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Category: Interviews
Article Date: March 16, 2002 | Publication: The Mirror | Author: Graeme Whitcroft

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Jury star Gerard Butler knows exactly how long it has been since he last had a drink. "I'm not counting, but it's been four years, three days and six hours," says the hunky Scots star. "I was a bit of a lad in my late teens and twenties. Basically, I drank a lot."

It meant that landing the part of juror Johnnie Donne, a recovering alcoholic who suffers torment and humiliation as he tries to shake off his addiction, brought back painful personal memories. Gerard was 28 when he realised his drinking was out of control and decided to give it up for good.

"I had a year in America and ended up getting drunk for a month solid with a bunch of Irish guys I met there," recalls Gerard, now 32, who had Hollywood success in Dracula 2000. "I was still drinking when I got back to Edinburgh. In fact, I turned up for an interview baked in every way, and still got the job! It was about then that I realised it was getting out of hand and I knew I had to do something about it. I didn't go into rehab, but I dealt with it in my own way.

"It was hard, but I did it and I don't drink now - it's not part of my life any more. It's funny, but some of the most miserable periods in my life were when I was drinking heavily and people thought I was happy. Now I'm happier, but I don't have to show it. I'm a lot more comfortable with myself.

"Reading the script for The Jury gave me the creeps because of what I went through. The part of Johnnie grabbed me and terrified me at the same time. It brought a lot of stuff back that I'd forgotten and that scared me, but it also convinced me to do it.

"It made me feel as if I was living through all the misery again. Johnnie has just got out of rehab and has nothing - before he was assertive and smart, now he's lost it and is struggling. Johnnie has to build everything up from scratch because he's lost all his friends - those he does have were drinking buddies who he can't see now. It wasn't that awful for me, but it was pretty bad and you never forget that scared feeling."

Glasgow-born Gerard could just as easily have played one of the barristers in ITV1's gripping Sunday night drama series as he is a law graduate.

"I studied for five years then trained as a lawyer for three years in Edinburgh," he says. "I enjoyed the studying, but the training was the most miserable experience I've ever had. A lot of that had to do with working in civil law. It isn't as interesting as criminal, which is where most of my university friends ended up.

"After I'd got into acting I'd often dream that I was still a lawyer and wake up depressed. It just wasn't for me. I've been in court and it really isn't that interesting. It's not the kind of life I wanted to live."

Gerard's acting career got off to a painful start when he was poked in the eye with a wooden stake during theatre rehearsals for Coriolanus. Later, while making his film debut in 1997's Oscar-nominated Mrs Brown, he ended up with hypothermia after spending hours bound naked in the freezing sea. Luckily, those mishaps haven't put him off.

Parts in Fast Food, One More Kiss and The Cherry Orchard boosted his CV. Then landing the lead in Dracula 2000 brought him to the attention of Hollywood. His other film credits include Harrison's Flowers, Shooters and the forthcoming Timeline. Meanwhile, telly addicts will recognise him from Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, A Young Person's Guide To Becoming A Rock Star and An Unsuitable Job For A Woman.

Being so much in demand, it's no wonder that the handsome star is currently single - he has barely any time to himself, let alone for anyone else. He has spent the past few months criss-crossing the Irish Sea while filming the fantasy adventure Reign Of Fire in Ireland as well as The Jury in London.

"Once I filmed all day in London and flew to Dublin to work all night - 24 hours in total," he says with a grin. "So, yes, I got pretty run down and started smoking again. But I'd rather be busy than not."

It wasn't all doom and gloom playing Johnnie in The Jury. At least his character got to have a fling with fellow juror Rose (Helen McCrory). But this week when he realises Rose is married, it sends Johnnie back into the pub. The part also made Gerard aware of how complex the legal system can appear.

"If you are a barrister or QC you deal with trials and court procedures on a daily basis," he says. "But it can be different for a juror, who has no experience of the law, when they're responsible for somebody's destiny as in a high-profile murder trial.

"It was tough just doing it as an actor - we were in the courtroom for a month solid weighing up the evidence. I hadn't realised how powerful and disturbing it can be for jurors. It can affect people's lives in a long-lasting way, even after the trial is over.

"Johnnie is thrown into this highly pressurised environment and, like a lot of his fellow jurors, he's not really capable of dealing with it. It was a difficult part for me, but it was something I had to do - even if it did bring back some terrible memories."

The Jury, Sunday, ITV1, 9.30pm.


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