Butler Did It
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Article Date: November 28, 2003 | Publication: Evening Gazette | Author: Eileen Condon
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 jokes. "It's true I can walk down most streets in this country and people haven't got a clue who I am."
Glasgow-born Butler, however, had better make the most of his anonymity because that's about to change ... he's beaten off fierce competition to land the lead role in the eagerly-awaited screen version of Phantom of the Opera which is bound to make him a household name. The down-to-earth actor is taking the prospect of impending international stardom firmly in his stride. Part of the reason he isn't quaking in his boots about the awesome challenge 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 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 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," he laughs. "I've already been there, done that."
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 cafe.
"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," recalls Butler.
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 as Billy Connolly's younger brother in the Oscar winning Mrs Brown.
But it's across the pond where Butler has had the biggest impact. He played the title role in Attila The Hun, a big budget mini-series shot for American TV, starred in Wes Craven's Dracula and 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 Crighton's best-selling novel and Butler says he'd forgotten just what a blast the veteran comic is.
"He is such a great guy. I could sit and listen to him all day, it's like getting a free stand-up gig," he laughs.
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 gruelling role meant Butler had to train for more than seven months to become an expert swordsman.
"I had to learn the longbow, horseback riding and duel fighting but Attila stood me in good stead," he says. "That was one of the toughest things I've had to do physically, so this was quite easy in comparison."
Despite relishing the physical challenges, he hasn't deliberately looked for action man roles.
"I think that's what people have seen me in, but I like a bit of everything. I've just shot a Scottish movie with Emily Mortimer which was completely different to the action stuff but which I absolutely loved doing."
Though he might be experiencing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it's clear his Scottish homeland is very much where the heart is.
"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," he says. "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 Gazette Media Company Ltd