300 Things We Didn't Know About Gerard Butler

Category: Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: July 13, 2009 | Publication: Esquire | Author: Cal Fussman
Publication/Article Link:Esquire Magazine

We sent one of our most open-minded reporters, a man largely unsullied by any familiarity with our Hollywood-obsessed world, to interview this guy. We gave him a first name and an address, nothing more. We were pretty certain Cal had never heard of him. This is what happened.


We sent a man largely unsullied by any familiarity with our Hollywood-obsessed world to interview Gerard Butler. We gave him a first name and an address, nothing more.

I send a quick text to my editor as I park the car: "Guy's got a nice house, that's for sure." The front door makes me feel as if I'm in Europe, where a door could be four hundred years old. Wonder what he does. I ring the bell and a woman answers and says she's Gerry's assistant. Very cordial. She leads me to a couch inside and goes to get him. I sit, look around. There's a pinball machine and a pool table. How can you not like a guy who has a pinball machine and a pool table in his living room?

Here he comes. Big guy, interesting face. He's wearing a ripped T-shirt. That relaxes me even more.

"Hey, how you doin'?"

"Great to meet you. I'm Cal."

We shake hands. So far, so good.

"Have you got a sense of humor?"

"No, not really. Why? You want me to tell you a joke or something?"

The accent. Australia? New Zealand? I'm usually pretty good at this. Scottish?

"I was told to come to this address and have a conversation with Gerry. That's the only thing I know about you."

Gerry's head cocks, and his face splits into opposing expressions. His eyes squint with suspicion, but he's grinning.

"O... kay."

"We're in good shape, though, because I learned to interview while traveling around the world — getting on trains and meeting people. I hardly had any money, so I'd buy a ticket and look for an empty seat next to the right passenger. Someone I thought I could trust, and who'd trust me enough to take me home with them."

The squint is going away, and the grin is becoming wider.

"And how long did you do this for?"

"About ten years."

"So we're going to imagine we're on a train right now?"

"That's right."

"Do you have a drink coming?"

"Exactly."

"You can have whatever you want — vodka, gin?"

"What are you going to have?"

"I don't drink. But I don't give a shit."

"I'll have some water then."

"You were going to have something — "

"Nah, and I'll tell you why. The worst interview I ever did was with William Buckley, the conservative commentator. Buckley had the world's greatest vocabulary, and if he didn't like you, he could cut you to shreds. So I was a little on edge. I knew I had to be focused. I didn't eat the day before. I show up at his door at eleven in the morning, haven't eaten in thirty-six hours, sharp as a razor. I go in, and he rubs his palms together and asks, 'A little Scotch?' Now, how can I drink Scotch? I'll go nose first into the carpet. So I say, 'How about a little water?' And I'll never forget this: Buckley's nose slowly lifts into the air, and he says, 'Ohhwwwe.' And that was the end of the interview. He went through with it, but he wasn't there. So I learned my lesson: If you're having fried termites for lunch, set me a place at the table."

"But I offered you a drink, and you didn't take it. So it's goin' to be a crap interview."

Now we're both laughing.

He leads me downstairs, looking for the most comfortable place to sit.

"Here's my cinema."

"But Gerry, where's the screen?"

"The screen comes down. The walls are all padded. It's fucking amazing." Pause. "I didn't actually intend to give a tour."

We agree that the balcony upstairs is the best spot. There's a magnificent view of L. A. Gerry hits a button and an awning lowers. His assistant, who has the aura of someone who could be running a Fortune 500 company, sets down a fruit plate and some water.

"Whatever you do, I get the impression that you do it well."

Gerry seems not to comprehend that I truly don't know what he does.

"I went more for the energy than for something big and bombastic. It was great when my mom came over and stood on the balcony. The boy did good."

Just then, a small gift balloon that says MOM rises directly in front of us, out above the trees.

"Where the fuck did that balloon come from?" he says. "I've had some of the craziest synchronicities in my life."

"Where are you from?"

