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Gerard Butler

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

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Born in Glasgow, Scotland, November 13, 1969 Gerard Butler was raised (along with his older brother and sister) in his mother’s hometown of Paisley, Scotland. Gerry went on to attend Glasgow University where he studied to be a lawyer/solicitor. He served as president of the school’s law society, but found his true calling lay in the world of theatre. Gerry’s acting career began when he was approached in a London coffee shop by actor/writer/director Stephen Berkoff, who gave him a stage role in the play “Coriolanus”. Making his film debut as Billy Connolly’s younger brother in the critical smash Mrs. Brown (1997). In 2000 Gerry was cast in his breakthrough role of Attila the Hun in the USA movie Attila (2001), which was followed by another title role in Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 (2000). Other noteworthy work includes Harrison’s Flowers (2000), Reign of Fire (2002) and this year’s smash Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, opposite Oscar winner Angelina Jolie.

Gerry’s latest foray on the big screen is Richard Donner’s Timeline, based on Michael Crichton’s novel about a group of archaeology students who travel back to 14th century France to save their professor who’s become stranded there as a result of a top secret project. The Paramount release also stars David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, Paul Walker, Frances O’Connor, Billy Connolly, Michael Sheen and Ethan Embry. It opens November 26.

Gerard Butler spoke to Venice by phone from London where he is filming the title role in Joel Schmacher’s movie Phantom of the Opera.

Venice: Tell us what it was like traveling back through time with Richard Donner in Timeline:

Gerard Butler: You know, I actually haven’t talked about Timeline for so long, and it was over a year and a half ago when I did it, that I hope I can remember what the hell I did do on it! (laughs). Please bear with me okay?

Tell us about working with Dick Donner:

Gerard Butler:He’s such a gentleman, all about having fun on the set. What was so amazing to me was, this guy made all these movies tha6 I grew up on, even before I thought about being an actor. Movies like Superman, Lethal Weapon, and you just look at them and thank how cool it would be to be part of something like that. I actually got the call to audition for Timeline when I was in Ireland doing Reign of Fire, and they flew me over to L.A. for the day. Dick and I had such fun during that screen test. I knew right then I wanted to do this film because I knew I would have so much fun with Dick (beat) I can’t believe I just said that…(laughs)

Venice:We’ll put it in the appropriate context, don’t worry.

Gerard Butler:He was great, though. There’s nobody who’s been around the block more than him and I mean that with the utmost respect, so you knew what you were going to get. It was all about having fun for him, although logistically it was a very tough shoot for us all. It was such a huge ensemble cast that he had all these actors to deal with, but he handled it brilliantly. Dick’s just in love with people.

Venice:This was kind of a reunion for you and Billy Connolly.

Gerard Butler:Yeah, Billy and I did Mrs. Brown, which was my first film. We both had to run naked in the middle of November into the sea, and it was so cold, let me tell you! Then we had to come out when they yelled cut, and look down at our shriveled up peckers! We weren’t impressing anyone, I can tell you (laughs).

Venice: Okay rule number one: no more “dick” in this interview

Gerard Butler:Oh, well it seems to come back to “dick” somehow doesn’t it? But I assure you, I’m completely heterosexual!

Venice: The movie has an amazing cast. Did you all get on well?

Gerard Butler:Yeah it was actually quite a bonding experience for us all. David Thewlis, who’s just the most amazing actor, is one of the gentlest, nicest guys around. You’d expect him to be a bit of a prick because his work is so brilliant, but nothing could be further from the truth. Anna Friel, who was my love interest, but is actually David’s girlfriend, is just hilarious, a total cut-up. And Neal McDonough and I became great mates. I actually went down to Boston and hung out with him and his family. They’re all a bunch of mad Irishmen. We partied a lot down there. Scots and the Irish get along great. It was like a Kennedy reunion! Our main thing that weekend was buying hundreds of golf balls and hitting then into the Cape and seeing if we could hit little boys in their boats.

Venice: You have an interesting background. You actually were going to be a lawyer when you took up acting.

