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Rogue Male

Category: Interviews
Article Date: November 1, 2003 | Publication: Starlog | Author: Starlog

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In the Timeline of Gerard Butler's career, singing as The Phantom of the Opera is next.
It's almost impossible to steal a scene from Lara Croft, but somehow Gerard Butler managed to hold his own against Angelina Jolie's sexy adventuress in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Butler played Terry Sheridan, a former SAS agent-turned-mercenary whom Lara frees from prison to help track down the legendary Pandora's Box. As the actor explains, it's Sheridan's moral ambiguity that makes him so compelling. "Am I there to help her out, or am I after the prize myself? That's the great thing about the character: You never really know what he's in it for."

If it's not already apparent, Butler prefers playing characters with a bit of an edge. "Without a doubt," he confirms. "It's much meatier and more interesting, but it also depends on how you approach the role. You can play an out-and-out bad guy and do it very obviously, monotonously and boringly, but fortunately, Terry was written so well by Dean [Georgaris]. When I read the script, I was licking my lips and saying 'I have to do this!' because Terry's so bad, fun, edgy and good. He's all those things, and when you put that into the pot with Lara Croft, it's explosive and sexy. There's a lot going there."


Playing an action anti-hero isn't as simple as showing up on the set and strapping on a few guns. From the very first day he landed the role of Terry Sheridan, Butler quickly discovered that there was much more involved. "They were like, 'We want you for the part, and we want you here tomorrow to start training,'" Butler recalls. "They wanted me very cut-up and toned. That's one of the problems - and blessings - when you land a character like this, because if you're playing somebody who's supposed to be the ultimate in his field, you have to look, act and train for the part. You can't just be 'good.' It has to be amazing. So I did some serious training down as the gun range, but again, it wasn't only about becoming proficient with a gun. I had to look like I lived with a weapon all my life, so I quickly had to learn how to cope with that - and [how to ride] a motorcycle. I also had to do a lot of stuff on wires, fight training and some serious working out with a couple of different trainers to tone myself up. I jumped off, climbed down and hung onto many things."

Butler, however, is no stranger to shaping up for a film. "I did some fight and wire training for Dracula 2000," he remarks. "I also did a tremendous amount of sword fighting, horse riding and training at the gym for Attila the Hun and Timeline. In fact, I rarely land a role that doesn't require some kind of in-depth training, which, depending on the day you catch me, can be a good or bad thing. If I'm feeling energetic, I just love it, because I get to expand on so many different areas of my life. But then I think, 'Oh shit! Here I go again! Can't I just get a job where I sit there at a kitchen table with a cup of coffee in my hand and talk about life?'"

If Butler seems proud of his physical accomplishments, it's probably because many of his peers play fast and loose with their mastery of skills. There are plenty of actors who list horseback riding on their resume, but most of them, when put to the test, would fall out of the saddle.

"I've done loads of stage fighting and horseback riding, but I've never had it on my CV [curriculum vitae, i.e., resume], so I don't know how I was picked," Butler comments. "Actually, up until Attila, the last time I had been on a horse was 10 years earlier. I was literally in the horse for about two minutes, and fell off twice. The second time I landed on my head. I had had a few beers and was in France and thought it was funny, but I had a concussion for two days. When they said, 'You're going to be playing Attila and riding a horse for two months, so we need you training every day of the month beforehand,' I thought, 'I'm going to die!'"

"When I was filming Attila, I heard some really funny stories from actors who had put down horse riding in their CV, got big American movies and had no riding experience at all. One guy told me that he only had a couple of lines in a film, then had to trot off, but he couldn't even get his horse to move. When it finally did, he just bounced up and down, so you can get caught [when you like like] that. I can't think of anything more embarrassing than saying you can do something and then getting found out. That's why I'm lucky to have been given the luxury of training beforehand, and I'm really into that. If they say, 'You've got to train!' I'm up for the challenge."


The Scotland-born Butler actually started off on a different career path, studying law at Glasgow University. "I had done some amateur acting and went to a Scottish summer school for it," Butler says. "It was something I could not quite kick. A week before finishing [law school], I became the first trainee solicitor in Scotland to be fired. They said, 'You obviously don't want to be a lawyer.' During my last two years of training as a lawyer, I was very unhappy and wild. I was the last person who should have been practicing law. So it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I packed my stuff and drove down to London, where I started doing really stupid jobs. Then the Berkoff thing came along, and I've never looked back."

Butler was working with a London casting agent on a play for Steven Berkoff when he happened to bump into the veteran actor/director (known to genre fans for playing a villainous general in Octopussy) in a nearby coffee shop and they began to chat. It turned out to be a turning point in Butler's career. "I told him that I was there because I wanted to be an actor, and he said, 'Well, come in and read.' So I went and read and, unbeknownst to him, I had worked on [the role] on the hope that I might get an audition. I ended up winning the part, which was amazing. That was the happiest day of my life.

"While we were rehearsing," he adds, "one of the actors said they were auditioning for the Trainspotting play. I sent my photograph and phone number, and the director phoned me and said, 'Do you want to come in and read for this?' And I got the lead. I was only 25, and I had never been to drama school."