"You don't even know where I'm from. This is unbelievable. I'm from... where am I from? I was born in Glasgow. But my family is pretty much from a little town called Paisley, famous for its cotton mills and paisley pattern. At one point the mills employed 80 percent of the town. Some towns progress forward and upward — how do I say this without losing every friend I ever had in Paisley? — let's just say Paisley never managed to make that quantum leap."

"Was there a moment in your childhood when you knew who you'd become?" This seems like a good way to find out what he's become.

He stops to consider.

"Let me give you an example," I say. "When Muhammad Ali was a kid, he used to stand on a street corner and let his brother throw rocks at him. Then he'd make the rocks whiz past him simply by moving his head, which was exactly the style he used years later to avoid punches in a boxing ring."

"I don't know if I ever went to those extremes," he says. "I did spend a lot of my childhood playing out movie scenarios in my head. I'd walk along the road, pretending like I was in the army, talking on the radio, and doing maneuvers. I dreamt a lot about performing in movies and living in fantasies. I had a lot of powerful dreams — some of them terrifying. One was about being in an underground tunnel, and this train was coming behind me. I smashed up my room trying to get away and then climbed out the window. My mom had to pull me back in by my legs. When I woke up, I thought my heart was going to explode. These were the kind of dreams I had. Some were fantastical, like skateboarding through planets and space. I'd wake up and wish I could manipulate these dreams and control them.

"The problem with my mind is it sways from side to side. The idea of me fantasizing about becoming an actor quickly led to depression. No, it was never going to happen to me. I was a sixteen-year-old kid on the other side of the world from where they made movies. Scottish actors never really got play. There was Sean Connery, and that was it."

An actor. I wonder if I've seen him in anything. Probably not. Until six months ago, I really hadn't seen many movies.

"I wasn't going to be an actor. I was going to be a lawyer. I came from a family just above working class, just below middle class, a great family of wonderful values. The idea of me having a chance for a law degree was enticing. Enticing to me but also very enticing to my family. Wow, one of our own is studying law at university!"

"Was there a moment when it turned from law to making movies?"

"Yeah. The day I got fired."

"What happened?"

"I've always kind of had the luck of the devil, even in law school. I kind of blagged my way into the position of president of the Law Society. I'm not the most academic of guys. Considering the amount of work that I put in, it's amazing that I got through law school. And with an honors degree.

"I took some time off and went to America. This is when things started to go a little crazy. Something very compulsive and dark and lusty and pleasurable but damaging took over. It was suddenly knowing I could go out and have a life of traveling, craziness, adventure, partying, women, and all the other things that go with that — including a sense of abandonment. Being away from home and not having the same kind of discipline and structure in front of me meant I could do whatever the fuck I wanted, and I did.

"For a while, I was living in an apartment in Venice Beach with three Irish guys who drank every day. It was perfect. We just got smashed. I started getting odd jobs. My buddies turned up one day and said they'd gotten a job working in a carnival that was going around the state fairs in California. In this year out of school, I did many things. I drove from L. A. to Miami, from L. A. to Chicago, from Miami to Chicago. And I kept getting arrested for stupid stuff — basically just being too drunk. I was out of control, and justifying it with this idea that I'm young, this is life. This is me just being boisterous. I remember getting arrested once and they actually put me in shackles. I was walking around chained to eight other guys. And technically, I was still president of the Law Society in Glasgow.

"I ended up in L. A. County Jail. I was in a cell with my 501s and my tight leather jacket and my long hair thinking I was Jim Morrison. I can't believe I'm talking about this. I'd better not."

He smiles.

"Fuck, some good stories, though. So then I had to go back and do a final year at university. That's the year you go out and learn the job, not just study theory. You go out to work at a real law firm. By the time I got back, all the big jobs were gone. Except for one firm. There were two hundred applications for that firm, and they were only taking four people.

