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Gerard Butler: King Among Men
Gerard Butler, Independent UK, April 13, 2013
Gerard Butler is a study in contrast. The actor skyrocketed to fame as the bad boy foil to Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, followed up by his epic, ultra-physical role in 300, but he’s equally versed in musicals, as evidenced by his starring role in Phantom of the Opera. He does his own stunts and incurs the injuries to prove it, but he’s also a style icon who gets invited to the Met Gala. He’s a sports junkie who takes in tennis matches with Bradley Cooper, but he’s also tech-savvy, with a Reddit AMA under his belt.
Now 43, the contrasts that comprise Butler’s life have taken on even greater significance. These days Butler is trying to strike a balance between acting and being a major motion picture producer, between the call of Hollywood and the charities he loves. Although there are only so many hours in a day, Butler’s unstoppable desire to do it all, see it all, be it all, is precisely what brought him to the attention of the watch world.
Since 2011, Butler has worked with luxury watchmaker Roger Dubuis. Like a true box office buddy comedy, the story of how the actor came to be a friend of the brand is a classic.
“I was in Monaco for the Grand Prix, staying on a friend’s yacht, and I got a call saying that the CEO of Roger Dubuis was in Cannes and that they were interested in meeting up,” Butler told us. “We met at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, and it was a very funny meeting, because whenever I arrive there, I seem to know about half the people staying in the hotel. We were trying to have this meeting, and I was being interrupted every few seconds, and it kind of turned into a bit of a party, really. I could tell that [then CEO] Georges Kern – I think he was half perturbed, because he was trying to sit down and talk business, and half charmed about meeting all these other people, and kind of having fun.”
Growing up in Paisley, a small town in rural Scotland, luxury on the level of Roger Dubu is was beyond the realm of possibility imagined by Butler. Indeed, his first brush with the watch world struck a more emotional, rather than technical, chord.
“I think when I was younger – I’m trying to remember the name of the watch, but it was a present from my father. I can’t remember the name of it,” he confessed. “It might have been a TAG? I remember it being a beautiful watch. The funny thing is – well, I hate to say this, but I lost it about six months later, and I was devastated. But that would have been my first significant watch, because I didn’t grow up with a huge amount of money, so I can’t say I was going out purchasing any of my own significant watches.”
Although he got a slow start in the watch world, the decision to work with Roger Dubuis was natural for the actor. “They take a huge amount of pride in what they represent and how they wanted to be perceived, but they also wanted our collaboration to be fun and easy. That was the feeling that I got from that meeting – a lot of passion, a lot of love, and a lot of respect,” Butler said.
“When we sat down and went over the different watches and how they were made and how they feel about them, I found myself hooked, and actually calling my guys and saying, ‘You know what, I really want to work with these guys.’ I think they’re awesome; I love their passion, and I love what they’re trying to create. I actually feel a huge amount of connection with my spirit, my personality, and their watches.”
Since wrangling contracts with celebrities can often take brands months or even years, we were shocked when Gerard told us how long it took to finalize things with Roger Dubuis. “About a week,” he said, laughing. Although he’s more accustomed to awards shows than watch shows, Roger Dubuis has introduced the actor to the world of haute horlogerie events, from SIHH to Dubai. While Butler, the quintessential gentleman, intimated no such judgment when he mentioned his visit to the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, we had to wonder: how does it stack up against the Oscars?
“I hadn’t seen anything like that,” Butler said. “To me, variety is the spice of life. So yes, I love going to the Oscar parties – it’s a celebration of what we do in our profession and a celebration of excellence, the best performances in every capacity in that profession. But that’s what the SIHH is – a celebration of the most sophisticated watchmakers on the planet. To see the pride and passion that they have for what they do, and the creativity and artistry they put into their stands and their presentations, was incredible.”
It didn’t hurt that Roger Dubuis’ stand last year was on a scale akin to a movie set. “My jaw dropped! I looked around and thought, ‘I’m so glad it’s Roger Dubuis that I’m involved with! They really are warriors,” Gerard said. “They’re so assertive and confident, and the stand was so audacious, with that 35-foot golden eagle with its talons sticking out. The whole place was like stepping into another world. It was very energizing. The only other company that came close was IWC, I felt. They also had a really entertaining stall with the Formula 1 team and the cars – I thought that was really a cool thing too. But the Roger Dubuis stand – they couldn’t get me out of there! They were saying, ‘We’ve got to go now Ger, we’ve got a dinner organized!’ And I was like, ‘No, no, no, I’m cool here, I’m having a blast!’”
