It all began with a ghost of a chance
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Article Date: December 5, 2003 | Publication: THE JOURNAL (Newcastle, UK) | Author: Eileen Condon, The Journal
He's currently one of the hottest talents in Hollywood, having just landed one of the most sought-after roles in screen history. Yet Scottish actor Gerard Butler is still virtually unrecognised in Britain.
"I always say I've never been more successful and less recognised," he says with a self-deprecating laugh. "It's true I can walk down most streets in this country and people haven't got a clue who I am."
Butler, however, had better make the most of his anonymity because that's about to change for good. The Glasgow-born star has beaten off fierce competition to land the lead role in the eagerly-awaited screen version of Phantom Of The Opera.
It's bound to make Butler a household name. But the down-to-earth actor is taking the prospect of impending international stardom firmly in his stride.
He says: "It's not something that's keeping me awake at night, because I'm not really thinking about that side of things. I'm just thinking about the hard work I've got to do. I like to be kept on my toes."
"Maybe when I've finished the work I might start thinking that all eyes will be upon me," he adds smiling.
Part of the reason he isn't quaking in his boots about the awesome challenge facing him is that Butler came close to self-destructing in his youth.
Now he says he feels like he's been given a second chance and one he's determined not to blow.
Before acting, Butler spent years drifting aimlessly, drinking heavily and often spending the night in police cells even though he had a law degree from Glasgow University.
"Basically that whole period of my life happened because I was going down completely the wrong road," he explains. "I knew deep down law wasn't for me and I felt stuck so I behaved outgoing and crazy, but that wasn't me either. I was insecure and unstable.
"I wasn't doing what I wanted to in life but I didn't know how to change it. It was a big lesson in life, because once I ended up doing what I wanted the drinking and the crazy behaviour stopped.
"I absolutely love what I do now and I don't take any of it for granted. I'm exactly where I was trying to get to during those mad years. That's why I never have any worries about going off the rails like other actors do I've already been there, done that," he laughs.
Butler's acting break is worthy of a film script itself.
After being sacked by his Edinburgh law firm, he moved to London and took up a number of dead-end jobs until a chance meeting with esteemed actor and director Stephen Berkoff in a caf changed his life.
Butler recalls: "He asked me if I was an actor. I told him I wasn't but I wanted to be, and the next thing I know he'd offered me a role in his production of Coriolanus."
Since that fortuitous meeting, the talented star hasn't looked back.
He worked steadily in British theatre and made his big screen debut in 1997 playing Billy Connolly's younger brother in the Oscar-winning movie Mrs Brown.
But it's across the pond that Butler has made the biggest impact. He played the title role in Attila The Hun, a big budget mini-series shot for American television, starred as Dracula in Wes Craven's movie of the same name and this summer appeared alongside Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
He's just been reunited with his Mrs Brown co-star and fellow Scot, Billy Connolly, for his latest film Timeline. The pair appear together in the big screen adaptation of Michael Crichton's best-selling novel and Butler says he'd forgotten just what a blast the veteran comic is.
He says: "He is such a great guy. I could sit and listen to him all day it's like getting a free stand-up gig."
In the film, Butler plays an archaeologist who, along with a team of students, find themselves travelling back to 14th century France with the aid of a time machine. The physically gruelling role meant Butler had to train for more than seven months to become an expert swordsman.
"It was intense," he says. "I had to learn the longbow, horseback riding and duel fighting but Attila The Hun stood me in good stead. That was one of the toughest things I've had to do physically, so this was quite easy in comparison."
Although he might be experiencing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it's clear his Scottish homeland is very much where the heart is. I get back as often as I can," he says. "I have family and friends there and they keep me down to earth. I enjoy LA and am thrilled that I'm getting the work out there, but it's great to come back to people who really know you.
"I had a birthday recently and I wasn't going to do anything but all my mates persuaded me and it turned out to be the best night.
"Me, surrounded by all my old mates from home. You can't beat that."
Copyright 2003 Newcastle Chronicle & Journal Ltd