by Julie Miller
12 02 2011
This weekend, Gerard Butler revisits the very Shakespeare play that launched his acting career: Coriolanus. This time around, Butler plays Tullus Aufidius, the rival of the title character in Ralph Fiennes’s big screen adaptation. So just how did a Scottish actor who started with Shakespeare boomerang back to the very same play a decade later after achieving Hollywood stardom?
You can always trace a direct line through a few important roles to illustrate what led to an actor’s current success. As such, let’s look at nine pivotal performances that track the evolution of Gerard Butler.
1. Mrs. Brown (1997)
Shortly after finishing college, a 23-year-old Butler moved to Los Angeles for a short period during which he found work as an extra in 1992’s The Bodyguard. Ultimately, after a detour in law school, Butler moved to London to launch his acting career with performances in stage adaptations of Coriolanus and Trainspotting before making his big-screen debut in the British drama Mrs. Brown opposite Billy Connolly and Judi Dench. As folklore goes (on the film’s IMDB trivia page), Butler suffered hypothermia after running naked into the freezing ocean for one scene.
2. Dracula 2000 (2000)
After a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it role in Tomorrow Never Dies (as Leading Seaman of the HMS Devonshire) and his first horror project (Tale of the Mummy), Butler scored his first leading man role as Count Dracula in the campy, Wes Craven-produced cult classic Dracula 2000. Although the film was not received well by critics (who maybe just didn’t get the humor of a permed Count Dracula or vampires being beheaded with garden shears — both are acquired tastes), it proved that Butler could support a just-profitable film that spawned two direct-to-video sequels. Take that, Tom Cruise!
3. Lara Croft Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life (2003)
Following a starring role in the well-watched (but ultimately forgettable) television miniseries Attila, Butler scored his first blockbuster love interest opportunity opposite Angelina Jolie in the Lara Craft Tomb Raider sequel The Cradle of Life. Here, Butler proved himself capable of the kinds of action stunts that would help him in his breakthrough box office project four years later. Although critics could not claim that the film was anything more than entertaining, Cradle of Life was a serviceable final Lara Croft film chapter for fans.
4. The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
After starring in Richard Donner’s sci-fi film Timeline, Butler was summoned by Joel Schumacher to audition for the role of the Phantom in his adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical. (Schumacher had been impressed by the Scot’s performance in Dracula 2000, just like you undoubtedly were after seeing the above clip.) After only four voice lessons, Butler sang “The Music of the Night” for Lloyd Webber and secured the first musical role of his career. Critics gave the screen adaptation mixed reviews and saved their praise for Butler’s co-star Emmy Rossum. The film ultimately went on to earn over $150 million worldwide at the box office.
5. 300 (2007)
And then came the breakthrough role for Gerard Butler (and his well-toned physique) in Zack Snyder’s “comic book adaptation on steroids,” 300. Butler stars as King Leonidas, the brave royal who led 300 Spartans into battle against Persian Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his army of over a million soldiers. At the time of production, the actor said that training for the film was the most difficult thing he had done in his life. For his work in the film, Butler won his first Hollywood award: the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight. This was also Butler’s most lucrative project at the time, grossing over $450 million worldwide.
6. Nim’s Island (2008)
What better way to for Butler to decompress from a testosterone-fueled torso pic like 300 than with the weepy widow love story P.S. I Love You and then his first children’s film Nim’s Island? Playing the shipwrecked marine biologist father of Abigail Breslin’s Nim, Butler’s character struggled to fashion a boat out of miscellaneous materials so that he could return to his daughter who was busy tracking down her favorite author (Jodie Foster). While this film did not buoy critical perception of Butler’s acting abilities, it did introduce the Scot to an entirely new audience.
7. The Ugly Truth (2009)
Shortly after filming Guy Ritchie’s British crime pic RocknRolla, Butler entered a dark stage of his career during which he starred in two insufferable (but decently performing) rom-coms. The first being The Ugly Truth, which pitted the actor as a pigheaded television star who torments his hopeless romantic morning show producer (Katherine Heigl) with cynicism and gifts of remote-controlled vibrating panties. Although Heigl and Butler had snappy chemistry, The Ugly Truth was panned by critics. A year later, Butler would follow up this rom-com with The Bounty Hunter, the four-time Razzie nominated picture which starred Butler as bounty hunter hired to track down his ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston).
8. How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
A year later, Butler experimented with his first 3D picture — which also happens to be his most lucrative film domestically to date. In this DreamWorks action fantasy, Butler provides the voice of village chieftain Stoick the Vast, who watches as his awkward son (Jay Baruchel) attempts to become a dragon slayer to gain acceptance within his tribe. How To Train Your Dragon was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but ultimately lost to Toy Story 3.
9. Coriolanus (2011)
Although Butler has achieved legitimate leading man status by starring in films that have grossed well over $100 million, the Scottish actor has never really been praised for his acting ability. Hopefully by coming full circle with this weekend’s film adaptation of Coriolanus — the Shakespeare play that Butler first appeared in as a young actor — he can prove his dramatic worth. Up next, Butler has plenty of projects on the horizon that could provide more opportunities for evolution including the sports drama Playing the Field with Jessica Biel and Dennis Quaid, the surfing drama Of Men and Mavericks, the political thriller Hunter Killer with Sam Worthington and How to Train Your Dragon 2.