Man On Fire

Category: Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 1, 2005 | Publication: 7 x 7 | Author: Stephanie Scott
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The hunk behind the mask in “Phantom” is the hot new face in Hollywood. In the bittersweet drama “Dear Frankie” and this month’s feel-good soccer flick, “The Game of Their Lives,” Scottish actor Gerard Butler shows us he’s more than just a cape-swirling crooner.

Gerard Butler is tired. It’s 11:30 on a Tuesday morning, and the handsome Scot has just emerged from his Hollywood hotel room, the sheen of sleep still fresh on his face. He’s rumpled, rugged and almost too accessible in a worn, creamy cotton shirt, haplessly undone and possibly slept-in. I feel like I’m catching him at an intimate moment—that small window of time when someone hasn’t quite woken up and is vulnerable to the world. We sit (he pulls out my chair for me). He stretches (revealing a tan torso that his shirt can’t quite cover). He sheds his sleek sunglasses—his only movie-star accoutrement—and lights his first cigarette, embracing the smoke like an old friend.

L.A. sunshine floods the patio of the Sunset Marquis, where we drink extra-milky cappuccinos—a special request by Butler—next to a ridiculously blue pool. We’re tucked away at a secluded café table that’s hosted many megastars, from Mick Jagger to J.Lo—such is the pedigree of this place. It seems fitting that Gerry (we’ve moved on to nicknames now) would hole away somewhere with a little less flashbulb frenzy, a little more privileged privacy—kind of like the actor himself.

But back to Butler being tired. His work schedule during the past few years has started to rival Jude Law’s. The 35 year old has appeared in back-to-back films including 2003’s “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” and “Timeline,” last year’s “Phantom of the Opera” (in which he surprised us all with a sex-soaked, melodic rock ‘n’ roll roar), last month’s “Dear Frankie,” this month’s “The Game of Their Lives” and the upcoming “Beowulf & Grendel,” in which he plays the fearless medieval warrior facing the man-eating monster Grendel. In fact, he just finished filming the last in Iceland—a spiritual experience he can’t say enough about. Next up is “Burns,” in which Butler will portray the famed 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, alongside Julia Stiles as his paramour.

“I feel like I’ve been living out of suitcases for a long time,” he says, virtually spinning the globe by listing the places he’s just been: L.A., New York and London (where he’s nominally based), Bangkok, Tokyo, Bali, Sydney and back to L.A.

San Francisco may not be on that list, but just mentioning the city’s name ignites in Butler the kind of enthusiasm most people reserve for Paris. “Last time I drove out of San Francisco, there was such a sadness to me. I always feel like I’m leaving something wonderful,” he muses. “I love the people, I love the layout of the city, I love the architecture.”

So, here’s what else we know about Butler. He’s tall. Tall in a way that belies the big screen, where everyone *seems* tall, until you meet, say, Tom Cruise, and get a feel for Hollywood’s movie magic. He’s got a Scottish accent that allows him to refer to his grandmother as “gran” and still sound masculine, to pronounce “cool” as “kewl” in the most dashing way and to pepper his stories with naughty tidbits that could be offensive when spoken with an American twang, but sound simply charming when they roll off his tongue. His mum and his gran raised him in a strict Catholic household in a working-class neighborhood in Glasgow, and although he always ached for acting, he excelled in school and went on to the University of Glasgow and life as a lawyer—yes a lawyer.

Lucky for us, Butler was never quite cut out for the courtroom. The path from his collegiate days to his life as an actor was characterized by “copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, a few years of depression and then being fired,” he says. “It just hit me that there was a possibility that this could be the rest of my life. It’s not what I wanted. I became very disillusioned, depressed—I thought I’d lost my way. When I got fired they said, ‘Look, we are doing you a favor here, go and follow your dreams.’ The next day, I literally grabbed my stuff, threw it in a bag and moved down to London.”

If this were a fairy tale (or a Rob Reiner movie), the rest would be history. In Butler’s life, the rest includes riotous stories of odd “acting” jobs, like a stint as a nearly naked model—oiled up and clad only in chains and a black thong, posing with six other guys as perverse reindeer dragging Santa’s sleigh—at a company Christmas party. “We had no idea [what was happening] until we got there. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever done,” he says, after launching out of his seat to reenact the whole scenario: the oil, the thong and the supreme embarrassment of what a guy goes through on this way to becoming famous.

