A Conversation with Gerard Butler
Category: Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: July 22, 2003 | Publication: IGN FilmforceAuthor: Steve Head
Talkin' Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life with the future Phantom of the Opera.
July 22, 2003 - It's a Sunday morning in New York, and actor Gerard Butler has finally caught up on his sleep. For him, the prior 48 hours were hectic. Friday, in St. Louis, he worked a 15-hour day shooting the soccer flick The Game of Their Lives, and thereafter hopped a plane, which sat on the runway for an hour before the passengers were asked to move to another plane. He arrived in New York at 2:00 AM, Saturday morning. Seven hours later he was at a private screening of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life with his manager and two friends, it was the first time he'd seen the film. "I loved it! I thought it was great!" says Butler. But that presentation didn't have the extra jazz he's looking for: audience reaction.
"I had heard the night before that there had been a great reaction both with the press mixed with the crowd," says Butler. So, later that night, he secretly showed up for a preview screening at the Lowes Theater on 34th Street. "I was late, so I had to find a seat at the side, couldn't see." But he got the reactions, even from the people on either side of him who didn't know he was starring in the film. "I really enjoyed it!" says Butler, who was tempted to look up and around. "Everybody was behind me and I didn't want to spend the whole movie looking back."
This Friday, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life opens, and audiences nationwide will get their first real look at the man who will be The Phantom of the Opera. And it just may be that with his current slate of films (Tomb Raider, Timeline and The Phantom of the Opera), this time next year Butler may not be able to be so discrete about attending a movie.
Today, we talk with the star about making the second film in the Tomb Raider franchise, playing Lara's main squeeze, and landing the lead role in The Phantom of the Opera.
Q: Lara does get hers in this film: Terry Sheridan... You, to be exact. And ironically, in the make-out scene with you and Angelina Jolie, the camera keys on you, did you notice that?
GERARD BUTLER: Actually, no. But now that you mention it. Um, maybe, yeah.
Q: The tables are kind of turned here, like you're the sex object.
BUTLER: Well, I was only there just to be a sex toy, obviously (he jokes, laughing).
Q: Did you know going in that this was going to be a little different emphasis, Lara's vulnerability. A change in tone.
BUTLER: Yeah, I was aware of the whole thing. It was bought forward from the first one. This was brought forward in terms of character a little more. Her character is real and valuable.
I also knew that in terms of the story, it was a story that you could definitely follow easier than the first one. I knew that Jan [de Bont] was doing it. And one thing when you watch Jan's movies is that he can make some movies about some pretty crazy topics, but they still have an incredible reality to them. And he brings that out in his actors as well. He brings a freshness and a truth, and I think you see more of that.
Angelina had wanted a stronger male character to play opposite her, and I think one of the other advantages in that was a sense of competition. And also that that, especially with Terry Sheridan, would bring a vulnerability and perhaps a weakness in [Lara] Croft, if there was ever to be one discovered. And that... that's going to make here more human, more real.
Q: Was there a competitiveness on the set, seeing as how, you know, Angelina does a lot of her own stunt-work? Like, you can do that stunt, too. Or, if he's going to hang upside-down, well so is she?
BUTLER: Only in a fun way. It's not something I would ever do. I'm not a macho guy.
I love doing the stunts. It's as simple as that. I also loved watching her doing her stunts, and I loved watching her train. She trained really hard. And it was nothing but an inspiration to me. In that one scene where we were [upside-down] coming down the wire... it was killin' me. I've never felt my weight so much in my life. I was trying to pull my body back and pull my arm up because it was stuck in a harness, and trying to stop myself from spinning. And trying not to vomit (he laughs).
I'm doing this, and I'm trying to tuck both my knees in. And I'm like, "Fine!" (he says as if in pain). And doing this for two days, over forty times, it was a killer. I would then be looking to Angelina and thinking, "How's she lookin'? How's she gettin' along?" It was a tough stunt for both of us.
We were only there to encourage each other, and that kind of stuff.
