Gerard Butler produced one of the worst Irish accents of all time in ‘PS I Love You’, so why is he now playing a leprechaun, asks Stephen Milton
Well bejaysus and begorrah, Hollywood’s not been the kindest to us Irish.
To be sure, they’ve only managed to butcher and botch the brogue at every attempt, from Tom Cruise’s TooraLooralar-ish in ‘Far and Away’ to the blustering blarney of ‘Leap Year’, which was surely enough to sever diplomatic ties â€“ even if it’s exactly how we’re expected to behave during The Gathering.
But beyond the horror of Brad Pitt’s ex-IRA gunman in ‘The Devil’s Own’, and the terror of Sean Connery’s twitterings in ‘Darby O’Gill’, we’ll always come back to Gerard Butler in ‘PS I Love You’.
Not because his performance was one of the worst attempts at an Irish accent ever committed to the big screen. It’s rather because he’s conveniently sitting in front of us, head cupped in his hands, wailing in remorse for the massacre of our beautiful accent.
And, let’s face it, we’re not going to have Cruise or Connery doing the same.
“Why are you doing this to me?” the handsome Scot cries, playfully rocking in his seat. “Every time I try to move on, I try to get past what I did â€“ it just keeps coming back to haunt me.”
Wiping a faux tear away, Butler flashes a wicked grin, the very one that’s made up for the dodgy accents and the frequent dubious script choices such as ‘The Bounty Hunter’ and ‘The Ugly Truth’.
In the case of Cecelia Ahern’s first crack of the Hollywood whip, the Paisley-born actor, all rippling muscle and impossible masculinity, acknowledges his grotesque mistake. And, frankly, it’s part of his charm.
“I’m the first one to say, it wasn’t the best attempt,” he says. “It came across like more of a caricature and it wasn’t going to win me any awards.
“But, in my defence, there were a couple of Irish guys and girls on set. So where were the helpful tips?”
A relative late bloomer in Tinseltown circles, Butler was nearly 34 â€“ a veritable geriatric by industry standards â€“ before Joel Schumacher cast the unknown in his big-screen adaptation of ‘Phantom of the Opera’, which ultimately crashed and burned.
It was his hulking turn as King Leonidas in mythological comic-book smash ‘300’ that really put Butler on the map â€“ as well as a then little-known Michael Fassbender.
Butler has since cultivated an action-man image with Guy Ritchie’s ‘RocknRolla’, ‘Law Abiding Citizen’, and a decent turn in last year’s flawed biopic, ‘Machine Gun Preacher’.
While we’ll see him later this year in Antoine Fuqua’s ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, protecting the US president and White House from Korean terrorists, Butler’s next film sees the 43-year-old star embark on a bold, some might say rather foolish, path, playing a foul-mouthed leprechaun in ‘Movie 43’.
A mish-mash of 12 film shorts featuring a who’s who of Hollywood, from Halle Berry to Richard Gere, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone, Butler takes on the dual role of twin leprechaun brothers, with matching local brogues, who become increasingly hostile and violent after one of them is kidnapped by former ‘Jackass’ star Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott.
So is this a vain attempt to eradicate the memory of ‘PS I Love You’ with a more memorable performance?
“Well, the way I see it, I made a terrible botch of the Irish accent once, so it can’t get any worse as a leprechaun surely,” he chuckles, planking his scuffed Timberlands on a coffee table in an airy suite in London’s Corinthia Hotel.
“It literally was one day’s work and I’m very happy with how it turned out. But you have to be clear; it’s one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed.
“And hey, at least it’ll make the Irish part of me proud. It doesn’t get more patriotic than playing a leprechaun,” he adds.
Currently romancing Romanian model Madalina Ghenea, reportedly ‘the one’ to have finally tamed the notorious ladies’ man, Butler still can’t quite get to grips with the Oscar-winning A-list talent involved in the movie.
“This is a film full of the most sick, outrageous ideas that people will either deplore or really dig, or at least appreciate. I cannot believe the pool of talent or what they got them to do, from Halle Berry to Hugh Jackman to Kate Winslet,” he says.
“I mean, the Hugh Jackman bit, he basically has… well, let’s say for PC’s sake, a part of the male anatomy coming out of his neck. This is Hugh Jackman â€“ I don’t know how they got him to do it.”
One star who couldn’t be persuaded, however, was Colin Farrell, initially cast as Butler’s leprechaun brother.
“And conveniently, he couldn’t make it. ‘Oh no, I think I need to cut my toenails’ may have been the excuse,” the actor roars with laughter. “It’s like, c’mon Colin, you saw sense and backed out, admit it.
“So after that, there was the brother role to fill, so I just said, ‘I’ll play the other brother; I’m making a fool of myself once, I may as well make a fool of myself twice’.”
“But hey, Colin missed out,” he continues. “I had a great time making it. I got to play a leprechaun and throw down a few fists and moves and spew the most vile language you’re likely to hear. It was a blast.”
A trained lawyer from Glasgow University, Butler kicked the bar and headed south to London to pursue acting, landing a string of minor roles in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘Mrs Brown’, and a stint filming in Wicklow with Matthew McConaughey for ‘Reign Of Fire’, an experience he calls “magic”.
When Hollywood came a-knocking, a sociable Gerard became well-known for his partying, which quickly eclipsed his work on screen, much of it derided by the critics.
More famously, however, the actor sealed his reputation as an unrepentant ladies’ man after many, many reported dalliances including Jennifer Aniston, Ashley Greene and Cameron Diaz.
Happily ensconced in what seems to be his longest-standing relationship to date with Ghenea, a subject he’s reluctant to be drawn on, Butler admits to a shift in his priorities.
“I can see how easily someone in the game goes off the rails,” he says. “The money’s being thrown at you, the fans, the adoring fans, you’re constantly being praised and it’s hard to stay grounded.
“And it doesn’t matter what age you are when you start or when success hits. I was that bit older than some of the young fry setting off now and it doesn’t make any difference.
“There are a lot of privileges and opportunities taken for granted in this game, until you sit back and realise it’s a good life. And I see that. I see I have a very good life; one that I like to slow down now and enjoy.”
And it’s never any harm to have a reputation that zings with the ladies.
“Well, there’s certainly worse to be said about a person, isn’t there?” he says.
Gerard, or Gerry as he prefers to be known â€“ “because no one says ‘Gerard’ correctly in the States,” he snaps â€“ feels as if he’s also embarking on a new direction in his career, with plans to start filming on Holocaust drama ‘Dynamo’, charting the Ukrainian uprising against the Nazis.
Is this perhaps related to his near-death experience in Hawaii in 20Interviews when the actor was sucked under a wave and remained under water for three minutes?
“Maybe, and that certainly was a life-changing moment for me, but whether it’s directly affected where I go with my career, I don’t know,” he says.
“I’m not sure if I’m that calculated. Maybe I should be sitting down with a blueprint for how to win an Oscar. Maybe that should have flashed before my eyes when I was down in the water.
“All I know was that moment put the fear of God into me, made me realise how precious it all is.”
Butler seems so nonchalant in his laid-back humour, it’s difficult to ever imagine him agonising over a lack of industry acclaim. Does he ever find himself day-dreaming of a golden statuette?
“All the time,” he smirks, “the whole shampoo-bottle job. No, not really. I mean it would be lovely, wouldn’t it? So many say they aren’t bothered, but it’s a lovely recognition for your work.
“I think every actor has a moment where they think, ‘That’d be nice’. But we’ll see down the line, who knows? Although one thing’s for certain: it’s not going to happen for playing a leprechaun.”