Gerard Butler

April 7th, 2013 Film, M2 Magazine, Personalities

Whether it’s acting, loving or pursuing his career, Gerard Butler’s never done anything by halves, as Drew Turney finds out.

“I don’t imagine people seeing me as a macho figure until somebody brings it up. Now you’ve mentioned it I say to myself ‘is that how people see me?'”

That’s Gerard Butler, the 43-year-old actor who’s conquered Hollywood both as a brawny action movie star and a knee-weakening romantic lead. Suddenly we wonder if starting the interview by mentioning his rough and tumble he-man status was a good idea. “I didn’t want to just be seen as a lump of meat. After 300 I was being offered a lot of action movies and it was a dangerous time because I don’t want to be ‘the action guy’.”

As such, the Scotsman has been working hard to expand into areas moviegoers don’t normally associate him with. He first appeared on the big screen as Billy Connolly’s brother in Her Majesty Mrs Brown, frolicking in the freezing surf, and aside from his high profile work in 300 and romantic comedies The Bounty Hunter and The Ugly Truth, he’s played Dracula (2000), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), voiced a family film (How To Train Your Dragon, 2010), appeared in a kids’ film (Nim’s Island, 2008) headlined a worthy ‘issues’ movie (Machine Gun Preacher, 2011) and even done Shakespeare (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, 2011).

In Playing For Keeps, he goes back to reliable territory playing George, a former soccer star who’s fallen on hard times and finds new balance in his life by coaching his son’s suburban soccer team. Not doing Butler any favours if he wants to shake his man-meat image, George is the proverbial cat among the pigeons of the bored, lascivious or lonely housewives around the neighbourhood.

A handsome ruffian and serial loverboy with a charming accent who has women falling at his feet – is art imitating life or the other way around? Earlier in the discussion he’s already said he can relate to a guy who has a bit of growing up to do, so where exactly does Butler end and George begin?

“I’m a big kid in good ways and in bad ways,” he says. “There’s always a part of you that thinks ‘I’ve really got to grow up’. But being a big kid is what keeps you excited, passionate and creative.”

Butler won’t say whether he’s referring to the long string of beauties linked to him over the last few years, and he bristles a little when we bring up the rumour about his co-star Jessica Biel. It’s been reported widely online (attributed only to someone close to the actor) that the two had a relationship while filming Playing For Keeps, and that Butler regrets letting Biel go, fearing she was ‘the one’.

“It’s complete rubbish,” Butler says with a roll of his eyes, “I don’t know where these things come from. Why would somebody do that when she just got married? It’s kind of cruel.”

He’s less reticent to talk about his history of alcohol abuse, although he’s said it’s ancient history more than once (‘I haven’t even sipped a drink of alcohol for 15 years’). His assurances haven’t stopped the tabloids latching onto an oft-repeated quote from radaronline.com where he says he went from ‘a 16-year-old who couldn’t wait to grasp life to a 22-year-old who didn’t care if he died in his sleep’.

“There is a large part of our society that loves to drink,” he now says of his fellow Brits. “It’s been an expression of theirs for thousands of years. But when you stop drinking you also realise there’s a massive part of society that just like a little tipple. When you’re in the midst of it it’s hard to see where you draw the line between social and problem drinking.”

But the hounds pounced again in February 2012 when it was revealed he’d checked himself into the famed Betty Ford Center rehabilitation clinic for an addiction to painkillers. The actor’s suffered back pain since the grueling 300 shoot, and a surfing injury while filming Chasing Mavericks late last year tipped him over the edge.

So the alcohol comments were all dragged out again for a whole new cycle of gossip. “Most of the press is lovely,” he says, “but if it bleeds, it leads. If it isn’t real they’ll just make it up. This joy in other’s failure nurtures negativity, it’s not the nicest part of the business.”

Still, the same thing that led him to his addictions might be the reason he’s a successful actor talking about his latest movie today. “An addictive personality is why I’m here,” he says. “I’ve been obsessive about my career and when you set a focus on something, positive or negative, there’s a very good chance you’re going to get there.”

Butler’s efforts are indeed paying off like many of his countrymen. Last year there was a flurry of reporting in the movie press (and hand-wringing in the US media) about how many great American superheroes were being played by Brits and Australians. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale had already proven themselves as the brutal Wolverine and the tortured Batman in the X-Men and Batman franchises, and when two more iconic American hero roles went to UK actors (Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man and Henry Cavill as Superman in the upcoming Man Of Steel), it raised eyebrows.

“There’s enormous talent both from musical acts and actors,” Butler says about being made a little differently in the British Isles. “There’s a lot of talent in America but there’s a pool that tends to be kind of the same. You get something slightly fresher when you bring in an Australian or a Brit.”

Could the moods of those stories be true – America is suffering a dearth of real men the rest of the English speaking world still manages to breed into its blokes? “Americans would be bigger than your average Scot but when it comes to a gravitas and an emotional maturity I think Europeans have it,” Butler adds. “There’s often just something heavier about UK guys, they’re more naturally grown up.”

It makes you wonder if Butler will ever shake the yoke of ‘action star’. Even though he’s played a softer, sensitive side many times before it’s hard to imagine those twinkling eyes, rugged frame and disheveled hair in many other moulds. “My first role was Attila the Hun. The summary from the casting director described him as ferocious, violent, intense and fiery. I was told they wanted that from an actor the second he walked into the room. How do you walk into a room and look ferocious and violent and virile and dangerous?”

Apparently modest when it comes to his ability to do so, Butler aced the audition and the 2001 TV movie Attila was his big break. So whether it’s being handcuffed to Jennifer Aniston in a rom-com or gritting his teeth to roar ‘This…is…Sparta!’, ferocious is a word we’ll equate with Gerard Butler no matter what he does next.


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