Gerard Butler interview for The Ugly Truth
Category: Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: July 20, 2009 | Publication: The Telegraph UK | Author: Chloe Fox
Publication/Article Link:Telegraph Magazine (UK)
Gerard Butler interview for The Ugly Truth
Muscular action hero one moment, sensitive rom-com lead the next, Gerard Butler’s talent for mixing the rough with the smooth has made him one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.
Gerard Butler is in mid-flow, telling me a very funny – and characteristically self-deprecating – story about trying to persuade the producers of his latest film, The Ugly Truth, that he should swap his native Scottish accent for a put-on American one – 'But with an American accent you won’t be as likeable, they said. Yes I will, trust me, I said. Well, we don’t, they said’ – when we are interrupted by a waiter. 'Excuse me, Mr Butler, I have a Mr Brad Pitt on the phone for you.’ Butler goes to take the call and returns a few minutes later muttering awkwardly about 'working on a project together’. This is obviously what happens in Hollywood; even before Pitt’s call, our dinner at the exclusive L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills has been interrupted twice – once by an English producer working on a romantic comedy with Jennifer Lopez attached that they would 'love’ him to do, and subsequently by Julia Roberts’s manager, who feels compelled to pass on the very important message that 'Julia says hi’.
When a waitress comes over and wonders if Mr Butler wouldn’t mind going to see Tom Cruise in his suite when he has a moment, I begin to smell a rat. Every waiter in Hollywood is an actor in disguise and Butler has cast these two in his prank. As for the star of the show, he is beside himself with the hysteria of it, booming with laughter until the tears stream down his cheeks.
Gerard Butler is not your average film star. Despite having starred in some of the highest-profile films of the past five years (300, RocknRolla, PS I Love You), he remains a bigger name in America than in his homeland. This can be put down to two things. First, there is the chameleon-like quality of his work, making it hard to link the man behind the mask in The Phantom of the Opera with the thumpingly muscular King Leonidas in 300. Second, there is his refreshing refusal to play the game, or indeed, to take himself too seriously. This tongue-in-cheek charm has made Butler one of the highest paid (an estimated $15-20 million per film), most in-demand actors working in Hollywood. And with the release of The Ugly Truth, a romantic comedy from the team behind Legally Blonde, in which Butler stars opposite Hollywood’s latest comedy darling, Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up), his stock continues to rise.
'Gerry is the movie’s secret weapon,’ Karen McCullah Lutz, one of the film’s writers, says. 'He’s the guy guys want to be and girls want to be with.’ Butler plays Mike Chadway, a handsome, grizzly-voiced chauvinist who becomes a guest commentator on a morning television show produced by the romantically challenged Abby (Heigl), sending its ratings through the roof. When he takes it upon himself to help Abby find love, it has some very funny – and fairly predictable – consequences. Butler’s performance is witty and heart-warming. It’s Mel Gibson meets Cary Grant, where twinkling masculinity and wry sensitivity collide. 'I like to see myself more as a Spencer Tracy type,’ Butler says. 'As an actor, I think I can tick several different genre boxes. At the moment, I just happen to be finding comedies kind of irresistible.’
Increasingly, Butler seems to be specialising in two types: the hard man and the funny man. He made his name as the former, launching himself in Hollywood – only two weeks after arriving there in 2000 – by landing the lead role of Attila the Hun in a television film. But it was six years later in 300, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel retelling the Battle of Thermopylae, that the 6ft 2in Butler’s physical prowess (the jaw-dropping result of training six hours a day) got him noticed. 'What we are missing in cinema at the moment is real men,’ 300’s director, Zack Snyder, says. 'In how he looks, and in how he is, Gerry has a manliness that is incredibly appealing.’
'300 was a real turning point in my career,’ Butler, now 39, says. 'Until then, I felt like a steam train that was slowly chugging to the top of a hill. Now I’m over that hill, my career seems to have its own momentum.’ On the back of 300, Guy Ritchie cast Butler as one of the leads in RocknRolla (2008). The film had mixed reviews, but it served as a showcase for Butler’s strain of self-effacing humour that, around the same time, was making its appearance in PS I Love You, a weepy romantic comedy with Hilary Swank.