It was a dream start for the young actor. "After that, I played Billy Connolly's brother in Mrs. Brown, which was like my third audition, and then it all calmed down a bit," Butler says. "I had more wildness to get out of my system, but I finally began to settle into my life and got it together. I started having some modest but real success, stuff that I could cope with, but my big break was when I decided to go over to the States and give it a try. I had only been there for two weeks when I landed the role of Attila, and bang, suddenly everything was on a different level. While I was doing the Attila mini-series, I got the part in Dracula 2000. The day I finished filming Attila, I flew from Lithuania to Toronto. They cut my hair to a shorter length, and suddenly I was Dracula - who was actually a descendent of Attila. So I was playing one of my own children!"

One of Butler's genre projects that didn't live up to expectations was Reign of Fire, about a futuristic London decimated by dragons. "I thought it was a really good movie, and I liked my part in it, but it could have been done much better," he says. "I know many people loved Reign of Fire, but there are also those people who didn't get it all. I can understand both viewpoints. I've heard criticism, like people saying, 'It didn't have enough dragons in it!' Then others complain, 'There were too many dragons in it!' You can't bloody win, can you? I thought it was well put together. It's a shame [that it didn't do better], because it took risks and tried to be something dark and different."

Like it or not, Reign of Fire moved Butler up into the category of big-budget features. "Timeline was another big step up," Butler says. "Suddenly I'm playing the lead in a huge movie, directed by Dick Donner, with a script and a part I loved. How could I now say yes? But after filming Timeline, I said, 'That's it. I'm not doing another action movie!' Then they sent me Tomb Raider. I read the script and called them back and said, 'OK, what do I have to do?' Because I really loved the part. But these films also put me in that [leading man] category. So I have to be careful, because that's a certain type of acting, and after a while, I'll want to do something different. However, one of the advantages of big movies - besides the fact that they're lots of fun - is that they really get your name out there, and they do give you more choices."

Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, Timeline follows a group of archaeological students who travel back to 14th-century France to retrieve their professor and end up trapped in the middle of the Hundred Years' War. "It's a cool concept, and enters the realm of quantum mechanics, alternate universes, etc.," Butler says. "Many people, like Stephen Hawking, say that these things are possible - that there are alternate universes - and this movie deals with that.

"I'm Andre Marek, the assistant professor to Billy Connolly, who I did my first movie with. I head the team, but I'm also a man out of time. I know everything about that period, and it kills me that I wasn't there. Then, suddenly, I have the opportunity to go back. So we travel back and find out that it's the day of that battle, and we're immediately brought into it. It becomes a matter of survival. But at the same time, if we make certain choices in order to survive, we could change the course of history. It's a fantastic idea."


Butler's foray into big-budget features isn't over yet. While working on Cradle of Life, he was approached about starring gin director Joel Schumacher's upcoming adaptation of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. "I was in the middle of doing Tomb Raider," he says, "so I became a singing Terry Sheridan. I was walking about the halls of Pinewood Studios annoying the shit out of everybody. I've never sung anything like Phantom before. I sang in a rock band for fun when I was training as a lawyer, so I've done a bit of singing, but nothing like this.

"Joel called my agent and asked, 'Can Gerry sing?' My agent said, 'He can sing, but I don't know if he can sing what you are talking about.' There's another example of the way that I work. I was working hard on Tomb Raider, but when straight away to see a singing coach. I screeched through the first session, but at the end of it, she said, 'I'll tell you this now - you can do it.' Suddenly, this voice was coming out, and I thought, 'That's me making that sound. I'm actually holding a tune here. It sounds nice and melodic."

Now confident that he could handle the singing end of the role, Butler met with Schumacher to talk about it. "I had already had lunch with him a few months earlier in LA," Butler says. "I thought that was just a general meeting, but I guess he had me in mind at that point. We just sat there and barely talked about acting. But he did say that he really liked me in Dracula 2000, Attila and The Jury, which was a mini-series I did in the UK. Now that I think about it, all those roles really encompass the main character of the Phantom. There's a bit of Attila, a bit of Dracula and a lot of Johnnie Donne, the lost soul I played in The Jury.

"So, we had a great meeting. The night before I had read the script - which is amazing - while listening to the music, and it touched me in a very powerful way. So when I went to see Joel, I was ready to tell him all these amazing things. I thought I would kind of be begging, but then Joel said, 'You're my Phantom.' I'm not used to being 'the' guy."

Right now, having finished the soccer movie The Game of Their Lives, Butler is before the cameras offering "The Music of the Night" as Gaston Leroux's tragic Parisian. "I hadn't seen the show before but now I've watched it in London and New York and I think it's brilliant," he says. "While I was in New York doing interviews for Tomb Raider, I was also singing with a conductor, taking technical singing lessons, soccer training, working out at a gym and receiving dialect coaching, because I play an American [in Game of Their Lives]. It brought me back to those Attila days of just constantly training and having no life."

With two high-profile genre projects in release and another in production, 2003 could turn out to be The Year of Gerard Butler. "I don't know about that," he laughs. "But it's going to be interesting. The weird thing is, I'll probably miss all of it, because I'll be working. You wait for these breaks, and when they happen, you're not even there to experience them!"


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