Man, Oh Man
Category: Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 3, 2009 | Publication: Angeleno Magazine | Author: Peter Richmond
Publication/Article Link:Angeleno Magazine
Those muscles! That brooding glare! Gerard Butler is best known for bringing hunky back to Hollywood. This fall the great Scot flexes brawn and brain as producer and murderous star of Law Abiding Citizen
As I climb the subway stairs up to the street, Gerard Butler is suddenly and unexpectedly glaring at me from a full block away: dead-eyed, ominous, threatening. In the poster for Gamer, his futuristic mayhem-fest, Butler’s stare grimly dares all passersby to enter his menacing space. So it’s something of a relief that the man I meet a few minutes later in a downtown Manhattan hotel restaurant turns out to be a comfortably disheveled, jeans-and sneakered guy with a three-day growth who immediately welcomes you into his world, happily spinning fanciful stories of bygone days.
Butler tells stories as naturally as the rest of us breathe. And most of them seem to belong to nothing so much as, well, a Gerard Butler movie.
You did what?! You ran into the middle of a pub scrum to break up six guys who were stomping a guy on the floor? You rushed over to break up a broken-bottle bar fight between a couple of strangers? You saw a van with its tires on fire, grabbed an extinguisher from a nearby bus, dove under the car and put out the fire?
“In those situations, I hadn’t even thought about it—I just did it. Afterward, I’d think, ‘What the f**k were you thinking?’” His high-pitched laugh bounces off the bare-brick walls of the empty room. It’s midafternoon, and Butler has been up until five that morning filming the final days of his next star turn, Te Bounty, opposite Jennifer Aniston.
And you really dived into a river and saved a kid from drowning on a break from your first film, Mrs. Brown?
“Yeah, that actually brought me some sympathy with my mum,reminded her that her son was all right, still had some heroic qualities. We were going through a hard time at that point, because that was some of the worst of my drinking and being very dark.” He hasn’t had a drink in 12 years and prefers to avoid discussing the point when he gave it up, but will offer
hints of his journey. “I can’t begin to tell you how many tipping points there were where I got into terrifying situations, either physically or circumstantially, but especially emotionally and psychologically—the amount of times I thought, ‘It can’t get any worse than this.’”
OK, let’s flash back further: You were the president of your law school class, training with a prestigious firm, but they’d gotten so sick of your erratic job performance that they fired you one week before you’d have been qualified to practice?
“Deep down, I realized that studying law… really wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says, stirring his coffee and growing serious. “I was very much going down a narrow avenue. I wasn’t someone in my own skin at that point… I hadn’t gotten in touch with the deeper goals and aims, my true purpose. Because it certainly wasn’t law.”
The true purpose: That would be what you’re doing now?
“Yeah,” Butler says, and his eyes leap open, his whole face curls into a smile. “Oh, yeah.”
Tree years after slaughtering hordes of Persians and wresting attention away from the spectacular special effects in 300 —one of the top 10 grossing films of 2007—Gerry Butler (the name he prefers friends call him) has emerged from behind the beard and the eight-pack to command three lead roles in a few short months. Tere was August’s romantic comedy Te Ugly
Truth (a box-office success despite disappointing reviews), then the sci-fi thriller Gamer in September, and now a role opposite Jamie Foxx as an everyman turned sociopathic revenge killer in Law Abiding Citizen.
It’s more than a wave; it’s a one-man tsunami. And Butler admits to cringing at the overexposure. “About one month after Law Abiding Citizen comes out I’ll be sick of the sight of me,” he laughs. “And listen, I love watching myself. So if I’ll be sick of the sight of me, I can’t imagine what everyone else will be thinking.”
Maybe this: that it’s time for the versatile Scot’s long climb up the ranks to reach the true A-list apex. “I think he has the opportunity to be the next leading man who lasts,” says F. Gary Gray, the director of Law Abiding Citizen. “Gerard had lived life before he really broke into this industry, and that brings a depth to his performances. Bogart was a great leading man who started late in life and brought a realness to the screen you could accept. Gerard has that.”
Truth is, Butler has been performing since he was a little kid. As a boy with a head full of a million fantasies, Butler would often have to cross through a dodgy neighborhood in Paisley, a few miles east of Glasgow, to buy the day’s groceries from the list his mum had given him. “[It] was like going into the land of the movie Te Warriors,” he says. “I’d go down there and play SAS—Special Forces—trying to get in and get out without being wounded or killed. Tere were so many people on that street that ended up in prison. It was truly an insane area… I’m going to sound like my life was a nightmare as a kid [but] I came from a great family. I had this incredible mother who I just doted on.”
Butler’s father moved the family to Canada when Butler was an infant, but Margaret Butler picked up her three children and moved them back to Paisley: “She had pretty much had enough of my father’s wild ways.” His mother attended night school for secretarial and business studies, and ended up lecturing at the college for 20 years. (His father disappeared until
Butler was 16; he died six years later.)