Q: Can you really do those upside-down sit-ups, you know, like you're doing in the scene where Lara meets you?
BUTLER: Actually, the whole set was inverted, and then they had Angelina walk in upside-down (he jokes, laughing).
Funnily enough, when I originally went in for my screen test, that [jail] set was already built.
Q: So you went over to Pinewood Studios for the audition.
BUTLER: And I was in costume, and you know, [Angelina] came up and she met with me. And I had wanted to pump up before I went in. I knew I was going to be wearing a vest, so I had my trainer come in in the morning. I'd just arrived in London and the gym was closed. So I spent an hour doing every type of press up imaginable. (He demonstrates, moving his arms over his head.) Press ups like this, press ups like this... Until... my arms... were gone.
I arrive for the screen test (he laughs) and [Jan de Bont] walks onto the set (he points to an imaginary overhead bar) and says, "Why don't you jump up there and start pullin' yourself up."
I had no energy left in my arms! I said, "I can barely move. I can't even put my hands up." (He laughs.) So, it was an unfortunate kind of coincidence.
Q: But, obviously the test went darn well. You must have impressed someone.
BUTLER: The screen test was great. I mean, I felt that [Angelina and I] had a great chemistry together. We got on great and it was very easy between us. It all worked well.
I mean, when I turned up and Jan said, "I want you to do this, this and this." I thought, "He's already made it so much easier for me." And then Angelina came up and as soon as we said hello, I thought, This is going to be great. I'm really going to love doing this with her. And I did. And then I was very excited to do the movie after that.
Q: How soon after doing the screen test did you find out that you got the part?
BUTLER: They said after a couple days, "You're the guy." But there was a whole bunch of other things to be discussed at that point. And you've just got to be patient with these things, you know. It can take a lot of time.
Q: Which sort of was the case with The Phantom of the Opera.
BUTLER: It's the same with The Phantom [of the Opera]. Joel [Schumacher] said to me straightaway, "You're my guy. I want you to be my phantom." But it still didn't happen for quite a long while because there was still budgetary issues, casting issues for other parts. So, it's not an easy time in you're life when it's a part you really want to do, literally, every time.
Q: For Tomb Raider you were pretty persistent about it.
BUTLER: I'll tell you, it was very funny actually, I remember my manager calling me. Literally, the conversations were, I would call him or he would call me, and I would say, "Have you heard anything about Tomb Raider" because there would always be gossip, you know. I'd been asking this so much, and there was one day he said, "Yeah, I heard this..." And about two minutes later he said, "I've got to take this call." So he hung up on me and called me back twenty seconds later. And I said, "Have you heard anything about Tomb Raider?" (he laughs). It was a joke.
Q: Concerning The Phantom, and no doubt this is a question they asked you: have you done musical work before?
BUTLER: Yeah, (he laughs) when I was twelve I was in Oliver! at a theater in Glasgow. Actually, I sang in a rock band when I was training as a lawyer. You know, not professional, we just did it for fun. We just did gigs all over Edinburgh and some in Glasgow and some at festivals. But... never have I sang anything like this.
Q: Being an attorney, does that make seeing or negotiating your contracts any easier?
BUTLER: I don't even read them. Or not really like that, but I barely look at them. My manager and my agents, they go over my contracts. They'll have them all marked, and they'll say, "Sign here, here and here" And I say, "Yup, yup and yup." So... I don't understand why he's getting a seventy-five percent commission (he laughs).
Q: How did you get the role in The Phantom of the Opera? I mean that's a seriously high-profile deal.
BUTLER: It was a strange experience for me because for Tomb Raider and for Timeline the Dick Donner movie that I just did I really came in from the outside. I was always the last guy to be screen tested, you know. And I felt like the underdog. And I function very well when I'm the underdog. Whereas with The Phantom, I had an initial meeting with Joel where he said, "I just hope you can sing. I'd love you to be the phantom. I think you're perfect for this." And he says, "Now Gerry, I'm not even looking at anybody else."
Q: And he's seen your work.
