Says Dracula 2001 star;Gerard Butler is a law unto himself when it comes to auditions
GLASGOW actor Gerard Butler has just landed the lead role in the new Michael Crichton film Timeline and, to put it mildy, he’s thrilled.
Not just because it’s a Hollywood blockbuster, which is expected to be one of next year’s big hits, but because this time he gets to play the hero.
Butler admits he was starting to worry about what it was that casting directors saw in him. He has, after all, just finished playing two of the most thoroughly villainous characters.
Later this month he will be seen as the Prince of Darkness in Dracula 2001 and he went straight to that from playing Attila the Hun in the mini-series Attila.
“It’s funny,” he laughs, “normally when I audition I’m very lively and friendly. I wonder what it was they saw that made them think that I was right for two of the most evil characters under the sun.”
Life is good for the 31-year-old at the moment. Attila was the second highest -rated mini-series on US TV last year and although Dracula 2001 wasn’t the hit people were hoping for it did Butler no harm at all.
On the back of the vampire movie he landed a leading role opposite Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale in Reign of Fire, a huge science-fantasy movie shooting in Ireland, and he has just been cast in Timeline.
On top of that his name has been linked with the role of James Bond once Pierce Brosnan decides to hang up his Walther PPK.
The Bond producers say, quite rightly, that Pierce is Bond for as long as he chooses to be, but it does no harm to Butler’s career to be linked with that kind of role.
With his Byronic good looks and his easy screen manner Butler is classic leading man material.
Butler’s first movie role was as Billy Connolly’s younger brother in Mrs Brown. Before that he was busy qualifying as a solicitor.
He has an honours degree in law from Glasgow University but he always knew that the world of writs and conveyancing was not for him.
“I just decided, almost overnight, that I didn’t want to do it any more,” he explains. “I was like a crazy person. I couldn’t imagine working as a solicitor. I was near the end of my training and didn’t have a job lined up but I knew the firm I was with weren’t going to keep me on. So it really was a case of ‘just do it’.”
Butler had wanted to be an actor since he was a child. He used to cajole his mum, Margaret, to take him to auditions. At the age of 12 he played an urchin in Oliver! at the Kings in Glasgow, then he spent a summer at a residential course with the Scottish Youth Theatre.
At school he told the careers officer he wanted to be an actor and she dismissed it out of hand.
Eventually he ended up studying law, still unhappy, and ultimately destined for London.
His first priority was mere survival, but once he settled in to the process of looking for work, he struck it lucky very quickly.
“I had no agent, no money, nothing. But my first audition was for Steven Berkoff.”
Butler was supposed to be helping the casting director but he approached Berkoff in the coffee bar, told him how much he liked his work, and asked to read for a part. He got the job and ended up appearing in Coriolanus.
“My second audition came while we were rehearsing Coriolanus,” he carries on. ”One of the actors told me they were auditioning for the play Trainspotting, so I went along and ended up playing Mark Renton.
“That was strange. The year before I had seen someone else playing the part and it was breaking my heart because I knew I could do it,” he shrugs. “One year later I was.”
Butler knows that talent is not enough in his line of work, you need luck as well. He is lucky in that when he approached that careers mistress with ambitions for a life on stage the only parts available to Scots were as drunks or hardmen. That has changed.
Such stars as Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, and Robbie Coltrane mean that a film career is now a viable option for a young Scots actor.
“I feel like the baby brother of that generation,” he says frankly. “When those guys started making it I was still practising law. I was a trainee solicitor when Trainspotting came out.”
On his own admission it is only really in the past 12 months that things have started to take off for Gerard Butler. Now he aims to make the most of his chances.
“I wonder how much of it was just trying not to listen to the negativity,” he says of his decision to make the great leap of faith. “You can have a dream and then reality kicks back in – I think it’s quite a Scottish thing to say ‘Oh I couldn’t do that’.
“So I think, for me, it was all about learning to suspend that bit and give it a try. You just have to try not to imagine anything other than succeeding.”
lDracula 2001 (15) opens in Glasgow on June 15.
Copyright 2001 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited