This time, Dracula is a Glaswegian. As the curtains are raised tomorrow on Wes Craven’s latest gorefest, Dracula 2001, it won’t be the grim, powdered face of Christopher Lee staring back at the whimpering audience. Instead, it will be that of Gerard Butler, a teetotal, former solicitor from Glasgow, who quit the law to become a film star.
It is an unlikely story. But with the starring role in Dracula already under his belt and Bond series producer, Barbara Broccoli shortlisting him as a potential 007 when Brosnan quits the martinis, 31-year-old Butler’s successes read like a fairytale.
And the roles keep coming. With parts in forthcoming sci-fi flick, Reign of Fire and Michael Crichton’s latest outing, Timeline, also in the bag, Butler is now being tipped to follow fellow-Scot Ewan McGregor into the Hollywood big -time.
Although born in Glasgow, Butler, who is the youngest of three children, spent much of his early life in Canada where his father worked as an accountant. But his memories of those early years are marked by the pain of his parents’ divorce. His alcoholic father drifted out of his life when Butler was four and only returned 12 years later. Despite problems at home, Butler shone in the classroom, becoming head boy before earning a place to study law at Glasgow University.
But Butler never aspired to a career as a solicitor. Passionate about the stage from an early age and consummating his love as a 12-year-old playing a street urchin in Oliver! at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow, Butler instead dreamed of becoming an actor.
So, finally deciding that his job in an Edinburgh law firm was leading him nowhere, Butler decided to take a new tack. He gave up drink – which he admits he turned to during his frustrating years as a lawyer – and his job, and set about fulfilling his dream.
“I knew a casting director, who tried to put me off by telling me that I was crazy,” he explains. “But for me it was almost because I had lost my vision that I was willing to take risks.”
Shocking family and friends with his surprise decision, Butler still remembers his mother’s tears when he broke the news to her. “My mum was very, very upset,” Butler explains. “I was her golden boy. She had been so proud, telling everyone that her son was going to be a lawyer and then suddenly he wasn’t going to be a lawyer after all and I think she was very embarrassed and hurt.”
But after a brief stint in London, working as everything from a waiter to a clockwork toy demonstrator, Butler had his big break while helping out on the set of Steven Berkoff’s production of Coriolanus. Spotted by Berkoff in the cafe, Butler asked if he could read for the play. Berkoff was impressed and Butler bagged the part.
And soon he was on a roll. With the part of Mark Renton in the stage version of Trainspotting following soon afterwards, Butler quickly focused his attentions on the big screen, making his debut as Billy Connolly’s brother in the Oscar-winning Mrs Brown. Fast earning a reputation as a potential leading man, he even managed to wow the film’s crew by saving a young boy, who had fallen into the River Tay.
Subsequently scooping a one-line part in Tomorrow Never Dies, the 6ft 2in actor went on to take the lead role in US TV series, Attila the Hun – for which he had to don a beard and hair extensions.
Auditioning for the role of Dracula the day before filming for Attila began in Lithuania, Butler, who was still largely unknown at the time, was not the casting director’s first choice for the role of the infamous bloodsucker. But by hassling Miramax for three months via his mobile phone, he eventually secured the role. “Dracula is the ultimate bad-ass,” he jokes. “Especially for the guys. He can do pretty much what he wants and yet there’s a depth to him as well.”
But with Dracula now on his CV, this Glaswegian may not be coming home. “I bought a place down in London last January, but I’ve only spent Interviews days there because I have been out in LA so often,” explains Butler. “Well, that’s where the work is these days.”
Copyright 2001 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.