Interview: Gerard Butler
Published Date: 31 August 2009
By ALICE WYLLIE
GERARD BUTLER IS HAVING A little difficulty with his accent. The Paisley-born actor is in-between two roles, both of which call for a heavy American drawl, and it's playing havoc with his normally soft Scottish burr. I meet the actor in his suite in the Dorchester Hotel in London where he's doing back-to-back press for two films – The Ugly Truth and Gamer – and within 30 seconds I find myself commenting on the transatlantic twang he's picked up.
"Normally, I'm worse than this," he laughs, his voice trailing up like a question at the end of the word "normally".
"I can't go from thick Scottish into an American accent ... but the second I land at Glasgow Airport, I walk out and I go to Starbucks and I go (he adopts a Brigadoon-worthy Scottish delivery], 'Can I have a café latte please?' and that's it. I get straight back into it."
More than 13 years after he was fired from Edinburgh law firm Morton Fraser a week before he was due to qualify, Butler is looking pretty content. He has homes in Los Angeles and New York and travels to Scotland regularly to visit his parents, who now live in Comrie.
The clean-living Hollywood lifestyle appears to suit him. At 39, he looks fit, healthy and, of course, devastatingly handsome. You might say that he's bringing sexy back to a Hollywood more used to waxed chests and bleached teeth than masculine good looks worthy of the Scotch Beef man.
Wearing a pale blue V-neck T-shirt and jeans, and with tanned features, a smattering of perma-stubble, the hint of a grown-up six pack beneath his T-shirt, and a healthy growth of chest hair poking out of the top of it, it's easy to see why he's enjoying leading man status. And indeed why there's a Facebook group devoted to him called "Gerard Butler is my husband ... he just doesn't know it yet".
Such rugged good looks could easily have had him typecast in the rent-a-beefcake role, but Butler has enjoyed a fairly diverse selection of parts. He played the scarred hero in 2004's Phantom of the Opera, the muscular leader of the Spartans in 2006's 300, Hilary Swank's dead husband in 2007's PS I Love You, a chauvinistic shock jock in this year's romantic comedy The Ugly Truth and is now the star of an online game called Slayers in Gamer. Set in the near future, in a world where online gaming and real life have become blurred, and humans control other humans in mass-scale multiplayer games, he plays Kable, something of a 21st-century gladiator who is forced to fight against his will.
Every inch the buff action hero, he seems perfectly cast – but there's also an unmistakable Scottishness to his appearance. The jaw may be chiselled, but I get the impression that one pie might send him into the realms of multiple chindom. He's used to training hard for roles (see his impossible abs in 300) and following painfully strict diets, but the Scotsman in him finds the LA diet of mineral water with everything and no carbs after 6pm a little hard to stick to, and soon we're discussing the merits of various deep-fried foodstuffs.
"I used to live on Leith Walk, and I mean in the dirty part," he says. "I lived right above a fish and chip shop and I used to live on those fish and chips. The king rib supper ..." Has he sampled the delights of the deep-fried Mars Bar? His eyes light up: "I've never had one! It's like a phantom to me; I hear about it but I've never seen it on a menu in a fish and chip shop. I (diet] when I have to, but I have big problems, depending on my motivation. That's the part of Scotland that haunts me; wanting to eat as many carbohydrates and as much sugar as possible."
He's undeniably Glaswegian in his penchant for deep-fried foodstuffs, and indeed in his ability to mock himself and to charm me; it's a combination that has me stammering incoherently at some points.
He's been doing interviews all day, he tells me, and despite his best efforts is a little weary of them. How can I make it more interesting for him? I enquire. He takes a gulp of water and peers cheekily at me over the rim of the glass: "You could start by doing it naked. That would definitely make it a lot easier. Can you do that?" Cue said incoherent stammering.
It's a request which he doesn't drop. Later, when the PR pokes her head through the door to tell us we're nearly done, he says with a glint in his eye: "And you've still got to get naked now as well." Ah, I lament jokingly, we've only got four minutes of the interview left. "That's all it takes for me ..." he says with a laugh (or, to be more specific, a surprisingly high-pitched giggle – endearing, yet somewhat jarring with the beefcake image).
He seems to have an innate ability to be explicitly flirtatious, yet remain utterly charming, without crossing over into slimeball territory. Let's call it the Clooney effect. It's a tactic that I imagine he employs with most women he meets. Including, if celebrity magazines are to be believed (and Butler, who has denied the rumours repeatedly, is not) Jennifer Aniston, his co-star in The Bounty Hunter, whom he keeps being asked if he's dating.
He won't be drawn on the topic, rather sensibly preferring not to discuss his romantic relationships, but does find it amusing that speculation is often so wide of the mark.