In the same vein as Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson, Butler embodies Hollywood’s favourite archetype, the hard man with the soft centre. It is certainly not an act – in life, as in film, Butler is part chest-beater, part soul-searcher. 'He’s tough, and crazy, but he also has this boy-man quality that makes you want to take care of him,’ Snyder says. 'I have always had this deep sense of loneliness,’ Butler reveals at one point. 'Ever since I was a child, I have loved being the centre of attention but similarly I can’t remember a time in my life that I haven’t battled with all sorts of quandaries, fears and weaknesses.’
When Gerard James Butler was six months old, his parents (along with his older siblings, Brian and Lynn) emigrated from Scotland to Montreal, Canada. Eighteen months later, her marriage in tatters, Margaret Butler returned – without her husband – to a suburb of Glasgow to bring up her three children. 'My overwhelming memory of being a child is the huge amount of love I felt for my mum,’ Butler says. 'She was my everything, because she was both my mum and my dad.’
His father, Edward, was 'a bit of a crazy man’. A bookie who at one time had five betting shops in Glasgow, he used to entertain his family with stories of how he had beaten Roger Bannister in the mile. As unreliable as he was entertaining, he disappeared from his children’s lives for 14 years. One day, when he was 16, Gerard Butler came home from school (St Mirin’s and St Margaret’s High School in Paisley where he excelled and rose to the position of head boy) to be told that his father was waiting for him in a nearby restaurant. When he got there, the only way Butler could pick his father out from the crowd was by spotting his sister, who was with him. All he could think of to say was, 'Why didn’t you get in touch?’ Afterwards, Butler cried for hours. 'That emotion showed me how much pain can sit in this body of yours; pain and sorrow that you don’t know you have until it is unleashed.’
In the years that followed, he and his father became close, making up for lost time. But the reunion was short-lived. When Butler – by then a law student at Glasgow University with a penchant for partying – was 22, his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
After his father’s death, Butler’s naturally hedonistic streak took hold. The year he spent in America after graduating from university was defined by its decadence. 'I had gone from a 16-year-old who couldn’t wait to grasp life to a 22-year-old who didn’t care if he died in his sleep,’ he has said. On returning to Scotland, Butler – who had been head of the law society at university – took up his post as a trainee civil lawyer in an Edinburgh law firm. But by then his partying was out of control. Stories of excess abound – from smashing bottles over his own head to hanging from the railings of a cruise ship singing Rod Stewart’s Sailing. The week before he was due to qualify, he was fired. It was, he remembers, one of the lowest days of his life.
Refusing to be beaten, Butler headed to London, where he did various menial jobs – from telemarketing to demonstrating merchandise at toy fairs. While there, he looked up an old friend from the Scottish Youth Theatre (which he had attended as a teenager), a casting director called Sue Jones. 'When Sue was helping me cast Coriolanus, she brought Gerry – her assistant and boyfriend at the time – along with her to read the other roles,’ the playwright, director and actor Steven Berkoff remembers. 'When he read, he had such vigour and enthusiasm – so much that it made the other actors seem limp – that I decided to cast him in the ensemble.’ And thus, at the late age of 27, Butler’s acting career was born.
Less than a year later, the same energy landed him the lead role of the heroin addict Renton in a theatrical production of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. 'When we met Gerry, he didn’t even have an agent but he gave one of the most remarkable auditions I have ever seen,’ the producer David Johnson says. 'He had a certain glamour, of course, but he also had so much life. He was so full of verve and bravery, and he just grabbed it by the horns. He was also very frank about the problems he had been having and it was very clear that he had lived the life of the role he was playing.’
Butler is unapologetic about his lack of formal training. 'Sean Connery always said he’d learnt more through life experience than any school of acting could have taught him, and I certainly feel that’s true in my case,’ he says. After a succession of small roles in films such as Mrs Brown and Tomorrow Never Dies and television comedy dramas such as The Young Person’s Guide to Becoming a Rock Star and Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, Butler flew to Los Angeles in 2000 to seek his fortune.
