a play for a while I feel on edge and I hate that.”
His feelings about the stage seem to relate to everything he does. He travels between the extremes of passionate love and exhausting dislike about his performances and the mechanics involved. Not a bad trait for an actor, although it can take its toll on the man with “dark places”, but he quickly relates that he loves his life.
“It’s very busy, but I’m busy doing something that I love. It doesn’t take up my time 24 hours a day. I still get to hang out.”
My questions have run out and Gerry is obviously getting tired talking about himself, a necessary evil for any performer. I thank him for being so generous with his time and relay that his fans will be thrilled he made the effort to satisfy their curiosity about him and we say our goodbyes.
Oh yeah…and Gerry wears….Jo Malone cologne, he considers Rome the most exciting place he’s ever been and he likes to read scripts because that’s all this busy actor has time for as he searches for his next acting surprise.
GB.Net Postscript from Tamara:
Listening and transcribing the interview tape. Rereading the words, trying to find my own words to write this article, I seemed to notice more and more in Gerry’s words and his voice and I was impressed with him as a person, surprising myself, since I can hardly say after one conversation that I “know” him, but somehow I felt that I did.
When I started this interview, I considered myself the spokesperson for the fans of the website. I maybe had become a bit detached from being an actual fan since starting GB.Net, accepting my self-imposed responsibility to the website more professionally than a star-struck fan may.
By the time I finished with this article I can say I was a fan once again…and more. I found myself with tremendous respect for this individual who has learned so much from the past and approaches his future with excitement, adventure and lessons learned. Discussing all of this with my husband, even he applauded Gerry upon hearing about his portrayal of Beowulf on top of already tackling The Phantom of the Opera, using those endearing words men love to reference about having a certain part of the male anatomy when someone takes chances. Now even HE wants to meet him…quite a compliment from a man who humors his wife’s fascination with entertainment figures.
Gerry, for myself, and for the GB.Net fans, I cannot thank you enough. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to the roles we anticipate and enjoy. Thank you for giving so much of your time to those fans lucky enough to ask for an autograph or picture in person. You haven’t disappointed any of us and continue to surprise all of us.
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