Gerard Butler is in a great mood. I ask him how he is and he goes on for a few minutes explaining how he was being fitted for costumes for his next movie Michael Crichton\’s Timeline that afternoon, how he trained at the gym, and how he is attending, on average, one and a half plays a day while in London. Earlier that week, he says he was in northern England with the man who\’s making all the longbows for Timeline and was shown how to work one.
Butler made a splash with the movie-going public in Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 with the title role of the dark prince himself. North American audiences saw him in the mini-series Attila, that aired in January 2001 on the USA Network. But with such great exposure in a short time, the aftermath left Butler feeling a little at a loss.
“In the new year of 2001, I went into a bit of a depression. It was almost a bit anti-climatic after Dracula (2000) and Attila,” he reflects.
“And suddenly I signed onto this amazing agency (CAA) and my first two auditions were just awful, dreadful. Then I went in and read for Michael Apted (director of Enigma and The World is Not Enough) for Enough (a Jennifer Lopez vehicle) and I had two fantastic auditions,” Butler\’s voice rises in excitement. “I thought \’All right, this is the one. This is all mine.\’ And basically, my agent said \’Alright we\’ll get the offer\’ and it never fucking happened,” he pauses and then adds, sounding a little starstruck “I was almost playing opposite Jennifer Lopez.”
He was out in Dublin shooting the blockbuster Reign of Fire, sitting around telling Matthew McConaughey, who plays the leader of the American dragon-fighting team, about the role when a letter from Apted arrived on set for him. It contained some nice things about Butler.
“So often you don\’t get a part and that\’s that. That\’s all you hear about it. (Apted) really went out of his way. It was a crackin\’ letter. So,” he drawls “I\’ve had it blown up 25 times and now it\’s stuck to my ceiling,” he chuckles at his own joke.
Audiences are currently eating up fantasy films like Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. So when Reign of Fire is released this summer it should only whet the appetites of those waiting for the next installments of Rings and Potter.
“(Director) Rob Bowman\’s idea was to take a situation, which to us as human beings, is just far-fetched. But if you can make that believable and draw the audience in then that is the main purpose of doing that kind of movie. If you can take something that is so out there and insane, if you can bring it right into somebody\’s, you know, vision, and make them really believe they are living in this environment, this world, so then they are scared shitless rather than people just going along to see some fancy effects. In a movie with this big of budget you know you\’re going to see some amazing stuff. (The budget for this film was $80M, at last report) But it\’s got to be more than that you know, and I think that\’s what we were trying to do in this really.”
He describes it as cross between Alien and Mad Max where the Earth has been destroyed by pre-historic lizards.
“They feed off of, well, basically everything. They burn the grass, they burn the trees, they burn all the vegetation, they burn buildings and they burn people. But eventually they multiple so rapidly and they burn so much that they starve themselves out again, and disappear again for a long period. And we are unfortunate enough to live in a time when they\’ve come back,” he adds giggling “or fortunate enough or otherwise there would have been no movie.”
Butler plays Creedy who he describes as a street-wise entrepreneur who, if he were living in 2002, would be running a gang of small-time crooks. He insists that Creedy is a good guy who always tries to make things work with everybody.
“Christian Bale (American Psycho) and I, we\’re like best mates. We\’re the ones who come up with this plan that we all should end up in this castle and that the most important thing we have to do is we have to discipline ourselves in every way and make rules that nobody can break because this is the only way we\’re all going to get through this.”
Creedy, he explains, brings the film back down to earth. Creedy questions what is going on.
“That\’s me in this movie, y\’know? Somebody to say \’Can you believe this is happening?\’ and somebody who\’s willing to laugh at the situation. I would hope that I bring some humor into the movie.”
Although Reign of Fire doesn\’t sound like it lends itself to a lot of humorous moments, Butler does look for roles that do. That\’s not to say he wants to be the next Jim Carrey.
“I love nutty roles; those roles that you can climb into and give a lot of color too. It might be some off-beat wacky, low-budget script, and I might just say \’oh my god, I have to do this.”
Ariel Vromen\’s short film Jewel of the Sahara comes to mind, in which he plays a British Army captain that gets kicked to death while screwing a camel.
“I haven\’t really chosen my roles on the money available. I\’ve done movies that for what to me is a lot of money. And I\’ve done movies for nothing because I like them and because I wanted to work.”
In preparing to play his characters, Gerard says he tends to draw from his own experiences.
His latest project “The Jury”, is a mini-series which is currently airing in the U.K. on Sundays, and has him playing Johnnie Donne, a recovering alcoholic. Without the formal training of drama school Butler relies on himself to get into character.
“I spent so much time just in my own head. Just kind of memories, just kind of going into myself and I became so worked up and stressed out. But it worked perfectly for the part. When I finished I thought that to me was very much the right approach.”
Butler is a person who takes things to the extreme. “I\’m a clean person for three days and then I\’m a slob for the next four. I\’m like that in everything. I\’m completely one and then I\’m completely the other you know? My flat right now is really not bad. I spent a lot of time today throwing out shit and folding this and folding that and putting this away. But there are days when I walk in …it\’s like everything. I\’m either dieting or I\’m eating like a pig. I\’m either working out or I wouldn\’t want to see the gym for a million years. I\’m smoking 50 cigarettes a day, or I\’ve stopped. Currently, I\’ve stopped. I\’ve stopped on Monday, yet again,” he says like he just can\’t believe it. “Or I\’m being Mr. Tidy and I\’m making sure every jacket is hung up and everything is put away and then as soon as one thing goes on the floor, that\’s the precedent and everything else just lies on top of it for the next few days until I get really upset.”