Gerard Butler:Yeah I took a year off from it after law school and became a bit of a renegade, then came back and went into training with a firm to become a lawyer. That was one of the blackest periods of my life because I knew my heart and my physical body were going in two different directions. I was a week away from qualifying and they let me go very quickly. I was just insane. I was never going to be a lawyer. I had no enthusiasm. The day after that happened, I decided to follow my dream, since I had nothing left to lose, and I packed up and left for London and decided to go for it. I had some not very pleasant jobs for a while, and then I met Stephen Berkoff through a casting director I was working for. Stephen took my under his wing and that was amazing. I was just like a little sponge. He cast me in Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”, and not long after that I got cast in the lead of the theatrical version of Trainspotting. From that I got my first agent and it wqs all a bit of a dream start, really.

Venice: How did you like doing Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life with Angelina Jolie?

Gerard Butler:That was a great time, and it originally wasn’t something that I was interested in doing. I was always interested in working with Angie, but I 5thought after doing Timeline, I wasn’t really too keen on going the action route again. But the script was so good and my character was so kick-ass that I knew I had to put some effort into it. Once I get into something I commit to it completely and can’t do it half-assed. When I met Angie at the audition, the minute she walked in, we just clicked and she made the process so easy for me, reading with a great actress rather than a casting director. Angie’s really cool, very down-to-earth. Very funny.

Venice: Looking at your filmography, you seem to have a penchant for playing iconic characters: Attila the Hun, Dracula, and now Phantom of the Opera.

Gerard Butler:Yeah I know. And next year I think I’m playing Robert Burns, the Scottish bard! I’d love to giv3e you some philosophical answer to explain it all, but the truth is, I have no idea! (laughs).

Venice: I also heard rumors that you’re a contender to play the new James Bond when Pierce Brosnan hangs up the tux.

Gerard Butler:Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of those rumors myself, but I’m afraid I can’t confirm them. I’m not in talks with anybody. It’s always funny to hear about it, though. One time it extended to your side of the waters and made it to the news. CNBC, I think, ran a story, then someone told me that CNN reported that I’d been named the next Bond! It was late at night and I was sitting in this shitty little flat I’d bought with what I made on “Attila” thinking to myself, “Here’s newcasters in America thinking that I’m the new Bond, when in fact I’m sitting in this crappy little flat, pissed that my washing machine doesn’t work and two of my lamps are busted! (laughs). Those rumors tend to go in waves, so when Tomb Raider came out, that was a very Bond-like character, so I heard a lot more of them then. Plus if you’re British and an actor, of a certain age, you seem to get swept up in the James Bond rumors. And really, I’d never try to step up and challenge the legacy that Sean Connery left. He always will be, to me, the one and only true Bond.

Tell us about Phantom. How’s it coming along?

Gerard Butler:Well, I think this is when I function best: when I take on a huge challenge and just set my mind to doing it. This roles requires a very specific type of singing, and most people who’ve performed it on the stage have had a huge amount of vocal training, which I’ve never had. I started taking singing lessons when I first heard I was going to be meeting with Joel, around the time I was doing Tomb Raider. I had a fantastic meeting with Joel and felt the script was so fantastic and poignant and I knew I just had to do it. I carried on training vocally for quite a while before I knew whether I had the part or not, even during times I was shooting other films.

Venice: Sounds a bit schizophrenic.

Gerard Butler:Very much so, but that just the nature of the beast. Plus, I’ve done all these films back-to-back recently. It’s not always ideal, but it’s what you have to do. But now, I’ve never been more excited about a project than I am about Phantom. It just feels like we’re making something special.

Venice: Tell us about working with Joel Schumacher.

Gerard Butler:Just fantastic. Joel’s an incredibly intelligent man, and you look at his body of work, he casts his films absolutely brilliantly. He also very much trusts his actors in what the can bring to the role. And that confidence has helped immeasurably in my playing the Phantom, because this is a very difficult role. Joel’s just a blast. He’s lovely to his cast and crew and he’s another one of those people that I feel like a sponge around. I hop I never lose that feeling.


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