"I've managed to have ... three relationships that nobody ever really found out about, and at the same time it's been said ... that I've been having relationships with various other people. But I was good at keeping them private because it becomes a different kind of relationship the second it becomes public and everybody starts prying."
When it comes to other areas of his personal life however, he's more than happy to spill. His time spent training to be a lawyer in Edinburgh was not a happy period in his life, resulting in some rather wild behaviour, which he is quite open about.
"When I think back now," he says with a laugh. "You know those horrific memories that make a noise come out of your mouth involuntarily when you recall them? (cue a guttural sound in the back of his throat] That's what happens when I think of some of the stuff I did there." He later says the one other memory that provokes such a response is the time he said soccer instead of football on a UK radio station, but it's his experiences at Morton Fraser that really make him cringe.
He is reluctant to recount his more shameful behaviour, fearing it would make a mockery of the ex-colleagues who put up with so much from him. He was on his final warning from the firm when the Edinburgh Festival came around again, and he knew that he'd be unable to resist the myriad temptations it offered. The result? That final warning turned into a dismissal.
"You know, they did me the biggest favour, and there was never any malice ... They were like, 'let's face facts: you really think that in this state (it would be responsible of us to qualify] you as a lawyer?'"
So what exactly does a person have to do to get fired from an Edinburgh law firm a week before they're due to qualify? "Oh, I would go to jail (if I told you] ..." he laughs, glancing at my Dictaphone. "But, like, I would get so tired because I'd been out late the night before that I'd often find cupboards to go to sleep in, because if I didn't I'd often fall asleep at my desk ... in the same room as the partner of the firm."
He shakes his head with disbelief before continuing. "And you know, calling in sick (then] going out to bars and thinking 'oh they won't see me'. Over two years I had 32 sick days and I think there was a total of about 20 Mondays. I mean, I laugh now but those days were incredibly miserable for me because I was trapped. Not even trapped in a law firm ... but I was trapped in my life, I was trapped in my head, I didn't know how to make myself happy."
After being fired, Butler moved to London to pursue an acting career, and was cast in the lead role of a production of Trainspotting, one that he had seen at the Fringe the previous year and that had "broke my heart because I thought 'this will never be me'." One year on from that low moment he was back at the Fringe, performing in the show he'd been watching, standing on the stage instead of sitting in the audience. It's unsurprising then, that he is a firm believer in destiny.
His career began to take off from there, but it wasn't until 300 that he began to enjoy truly global fame. So if wine, women, song and general bad behaviour were his downfall back when he was just a trainee lawyer living above a chip shop on Leith Walk, would he have been even more self-destructive had he enjoyed the trappings of fame in his early twenties instead of his mid-thirties?
"Oh my God, I wouldn't be here today I think," he says. He employs a metaphor to explain why – "Although up until I started acting I'd been wearing a really uncomfortable pair of shoes that didn't fit and then I put on ones that fit better, but maybe I just didn't know how to wear them at first. It didn't feel right so perhaps if I'd started (acting] earlier maybe I would have sorted myself out earlier ... (Now it's] just women and song. And coffee and Coca-Cola. I've always been a bit of an addict, so even when I stopped drinking and smoking (he gave up alcohol completely a decade ago] there were times even last year ... when I was drinking eight to ten cans of Coca-Cola a day."
Would he say that his drinking during his time in Edinburgh bordered on alcoholism? He gives the Dictaphone another glance, laughing, and shoots me a look that suggests I'm pushing my luck, before choosing his words carefully: "There were a few people who knew me (then] who would find it hard to argue with that statement," he says, stifling another high-pitched giggle. "I definitely am kind of compulsive and obsessive (but] it's some of those things that mess you up that are also the things that you have to celebrate."
Cele-brate. Once again, the tail end of the word trails up into a question. Traces of a Scots accent are fighting through, but, at the moment at least, the American twang is winning out. It's something he finds amusing, but he insists he's a true Scotsman underneath.
"America's pretty much where I live ... but it never feels like where my soul is," he says. "When I come back to Scotland, I go 'this is it'. It's everything. Everything I am is Scottish ... It's what gave me every part of my personality ... all the good sh*t and all the bad sh*t that goes with that.
"There's a lot of negativity there, but out of that negativity comes an incredible amount of humour. There's nobody that can be more negative and more blackly funny than the Scots. And here I am in America now doing big comedies. I would say if I'd been an Italian guy I would never have got these kinds of roles. They love us out there." Really?
"Oh yeah," he says enthusiastically, before laughing at the irony: "Although one of the things I used to hear a lot in Hollywood was, 'Oh I really love your accent, that's beautiful – now, can you change it?'" sm
Gamer goes on general release on 16 September.