"I was really out of it when I did the interview. I had done an exam the day before, and we were all a bit of a mess that night. I had to get up the next morning and travel to Edinburgh. I missed the interview, but the firm said, 'No, no, we'll wait for you.' So I get on a train and — how should I put this? — I used a few aids to get up, and by the time I arrived, you couldn't shut me up. I ended up having a great interview and getting the job. But when I put on a suit and a tie, I became desperately unhappy. There was something else at work, something I didn't have control of. If I hadn't fucked up that job, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. I might be a very mediocre lawyer in some small town in the middle of Scotland.

"I became quite infamous in Scottish legal circles. It's very difficult to be fired as a trainee lawyer — they just don't qualify you at the end of two years. But they actually fired me one week before I was due to qualify. I should have seen it coming. The Edinburgh Festival was going. I knew I wasn't going to make it through the festival because it's crazy — comedy festivals, music festivals, dancing festivals, and more than anything, drinking festivals. The city is aglow. I went to see a production of Trainspotting. The lead character acts in the scene, steps back and narrates, and then jumps back into the scene. The guy playing the lead role was phenomenal. It was such an incredible atmosphere. And I'm dying inside. This is the life I wanted to live. I can do this. I know I can do this.But it's past now. It's gone. I'm twenty-five. I missed that opportunity. A week later, they fire me."

Gerry tells me how humiliated he was when he told his mother. Everything was lost, except the dreams. The next day he went to London.

"I did know a casting director who worked small theater productions. She was very blunt. She said, 'Some of my best friends who've busted their fucking balls going through drama school can't get jobs.' So I was doing telemarketing, walking around shopping malls trying to get people interested in computers when I didn't even know what I was selling. Then this casting director said I could assist her in giving out pages to the actors for a play done by Steven Berkoff. Berkoff was kind of famous in London for his avant-garde, physical style of theater and then became ridiculed as he became more and more over-the-top and insane. But he is a bit of a genius. Anyway, I ran into Berkoff in the coffee shop downstairs and said, 'I'd love to read for this.' He said, 'Sure, why not?'

"I gave it everything. Afterward, the casting director came up to me almost in tears. She said, 'You're the best he saw in two days!' Walking home was probably the happiest moment of my life, when there's an energy in you that can't be put down. I'd gone from handing out pages to getting the lead role."

"Can I use the bathroom?"

"Sure. You can use the one off my room. Let me show you where it is."

We walk past a table, and on it is a recent issue of Esquire. The cover shows Megan Fox, a stunning actress whose work I haven't seen.

"Look at this. After Megan Fox, who's ever going to want to look at me on the cover of Esquire?"

You gotta be kidding me, I'm thinking. Nobody told me this was a cover story. An oh-shit feeling floods my stomach. No wonder the editors requested a three-hour interview.

I have to ask sooner or later.

"What movies have you been in?"

A pause.

"Phantom of the Opera."

"You were in Phantom of the Opera?"

I'm startled by the way the word you comes out of my mouth. It sounds like I don't believe him.

"Yeah."

"What character?"

"I played the phantom."

"You can sing like you're in an opera?"

"I'd had maybe four singing lessons when I went to sing 'Music of the Night' for Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was perhaps the most nerve-racking experience I ever went through. But I got the role. Some people thought I did a great job, but others thought it was sacrilegious."

"What else have you done?"

"I did 300. You must know about 300."

"No."

"Fuckin' A?"

"Hold on! Hold on! Was that the movie about all those warriors that was sort of animated? I didn't see it, but my son loved it."

"I played Leonidas, the lead. You must know that. You're putting me on. It doesn't bother me. I'm just like — wow."

"Never saw it. But I remember it being a big deal. I remember the poster — all these hulking warriors. You know what stands out to me from that image? I remember a beard."

"I was the one with the beard!"

"Okay, Phantom.300. What else?"

"P. S. I Love You. That's a romantic comedy with Hilary Swank. It's kind of beautiful and funny. Richard LaGravenese wrote and directed it. He wrote Bridges of Madison County. Don't know why I'm telling you, because you won't know it."

"That one I do! Because I interviewed Clint Eastwood. He was in that one, right?"

"Yes. You're probably the world's biggest movie buff, and I'm going to be humiliated when this comes out."