Butler is nothing if not theatrical. Several times throughout our coffee date, he throws down his lighter and leaps up to do a scene from the particular story he’s telling. He’s always moving. He sits forward, leans back, stretches, smokes, jumps up, sits down, sips coffee—and then repeats the routine again.

Despite these impromptu one-act plays, there’s something authentic about Butler. He doesn’t have the diamond-white Chiclet teeth so often flashed by other stars, and his smile is a little crooked. His hair is a dark crop of misbehavior. His face is shielded by stubble.

With Butler, no question feels off-limits, even when it comes to the personal stuff his fans are dying to know. No, he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s just “not the best person at giving things a chance in the first place,” never mind the fact that he’s “kind of all over the place” right now. Yes, he definitely feels like his whirlwind lifestyle is keeping him from marriage and kids, and no, he’s not sure how to reconcile that, except to say that he doesn’t plan to always be this busy.

He’s also not afraid to tell you that both the “Phantom” and “Dear Frankie” scripts made him cry.

Butler seems ready to take on whatever his next incarnation might be. In “Phantom,” he was nervous about tackling Michael Crawford’s iconic stage role, but he pushed trepidation aside—perhaps with the help of a swift gust from the overworked fog machine—and delved into his own interpretation of the part.

“People always have an expectation, and all you can do is give the interpretation that you believe in, you know?” he says of the Crawford comparisons. On unsavory reviews, he adds, “What’s interesting is, the very reasons that some people like your performance are the exact things that other people feel made your performance bad.”

But nobody, *nobody*, can deny that Butler swirls a mean cape. “I quite liked my cape-swinging. I tried to be a less theatrical Phantom—a lot of that cape-swinging happens in the performance of ‘Don Juan,’” he protests. “In the sword fight, I’m using [the cape] as a weapon. And then…a couple other times…yeah, just because, simply, it f***ing looked good, you know?”

March’s “Dear Frankie” is about as anti-“Phantom” as it gets. Where “Phantom” was a spectacle of opulence, opera and big-budget grandeur, “Dear Frankie” is a simple, gritty little tale where the only bells and whistles come from the talent of its cast.

Butler plays the handsome stranger—his character’s name in the credits actually is “Stranger”—who sails into the lives of single mother Lizzie (played by Emily Mortimer) and her deaf son, Frankie (Jack McElhone). It’s a bittersweet, stirring performance of few words and one amazing kiss that unfolds so achingly slowly in real time that you find yourself holding your breath. “That kiss said so much that you can’t explain,” Butler agrees. “The beauty of ‘Dear Frankie’ is how it sucks you in, in a very human way. I mean, how refreshing that it has the courage to be sweet.”

And then there’s this month’s soccer drama, “The Game of Their Lives,” a cinematic take on the true story of an amateur US team that beat the English against all odds in the early rounds of the 1950 World Cup. Butler plays Frank Borghi, the goalie who seemingly defied physics and gravity to lead the team to victory. With director David Anspaugh at the helm alongside writer-producer Angelo Pizzo—the duo that did “Hoosiers” and “Rudy”—we can expect a story that’s bound to make grown men choke up.

After discussing all five of his recent movies, high-profile rumors like the one that he could be the next James Bond (which he denies) and his nonstop schedule, Butler says, “There’s a lot to be said for success, insomuch as it’s an endorsement of yourself that happens very deep within, maybe it adds a little confidence, a little bit of security; it makes that smile on your face a little more genuine, you know?”

“It’s nice when you get noticed for work you are proud of. It makes me more proud if somebody notices me for ‘Dear Frankie’ than if they think I’m sexy in a movie like ‘Tomb Raider,’” he says. “The fact that you touched somebody’s soul or made them laugh—that’s a wonderful thing.”

But what about those fans who, despite his talent, go on relentlessly about his looks? “I just think, ‘Thank God that people on this planet still have good taste!’” he says, and then promptly dissolves into laughter.