Ambition Burns for new star

April 1, 2000 | Interviews

After his blooding in the latest Dracula film Scottish actor Gerard Butler
wants to play Robert Burns, writes Phil Miller

Gerard Butler has Hollywood at his feet, Tinseltown producers hammering on his door and the cream of Los Angeles’ talent scouts besieging his mobile phone. As he sits in his new LA apartment, however, he is thinking only of Alloway, the Highlands and Rabbie Burns.

Just three years ago Butler, now 30, was an unhappy trainee solicitor in Edinburgh when he decided to throw inhis law career and move to London to seek his fortune as an actor.

Things happened faster than he might have imagined and suddenly he had been plucked from obscurity to play the lead role in America’s Christmas movie blockbuster, Dracula 2000, produced by leading horror director Wes Craven and the makers of Scream.

Already Dracula 2000 sits at No 7 in the US box office top 10, having taken more than $6m in its first weekend.

But as the film opened, Butler’s mind was already elsewhere as he began lobbying to star as his hero, Robert Burns, in Clarinda, a biopic produced by Highlander star James Cosmo. Butler, who lives in London as well as LA, is desperate to star as the bard.

Equipped with a real Scottish accent, he thinks he has a chance to snatch the Burns role away from American actors linked to the role, such as Johnny Depp.

For the immediate future, though, Butler will have to be content with completing his next film, the big-budget, special-effects-laden Reign of Fire.

This film, also starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale, concerns a war between humans and fire-breathing dragons that have emerged from the earth’s core to rule the world.

Butler will play the best friend of hero Bale in the film, which will begin filming in March 2001 on location in Dublin, Wicklow and Northern Ireland. He describes the movie as a bit “bizarre”, but it represents another rung up on the ladder.

Some people in Hollywood, including the producer Bob Weinstein, are grooming Butler as the next big Scots actor to tread the path marked out by Ewan McGregor and Dougray Scott. He now hopes this will help put him firmly in the frame to depict Burns.

Vadim Jean, whose films include One More Kiss and Leon the Pig Farmer, will direct Clarinda and has spoken to Butler about the part.

The actor says: “Vadim is a good friend of mine, we have talked about it and he knows I would kill for the chance to play Burns. I would absolutely love to but how can I compete against Johnny Depp? The only advantage I have over him is that I am Scottish.”

Butler says he is inspired by the poet because he believes their love lives are similar.

The film, to be made by Alloway Films, is based on the love letters exchanged between Burns and Agnes McElhose, who was known as Clarinda. Butler says he had a similar lengthy postal love affair with a “French woman” and adds: “There’s a few similarities between us – I’m much better at long-distance relationships than those more close-up.”

A source close to the Burns film said that Alloway Films were still hoping Depp, seen recently in Sleepy Hollow, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Ninth Gate, would be able to play the part. “If they cannot get Depp, they will have to cast the net wider and I’m sure Butler would be a possibility,” the source added.

Cosmo is a friend of Butler’s, having worked with him on the set of One More Kiss, and chuckled at his ambition.

He said that his ideal Burns had not yet been cast, and added: “Nothing is set in stone at the moment, it’s all up for grabs – there are quite a few famous names in the frame, but nothing has been decided at all. Gerry is a nice boy, and of course we could consider him for the part of Burns.”

Butler was spotted for the role of Dracula after taking the lead role in an American television series about Attila the Hun. Dimension Films spent some time trying to find the ideal actor for the part and producers constantly came back to Butler, after his impressive work on Attila.

Butler, filming in the Baltic, also kept reminding them of his presence with regular calls from his mobile phone. Then, after nearly four months of waiting, he won his first major role.

Since he gave up law, he also has starred as Archie Brown, John Brown’s brother, in Mrs Brown and had small parts in Tomorrow Never Dies and One More Kiss.

The plot of Dracula 2000 is as grittily realistic and thoughtful as any modern horror film – that is, not at all.

In this version, the vampire has accidentally been reawakened after a hundred years in captivity and finds himself in modern New Orleans. Dracula’s traditional foe, Van Helsing, played by Christopher Plummer, returns to hunt him down, aided by a young apprentice, played by Jonny Lee Miller.

Butler considers Dracula 2000, directed by Craven’s protégé Patrick Lussie, as more of an action movie than a traditional horror film, and is looking forward to its British release in March.

His sudden success has led to the actor adopting a reflective attitude towards the vagaries of fame. “It’s been playing on my mind,” he admits. I think a lot of it [getting the Dracula part] was perseverance – and when I went to audition for the role, I was doing Attila and I was so pumped full of adrenalin, I was a bit nuts.

“It took three and a half months for them to pick me, but it’s been a huge job for me to get.”

Whatever his reservations, his success means the lifestyle of this garrulous and friendly man is a long way from the dreary legal offices of Edinburgh.

“I disliked working as a lawyer; it was a time of real soul-searching for me. I was wondering whether it was really my calling,” Butler says. “Since then my life has been unbelievable, and here I am sitting in Los Angeles – but I don’t take it for granted.”

And as for being the next Scottish superstar? Butler laughs.

“I think the Scots are a good bunch of people, personally, they seem to have an energy that makes them do well in all areas of life. I think we can be personable and fun, and that comes out in our acting – I try to be as appealing as possible.”

He’s keeping his fingers crossed that this very appeal will land him the role he most covets.

Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Publication: The Sunday Times (UK)
Author: Phil Miller

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