"No, I moved to L. A. six months ago. I've been watching a movie almost every night, trying to catch up. Did you see Esquire's list of the seventy-five movies every man should see? It's in the Megan Fox issue."

"I haven't looked at it. I was gonna look at it, but I couldn't get past Megan Fox."

Gerry picks up the issue.

"It plays out over several pages," I say.

Gerry studies.

"300 will definitely be on this list. It's not gonna be a real list without 300. If there's ever a movie that a man should see, it's 300."

He looks at the first page. Evidently, 300 is not on that page, but Gerry nods his approval. He flips.

"There are some great movies in here."

Apparently 300 is not on the following page, either.

"Fuckers!"

Few people on the planet can say "Fuckers!" as hilariously as Gerry. He turns the page.

"Fuck!"

"Fuck!"

"Fuckers!"

"You fuckers!"

He's running out of pages.

"Cool Hand Luke — that's one of my favorites. You know, this is a great list. But how could they not put 300 in here? Fuckers."

"Well, I'll rent it tonight. What else have you done that I should see?"

"Well, Dear Frankie's a gem."

"I'll watch 'em all."

"But if you weren't to watch any of them, it wouldn't hurt me in the slightest. So don't feel that obligation."

"I'm always more curious to see an actor's films after I meet him."

"Well, then, you can have Gerry Butler week. If you want, you can watch them in my movie room. It's a great room. Hey, doesn't have to be movies that I'm in. You can come back and watch all the movies you want in it."

Now that it's established that we're just two strangers who don't know anything about each other, Gerry asks me some questions.

"What about women? Did you meet some nice woman along your trip around the world?"

"Yeah. As you can see, nobody is going to confuse me for a matinee idol. But when I walked into a small town on the other side of the world, I became exotic. All of a sudden, I was handsome. It was great."

"Fantastic. You didn't meet your wife that way?"

"I did," I say. "I met her aboard a bus on the way to a beach in Brazil."

"You're fucking kidding me. Is she Brazilian?"

"Yeah."

"Bastard!"

"Have you ever been married?"

"No."

"Wow."

"I know. People would go, 'That's great. You're still young.' Over the last couple years, though, it's become, 'Wow. Really? Why?' "

"This must sound crazy coming from me, but it must be hard when people know who you are."

"You know what's funny? In the last year, there have probably been rumors of ten different women I'm supposed to be involved with. I think maybe one is true. You can walk around with a hundred of your buddies and it's cool, but the second there's a woman involved..."

"So any actress who you're seen with, it's automatically assumed?"

"Not always. But the new one is Jennifer Aniston. I start filming with her in two weeks. I think it's because she's single and I'm single. The sum total of our conversation was about four minutes at the Toronto Film Festival. The next day, the story is: Gerry Butler and Jennifer Aniston get cozy at the Toronto Film Festival. Cozy? We were standing up and surrounded by forty people."

GEERY goes to change for his next appointment. I head to the kitchen to say goodbye to his very precise assistant, whose job it is to kick me out.

A few months from now, it's likely that I would've found out who Gerry is. I do live in L. A. now. And he's got a lot of big movies coming out. There's The Ugly Truth with Katherine Heigl, who sounds pretty hot. Then there's Gamer, which appears to be a cross between The Matrix (which I just saw for the first time) and American Idol.Law Abiding Citizen, which Gerry produced, stars Jamie Foxx. And I probably would've been roped into taking my seven-year-old to How to Train Your Dragon. Plus, there's that comedy with Jennifer Aniston, Bounty Hunter.

Suddenly, music envelops the house. The sound is huge. I can feel it in my bones. It's the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera. Gerry's voice booms through the speakers, singing "Music of the Night." He steps into the kitchen and begins to sing along.

Deep into the song, he lingers on the word so for what seems like half a minute. As he stands there next to the refrigerator, his voice and the recording perfectly align.

The song ends. We stand in a comfortable silence.

The assistant says, "Your car is waiting, Gerry."