His last two big movies have been Tomb Raider 2 and Timeline, but don’t hold that against him. Gerard Butler was the best thing in both those movies, and the tall, dark and handsome Scottish actor is on the verge of big things. Refreshingly down-to-earth, the 34 year-old is about to go mega as the title character in Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera. But he was out in Cannes to talk about sweet fable, Dear Frankie, in which Emily Mortimer plays a single mother with a deaf-mute son, who recruits a handsome stranger (Butler) to pretend to be the child’s father. The film played here in Un Certain Regard and, amazingly, received a ten-minute standing ovation at its official screening…
How did you get involved?
I was doing Tomb Raider and I was training for Phantom and I was crazy. I picked up the script, read a few pages, said ‘that’s not for me’ and threw it away. In hindsight, now I see the beauty of the piece. But I re-read it and thought ‘what was I thinking of?’ There’s an incredible realism to this movie that, at first, I didn’t have time for. It’s a beautifully-crafted fairytale, but in realistic terms. From that on, it just blew me away.
You’re not the only one. That ten-minute standing ovation was something else…
I’ve never seen a reaction like that to any movie I’ve been to. Everybody was crying. A thousand people up in the galleries. It was all the more beautiful because we didn’t even know if they’d like the movie, you know? This is France and they’re a tough crowd. In some ways, it’s a gentle movie, but in other ways, it’s a risk. There’s a fine line between being whole-hearted and schmaltzy and then adding some darkness there.
You were cast as the rough diamond in this. Yet he’s quite noble, your character (The Stranger), like a stranger coming into town in a Western.
I’ve played a lot of characters like this. I don’t want to give too much away about the movie, but I love that, what you said about him being like a stranger coming into town like in a Western. I actually thought he could be a contract killer. If you dip into the movie at the point where I come into the restaurant for the first time, to meet the mother, this could just as easily be a hit. Because that’s as much as I give away. What happens after that is not necessarily what you might expect, but in a gentle way, so that you don’t feel duped.
How was it working with Emily Mortimer?
She’s the coolest chick on the planet. Everybody that meets her, and I’ve hung out with her a lot now, just falls in love with her. And she doesn’t try to do that!
And of course you work with a young Scottish lad, Jack McElhone…
Jack’s a character. I learned a lot from Jack, believe it or not. Because that kid just turns up and does whatever he thinks is right. He’s not bound by any rules. Sometimes you could think he didn’t give a shit about the movie, which he actually did, because he worked very hard. But he had this cocky laissez-faire attitude, like he’d rather be playing football or eating sweets off to the side or punching the hell out of the focus puller rather than sitting down in front of the camera and doing the scene. Sometimes I had to be the strong hand there and be like ‘sit the fuck down and do this’ and that helped the father/son thing. But he’s great. He’s very understated. He’s playing a deaf kid and a mute kid and going through a lot but I watched him a lot and thought ‘that’s so brave of you, to do nothing in that scene.’ He’s going to be a big star.