Gerard Butler: The Butler Did It

Not so long ago, Scottish lawyer turned actor Gerard Butler was a stellar (and stellar-looking) actor in need of a worthy project, now, including the starring role in The Phantom of the Opera, he has three.

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Last year I was sitting having coffee on Larchmont Blvd. in Los Angeles, when I noticed a guy a few tables away, sipping tea and reading the paper. I couldn't get my eyes off him. Handsome? Oh, yes--he was a Sean Penn-Aidan Quinn mix, with a little of Gil Bellows's dark, brooding sexiness thrown in. But it was more than that. This guy had an aura, a larger-than-life quality that you don't often see. I finally snagged my harried waitress and pointed him out. "Who's that?" I asked. She leaned in. "I don't know, but he's gorgeous, huh?"

We stared at him for a few minutes until she was called away. After he'd left, I asked his waitress who he was. She shrugged her shoulders. "But he's definitely a hottie," she said. When I went in to pay my bill, I asked the clerk behind the counter to get me that coffee that was way, way up high on the top shelf, and while he was distracted I rifled through the AmEx receipts before I found what I was sure was the mysterious stranger's. The name said Gerard Butler. I went home and looked him up on the Internet. Bingo. Scottish actor, whose notable credits included playing Billy Connolly's brother in Mrs. Brown, the BBC drama Little White Lies, and the title roles in Wes Craven's Dracula 2000 and the miniseries Attila.

I filed his name away in my mental Rolodex, waiting for him to do something for which he'd get noticed.

I didn't have to wait long.

This story sounds a little stalkerish when I tell it, especially because the man I'm telling it to one fine day in Central Park happens to be Gerard Butler.

But instead of being scared of me, Butler pulls me to him and hugs me hard.

"How delightful," he exclaims.

How delightful, indeed. Butler was the man tapped to play Angelina Jolie's love interest in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Then he got a leading role in Michael Crichton's Timeline, due this November. Good enough, right? Well, Butler has also recently been offered the part of the Phantom in Joel Schumacher's big-screen adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera (names like Antonio Banderas and Hugh Jackman had been tossed around).

Butler, 34, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and raised by a single mother. He loved the movies and urged his mother to let him be an actor. She agreed and he wound up at the Scottish Youth Theater. But no one thought that acting could be his career, so he went to law school, where he earned an honor's degree. "But I was no good at it," he insists. "My heart wasn't in it." So he took some time off, got some work as an extra, got a job in the stage adaptation of Trainspotting. Started drinking too much. Felt his life going nowhere. Decided to give the acting thing one last try.

Don't you just a love a good success story?

Butler, in a pair of cut-up old jeans, a vest and a fabulous leather jacket ("I stole it from Tomb Raider 2!" he says unabashedly), is one of those guys who makes all this look effortless. He lopes through Central Park as if he owns the place, smiling at the women who make eye contact with him endlessly.

"You know how cool it was to make Tomb Raider 2?" he asks, as if he's the interviewer. "I mean, at first, when I went to do my screen test, I was standing there and I thought, 'Holy shit, Angelina Jolie is about to walk through that door and I'm just going to die of fright.' But she was so warm and generous and fun that it seemed really natural. And the whole shoot was like that. We went to Greece, to Hong Kong, to Kenya. I'm one of those guys who always has a good time on a film. I don't worry about who's mad at whom, who's sleeping with whom...I feel so fucking grateful not to be sitting in a law office that I just let everything roll right off me."

His character, Terry Sheridan, is a rogue, who once worked for the government and was once Lara's boyfriend. "It's like he turned to the dark side," Butler says seriously. "You never get the feeling that he's evil; it's more that he just can't help himself. He realizes he only has this one life, and if that means screwing over his friends, well, so be it. But then Lara shows up and she needs him for this mission to save the planet..."

My laughter interrupts his revelry.

"Hey," he says, "It could happen." And with his killer smile, you have to ask yourself, who better to save this planet than Gerard Butler?

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Check out more about Martha Frankel here!



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