The extreme behavior helped him prepare for the role of Johnnie. “A lot of my research just goes in my head,” he begins slowly, then as he continues on the words fly out of his mouth, “walking about, constantly thinking what about this, what about that, what would he wear, what would he do, how would he be, what would he like. And you start to build a character that way.”
The extremes Butler goes to and the wild times in his life help him to find something in his characters that he can relate too. “I have lived a varied life and I feel that when I do something I can draw on past experiences. I\’ve come to really cherish that; cherish every color that I have instead of fight against it. Any success that I have had is because of me, Gerry Butler, who has loved right up to this day, every good and bad thing he\’s ever done. And that\’s what informs me as an actor.”
He seems so sure of his abilities but those moments of surety always seem to be backed up by humbleness. “If I look at what landed me Attila, what landed me Dracula, I went in with something, in my view, that could have easily been deemed as a pile of shit. But it turned out to be exactly what they were looking for. And therefore through my six years I\’ve learned to trust my own instinct much more. But it\’s constantly changing and evolving which makes me always excited and always nervous as well. Every time I get a job I think \’what the hell am I going to do about this one\’, ya know? And every time I notice I have different ways (to develop the character) depending on the job.”
What has helped him to stay grounded and land the roles he wants is to treat acting like a job and not a dream or fantasy. “I didn\’t find I got on as quickly in my career as when I cut all the bullshit and said alright I want to do this because I\’m good enough and it takes away a lot of the kind of flighty, fanciful, more fun and dreamy elements of being an actor. But at the same time you get the opportunity to play those parts you know?”
Up next for Gerard is Michael Crichton’s Timeline.
“When I first read the script I thought I\’m not Andre Marek and it just shows you how wrong you can be. Cause that was one of the things they said when they gave me the job was \’you are the most perfect Andre Marek, we don\’t even think of Andre Marek now, we think of you.\’ And I find that very bizarre because originally upon imagining I just thought he\’s not me, he\’s somebody else. He\’s a very serious kind of dull guy. But in the end that wasn\’t what they were looking for. They were looking for someone with a bit of spark.”
He is preparing for his role in the Richard Donner film, slated to start shooting in Montreal, Canada, this spring.
With the sound of banging pots and running water in the background, I ease him into the whole James Bond rumor mill. He is less than enthused to talk about it. Last spring the British press named Gerard as the next actor to step into the 007 persona. The international media went nuts. Everyone from CNN to www.darkhorizons.com reported this. Gerard may have fueled the fire when he jokingly proclaimed on an early morning talk show, that the only way he\’d be the next Bond is if Scottish politician Anne Widdecomb could be his Bond girl.
As recently as January the rumors have persisted with whisperings of meetings with Eon Productions. Gerard\’s back is up and he says he has never had any open discussions about his playing the next Bond. He does say though that he has met with the president of production for MGM and they talked about various upcoming projects.
“Being an actor, being Scottish, being successful, makes you perfect Bond fodder, I think.”
Gerard spent seven years of his life training to become a lawyer, but a week before he became a full-fledged lawyer he walked away from the law to take up acting.
“I was a week from finishing when I was called into the boss\’s office and was fired,” he states flatly. But he wasn\’t really concerned. He had already made an unconscious decision to leave law. He hadn\’t applied to work anywhere and didn\’t really care that he was about to be unemployed. And admittedly he wasn\’t even good at his then-chosen profession that he had just dedicated the last seven years of his life to.
Gerard says the fact that they had given up on him gave him a good kick in the ass and left him with a blank sheet. Literally, the next day he left for London and begun to do what he really wanted to do, act.
“Things wouldn\’t have happened for me the way they did,” he reflects.
The whole time he was training as a lawyer he was a wild child. It was during this time that he was part of a rock band called Speed. The mere mention of it brings Gerard around and once again he is in playful mood.
“God! I\’d love to play in a rock band again!” He laughs excitedly as he races over to his stereo pops and searches for Speed\’s demo tape. He plays a few bars to a song called “Going Down Slow.” It\’s edgy, guitar-driven beats echo through the flat and across the phone lines. The vocals are solid and could be a fairly strong single even now. The song was written about Gerry by one of his best mates, the lead guitarist.
“It\’s about experiencing the more dubious pleasures in life as you crash and burn,” you can hear the grin spreading across his face.
With Gerard on lead vocals, he was backed by two friends from university, three other lawyers and one was “just a freak,” he laughs.
“We did some fantastic gigs, gigs like they were straight out of The Doors movie. They were just blinding packed and sweating. Dancing on tables and chairs and swinging and falling,” his words come fast. “It was just wonderful and I love the band.”
He said singing and performing live was a buzz but a different kind of a buzz that one gets performing in theatre.
Gerard calls theatre a more fulfilling style of acting and says it is a great base to build any technique off of. Although he started his career in theatre, he doesn\’t have any plans to tread the boards any time soon.
“Right now I\’m on a roll in films and I think it would be stupid to walk away from that.”