LOS ANGELES–Gerard Butler spent much of his life studying to be a lawyer. It didn't work out. At 26, he decided to try another career, and it's been a somewhat more successful venture.
In an L.A. interview room, Butler says that when he left London in 1999 to try to catch on as an actor in Hollywood, he expected things to go slowly. However, he got work right away and hasn't looked back. "I bought a little apartment in London in 1999 after I had made a few commercials and done some smaller roles," he says. "I wanted to go to Los Angeles and had to get a loan to do it. I thought, 'I probably won't get a job, but then I will come back and try again.' But I came here for two weeks and I got offered a part in the miniseries Attila the Hun and then Dracula 2000. Believe me, it was a big life change."
Life changed even more for him this summer when the movie 300 became one of the year's surprise hits. He received several offers and will be doing at least three films back to back. Beginning Friday (December 21), he can be seen in a film that he took on before 300 became a success. In P.S. I Love You he plays Gerry Kennedy, a New York limo driver who devotes the last days of his life to helping his wife (Hilary Swank) survive his death. Unbeknownst to her, he writes love letters that show up at various times over the course of a year, each one instructing her to do something that will help her get over him.
Butler says that he didn't pick the role as a way of avoiding the pigeonholing that might come with playing a Spartan in 300, a film that made almost half a billion dollars worldwide. He has spent a lot of time in period action movies, and says that if there were any doubts about taking a role that would lead to him being stereotyped, it came with 300.
"I signed up for this film before 300, but it wouldn't have made any difference. I would have signed up for it anyway, because I loved the script. I have done a few action films over the years, and I had actually decided not to do historical drama, but then 300 came along and I couldn't resist it. If it had not done well, I probably still would have gone into a film like P.S. I Love You. I always like to mix it up so it is not about the success of the movie. But the reality is no matter how many offers you get, you can only do one film every three months.
"I made a decision to slow down about a year ago because I realized how much I had beaten myself up by working, and how exhausted I was," he continues. "I said to my friends, 'Everyone has to force me to say "no".' But I am busier than ever, so I guess people aren't listening to me and I am not listening to myself. When 300 came out, I was sent a lot of great stuff. The fact is that I do love working and I just have to learn to relax a bit."
Butler admits to having an advantage over most actors. After five years of studying law and two years of articling in a law firm, he learned the importance of having a plan. "I think it helped me in mapping out my career as an actor, at least in terms of how you choose roles and how you prepare for meetings and how you get the job," he says. "I like to think that I picked up things from all the parts of my life, even the most painful and chaotic and insane things. I often think that if I had been a fresh-faced actor trying to deal with all the things that come up when you are starting out in the business, I wouldn't have gotten where I am now. I wouldn't have had the analytical tools for breaking down the characters and the scripts.
"If you last long enough to be successful, you get into a position where you can say, 'I think this or that,' and you are listened to," Butler continues. "So you gain confidence. If everything is going great, I can find all the possible problems and say, 'This is great, but let's focus on where things could go wrong.' I don't know if it is a good thing or not, but I have a talent for foreseeing what might become an issue into the future. That's what I've learned from my life."