Actor quickly endeared to role of stranger

Category: Dear Frankie News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 15, 2005 | Publication: Knoxville News | Author: BETSY PICKLE
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NEW YORK - Gerard Butler didn't waste any time saying "yes" to "Dear Frankie."

"When I read that script, I thought, 'Isn't it great?' " recalls the Scottish actor. "When I connect with something, I already imagine me playing that role."

Although Butler has made his reputation playing complicated characters such as the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera," Dracula in "Dracula 2000" and Attila the Hun in the miniseries "Attila," he tried to keep it "simple" in "Dear Frankie," which opens today at Downtown West.

The native Glaswegian plays a mysterious stranger who agrees to pose as the long-absent sailor father of a deaf boy (Jack McElhone), to keep intact an illusion created by a protective mother (Emily Mortimer).

"I really tried to leave that (character) alone," says Butler, 35. "I thought, 'You know what? I know this guy. I'm not now gonna work and work and work and then try and technically make something that I instinctively feel."

Butler had plenty to do to prepare for the Phantom. Although he'd sung in a rock band while studying law at Glasgow University, he wasn't trained to sing in musicals. Still, he wasn't worried about auditioning for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber - at first.

"I think acting is actually much more difficult; it's much more a comment on your soul," he says. "I think that a bad acting audition can go far worse than a bad singing audition where at least you have time signatures and notes, etc., that you can stick to.

"I wasn't actually that nervous until I stood by the piano and then the enormity of what I was trying to achieve went through my mind."

Between gasping for breath and trying to control his shaking leg, "It was like a comedy act," he tells reporters during a "Phantom" interview. "I thought I'd sung just terribly, but apparently Andrew really dug it."

Butler went from the emotional strain of portraying the Phantom to the physical demands of playing the warrior sent to dispatch a marauding troll in "Beowulf & Grendel," a film based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem "Beowulf." The film was shot in Iceland last year under inhospitable conditions.

"My last two days, I was working in essentially zero degrees centigrade soaking wet for two nights. I was in the Icelandic Sea. I was filming on glacial rivers, on top of glaciers," recalls Butler, who braved critical jeers in addition to the elements in "Timeline," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "Reign of Fire."

"One day, eight car windows were put in by flying rocks from the wind, and our base camp was blown away five times. It was insane. There was one scene where four actors were blown three feet off their marks in one gust of wind. We were trying to film in the most insane conditions, and for those reasons it was hard, and for those reasons those experiences stay with you so much stronger."

In fact, Butler says, aside from his native Scotland, Iceland will be the most memorable country he's ever visited.

"It's so up my alley," he says. "Everything there is so incredibly raw and primal. Every time you turn a corner, your breath is taken away by landscapes you cannot believe exist on this planet."

Butler traveled to Brazil and to U.S. locations to make "The Game of Their Lives," a film about the U.S. soccer team's upset victory over the British team in a World Cup match in 1950. In the film, which opens in limited release next week, he plays U.S. goalie Frank Borghi. He's always happy to play a character who's not a killer or a vampire.

"I'm so incredibly not like those characters," he says. "I'm very easygoing and happy."

But does that mean he thinks he's not sexy like the Phantom or his brethren?

"I'm not sexy in the slightest," he says.

Good thing he decided not to become a lawyer. He'd never make that case