Butler’s fertile mind found schoolwork effortless, right up to the law studies at University of Glasgow. Fortuitously, the very week he was axed from the law firm, he saw a stage performance of Trainspotting and the light went on. A year later, with all of one brief stage ensemble appearance behind him, Butler read cold, right from the script, at an audition for the same play —and was awarded the lead on the spot.
A year after that, John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) directed him in Mrs. Brown, opposite Dame Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, and Butler’s been muscling his way to the top ever since, with 30 credits in the past decade. He’s played everything from the Cro-Magnon (Attila, Beowulf ) to the capriciously violent (RocknRolla) to the poignant (P.S. I Love You). He even went musical in Joel Schumacher’s less-than-acclaimed The Phantom of the Opera, in which Butler drew on his brief and distant days in a rock band to sing from behind that infernal mask.
But even in films that have been eviscerated by the critics, Butler has survived unscathed. It’s as if they, like the rest of us, can sense that all the armor and costuming in the world can’t hide how comfortable the 39-year old actor is in his own skin. Tat his natural expression is the opposite of the assassin’s glower that he so often adopts onscreen.
Butler’s reflex is to see the humor in life. Its roots, he suggests, lie in the urge to be the kid who kept everyone loose in a family that endured its share of struggles, and in his homeland’s historic view of its lot in life. “The Scots know how to laugh in any situation. Tey know how to laugh at themselves, at death, at a shit deal socially, or economically. They’ve grown up in hardship and learned to make fun of it because otherwise it can be pretty miserable.”
“When I laugh, everything else disappears except laughter. In that moment you’re full of love. And if you’re the one causing it, because of something you’re saying or doing, life doesn’t get any better than that. For me, anyway.”
Says Zack Snyder, the director of 300, “Look, he’s a spectacular actor and he has spectacular charisma, that ‘It’ thing, that indefinable movie star quality, whatever that is. But he also has this ability to be comfortable with you, to not have every single thing be about movies or Hollywood or whatever.”
“He’s someone you can actually hang out with, someone you can shoot the shit with comfortably, and I can’t say that about every actor I’ve worked with,” agrees Gray. “But when he turns it on, he turns it on. His commitment to push through and to make things right is pretty extraordinary.”
On the set of Law Abiding Citizen, that commitment took on an added dimension. It is the first film from Evil Twins, the
production company he runs with his longtime manager, Alan Siegel, and according to Gray, Butler took the production side
very seriously. When he bought the script, Butler approached Foxx to play the lead, a man who orchestrates a series of killings from behind bars after his wife and child are murdered in a home invasion. When Foxx seemed wary, Butler decided to take on the killer’s role himself, and Foxx became his D.A. adversary.
“Gerry gets a chance to spread his wings creatively,” says Gray. “He can pick up a sword with the best of them… [but] here
it’s all psychology. It’s very similar to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.”
But true fans of the traditional Butler genre needn’t worry. In LAC, things blow up, people die gruesome deaths, and while
Butler does flash the smile, it’s in a particularly sinister way. Butler is due back on the set, so it’s time to tackle the inevitable questions for a bachelor nearing 40. Tabloids have been agog with romance rumors about him and Aniston, and today the same Chinatown building that featured his Gamer ad also sports a rooftop billboard hawking a brand of designer water, featuring the gigantic face of Aniston. When I mention this coincidence, Butler smiles and flips open his phone to show me a photograph he’d taken of the building. He’d sent it to Aniston with the message, “You’re always on top,” followed by a smiling emoticon. “It was a mark of respect,” he says.
So are you going out with her?
“No. No. Simple. And I wouldn’t deny it, because I’d be caught flat out eventually, but no. She’s a great girl and I love her to death. But I’m not going out with her.”
So why aren’t you married?
“Over the last few years I’ve been in a couple of relationships, and I’ve successfully managed to keep them very quiet. Maybe I should play it safe and stick to the cliché and say I haven’t found the right person. I find it hard to get into at the moment.”
He also obviously has trouble settling down—literally.
Butler owns homes on both coasts (in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and in Los Feliz in Los Angeles) but clearly spends little time in each. “What happens is when I finish a movie I have such a crazed feeling to go somewhere, have an adventure. I just spent a month in India. Go off to Iceland. Tinking about a trip to the North Pole. So you do those things, and then the next minute you’re into another movie. When you’re doing a movie there isn’t a lot of time to hang out, to meet somebody, to develop something. I guess some people are better at being in a relationship than I am.”
And what lies ahead for the man who’s already tackled every filmic genre?
His answer is quick, certain and sure: “I want to keep inspiring myself. My biggest fear in life is not being inspired.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t spend every moment inspired. But I’m aware it’s a goal, and I know when it happens, and I know
how great it tastes.”
His farewell handshake is comfortably soft and natural before he climbs into the back of a large, black-carapaced SUV,
and he’s gone—leaving the echo of a high-pitched laugh and the lingering afterimage of a Glasgow cat’s smile.