After winning leading roles in Attila and Wes Craven’s ill-fated Dracula 2000, he was cast alongside Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Emily Mortimer in the surprise British hit Dear Frankie. Then, in 2003, Butler fought off competition from the likes of John Travolta and Nicolas Cage to land the Phantom in Joel Schumacher’s film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. 'I have never seen anybody work so hard to make their career happen,’ says the director Vadim Jean, a long-time friend for whom Butler is committed to working on a film about the poet Robert Burns.
'When I started out, I’m not sure I was actually in it for the right reasons,’ Butler says. 'I wanted very much to be famous. I did expect to succeed and I did have faith that I would. In reality, though, it has turned out to be something very different to what I wanted. It’s the work and not the adulation that has proved to be the most fulfilling.’ An inevitable by-product of his celebrity is romantic speculation: Butler has been linked to Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz and Naomi Campbell – all denied by him. He is currently single.
Butler hasn’t touched a drink or a drug in more than 10 years, and won his long battle with chain-smoking last year – his work is now the outlet for his addictive personality. Whether spending hour after hour training his voice to play the Phantom of the Opera or building himself into a muscle-bound warrior for 300, he does it with every inch of his being, relishing the hit. 'I’ve never been great with balance,’ he laughs, between mouthfuls of the mountain of food and two Coca-Colas he has in front of him.
When he isn’t working, Butler struggles with himself. 'The space in between the jobs is the hard part. I don’t know how to live a normal life and make it so full-on, so exciting. That’s what I want to learn to do.’ In true Hollywood style, Butler has devoted a great deal of time and energy to working on himself in recent years. 'A couple of years ago, I realised that my career was going brilliantly and yet I wasn’t happy at all,’ he says. 'I went into extreme analysis and I realised that what I was missing was a certain spirituality. I have spent so much of my life thinking, how am I doing? How am I being perceived? What’s my success level? And I needed to rid myself of that ego.’
He has received one-on-one meditation training from Deepak Chopra, spiritual guru to the stars, and been very influenced by the self-help phenomenon The Secret, a film and subsequent book whose central tenet is that there is a universal intelligence that responds to our desires. 'Things began to turn around for me when I naturally started seeing myself in jobs,’ Butler says. 'The universe rewarded that energy by matching it.’
In terms of his success, he is certainly an advertisement for the powers of positive visualisation, but mercifully he still has enough of a sense of humour to rescue him from navel-gazing. 'The only thing that has changed about Gerry is the fact that he has more houses,’ Jean says. 'He hasn’t changed his number and dumped his old friends. That said, he was an hour late to meet me the other night because he was having too much fun at Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s barbecue.’
With houses in Hollywood, New York and Hampstead, Butler doesn’t really know where home is any more. Even his voice doesn’t know what it is. 'I sound so American, it really freaks me out,’ he says. 'During an interview the other day, I said soccer instead of football and it threw me into a complete spin.’ When he does go to Glasgow – which he does as much as he can to see his family – the first thing he does when he lands at the airport is go to Starbucks and ask for a coffee in his most guttural Scots, just to get back in tune.
While September sees him in hard-man mode with the release of Gamer – a sci-fi action thriller, in which he plays a human pawn in a hybrid computer game – Butler is, for now, focusing on his funny side. Next up is a romantic comedy opposite Jennifer Aniston in which he plays a bounty hunter hired to track down his ex-wife. 'The script is one of the funniest I’ve ever read,’ he says. 'I just cannot wait to play those moments, give certain looks, see if it works.’
With his 40th birthday coming up this year, Butler has a heightened awareness of a ticking career clock. 'I don’t feel like I have all the time in the world so I want to make good use of it,’ he says, suddenly serious. 'I’ve always had an obsession with which part of my life I’m at. I remember very clearly turning four and thinking to myself, holy shit, I feel like I have lived for ever and I’m only four years old. Life is going to be so long.’ The memory makes him look simultaneously amused and troubled. 'What sort of four-year-old thinks that?’
* 'The Ugly Truth’ is released on August 7