BUTLER: Joel had seen all my work. Joel sees everything. He'd seen me in Attila, he'd seen me inDracula, he'd seen me in The Jury. He's great like that.
I feel really excited about this because Joel has put a lot of trust in me and really believes in me. He'd had his eye on me for a long time for the part, and he's probably the most renowned director for spotting talent with what he's done in his career.
Q: So what was this meeting like the one where you didn't really know that you were being considered for The Phantom?
BUTLER: Well, we had had a meeting we had a lunch together about eight months before but this was a general meeting. He just said, "I want to meet again." So we had a lunch. It was a bunch of his people, and we had a great laugh. And I guess, now that I think about it, maybe he had the Phantom in mind. We'd barely talked about it. We talked about everything but The Phantom.
Q: So he called you back.
BUTLER: The one thing he had mentioned was that he'd seen all my stuff and he really loved my work it never ceases to amaze me when somebody says that.
Then he called my agent.
Q: Was your agent even aware that you were being considered for The Phantom?
BUTLER: Being the wonderful believer that [my agent] is when Joel said "Can Gerry sign?" my agent said, "Send it over and we'll sign the stuff." (He laughs.)
So I had this great meeting with Joel in London, by which point I'd read his adaptation of the script. And I listened to the music while I was reading the script. And it had just blown me away. I really... (he shakes his head) I was so excited about it. It's been a long time since I really got so excited about something.
Q: It must be asked: How's the singing going for you?
BUTLER: Well I, by that point, had started taking singing lessons. And after the first session, I mean, I was surprised that the windows didn't shatter (he laughs). But the coach said, "Man, you can do this." And after the third session, I really didn't know where this voice had come from.
Then I had to go and sing with the musical director of the film, Simon Lee, who is just incredible, and it went great. I sang with him about five things, things we'd worked on.
And then I went to sing for Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Q: I was going to ask about that. Seriously... Got your nerves on straight, then?
BUTLER: I had to prove myself to a lot of different people, but actually, that was my choice.
They'd said, "At this point, you don't even have to go and sing for him." Because the authority on that was Simon Lee. Simon had given the go-ahead for me anyway.
I think at some point Andrew would wanted to have seen me anyway. Simon had basically said, "If you want it. You're good enough to go in and sing for him and I think you should do that. You don't have to, but it would help."
So I said, "OK. Let's go in." And suddenly it's a trip: there's Joel Schumacher, the producer, Simon Lee came with me to play the piano.
Q: No pressure...
BUTLER: (He laughs.) I have to tell you, you just said the funniest thing. When I had the part, and even when I had the part I kept training and singing with Simon, we're walking down the stairs one day after a session, and he said, "Do you know that the Phantom has done six billion dollars of business around the world?" I was in front of him, and I think he could tell. Maybe he saw my shoulders slump. And he just said, "No pressure."
Q: What song did you audition with for Andrew Lloyd Weber?
BUTLER: It was "Music of the Night."
Q: Have you seen some of the production design? Anything for this new look? The new design for the Phantom himself?
BUTLER: I haven't seen any, but I hear they're incredible. I hear they're amazing.
Q: What kind of an accent will you have to use in the film?
BUTLER: Kind of a soft English accent. Not really posh.
Q: Ciarαn Hinds, he's in the Phantom and Tomb Raider with you.
BUTLER: (He laughs.) He's used to listening to me walking about during Tomb Raider singing The Phantom (he laughs). Now that he's doing the movie with me, I find that very funny because I didn't have the part then. This is when I was training for it. Strange, strange world.
Q: You start filming this fall?
BUTLER: Yes. I'm doing a movie right now in St. Louis with David Anspaugh, a soccer film where I'm working with Wes Bentley The Game of Their Lives.
Q: Oh, that's the one with the guy from Bush, Gavin Rossdale.
BUTLER: Yeah! Gavin Rossdale's in it. And Louis Mandylor from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Q: What's it's like being from Glasgow and doing a film about an American football team?
BUTLER: Well, at the end of the day it's about beating England (he laughs).