Beyond the show circuit, Butler’s haute horlogerie education also included a visit to the Roger Dubuis manufacture in Geneva, Switzerland. The brand’s 350-strong team of watchmakers awakened the actor to the workmanship and sophistication that goes into each timepiece, right down to the micromillimeter. Indeed, seeing how every part of the movement on a Roger Dubuis watch is hand-finished, from the mainplate to the smallest screw, gave him an appreciation for the Excalibur, which has 550 individual pieces.
“Everything about that watch is audacious,” Butler said of the Excalibur, which he lists as his favorite piece. “When you wear it you’re completely energized – it’s like putting on the best suit that fits you perfectly. You feel like an alpha male; successful, super confident. I don’t wear it everyday because I lead a very active lifestyle. Although it is very durable, there are certain days when I’m going to jump in surfing or I’m running around training or hurting my body – then I won’t put it on. But generally it would be the Excalibur that I wear, because it’s like bolstering your personality. You put it on and it energizes you for the day – you feel like you’re stepping into the shoes of a successful, confident, sexy dude.”
Manufacture Roger Dubuis-2The Roger Dubuis manufacture in Switzerland
Stepping into the shoes of a successful, confident, sexy man is precisely what Gerard is set to do as he gears up for his next blockbuster role. While details on the project are being kept under wraps, Butler did admit he’ll be playing the villain in an epic story in the flavor of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s exactly the sort of unforgettable project that Butler coveted as an aspiring actor.
“When I got into acting it was because of a movie called Falls,” Butler said, “which would be like a Clash of the Titans meets Lord of the Rings, that was made when I was about 15 years old. I had a dream that I was in that movie, surrounded by wizards, kings, warriors and a princess, where love defeated the forces of darkness. I went to my mom and told her, ‘Mom, I must be an actor!’ She was very sympathetic and loving, and said, ‘Sure, son.’ But at that time I thought this was never going to happen. I went back to my room and started crying because I thought, ‘I’m a 15-year-old boy from Scotland, how is that ever going to be where I end up?’ And yet here I am.”
No doubt Butler’s role as a villain will come as a shock to movie audiences more accustomed to seeing the actor in roles like Olympus Has Fallen’s heroic Secret Service agent Mike Banning. However, Butler himself is not wedded to the more fan club-friendly hero image. “I think I prefer playing the antihero,” Gerard admitted. “With a villain, it’s normally a juicier role, and something you can get your teeth into. There’s more to show off with in there. It can also be an opportunity for great humor. When you’re making these movies, you really want to excite an audience and take them on a ride, but it’s always great when you can make them smile and laugh as well, and remind them that they’re in a movie and they’re there to be entertained.”
While one epic blockbuster might be enough for some, Butler, it seems, will not be sated so easily. “Italy, Spain, Germany, Thailand, China, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Panama, Colombia, Barbados, Trinidad,” Butler says, listing off the countries he’s visited this year alone. Aside from developing new projects, working with Roger Dubuis and embarking on a publicity junket for this summer’s Olympus Has Fallen, Butler also invested in a cricket team, the Jamaica Tallawahs, who are the stars of the new Caribbean Premier League.
Just counting off that list of countries was enough to prompt us to ask: does he ever take time off? “Sometimes you work so much, between filming and press tours, you turn around and go, ‘Wait a minute. Life is not only about this,’” Butler admitted. “I have to go and enjoy these moments.” Among the pastimes the actor enjoys are surfing, working towards his helicopter pilot’s license, and cars. Butler’s collection includes a Range Rover and the BMW Z8, and like any true gearhead the actor is happy to talk about how he got into it.
“I used to have an old Jaguar convertible from 1970, an E-Type. It was my favorite car I ever had, and the reason I got it was that I was filming Tomb Raider at Pinewood Studios in London. I saw an old Aston Martin DB6 for sale, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m at Pinewood where they made the Bond movies, and here I am, a young Scotsman following in Sean Connery’s footsteps – I’m going to buy an Aston Martin DB6. I’m going to buy this very car!’ And then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I haven’t even looked at any other classic cars’ – and I love classic cars. So I went to this classic car showroom in Chelsea, and I literally walked in and there was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen in my life, this black E-Type Jaguar. I took it for a test drive, and I had to have it. It then proceeded to be my car in London, and caused me to bankrupt myself frequently, because whenever I went back it was broken down, so I would spend my two days back in London taking it to the garage to be fixed,” Butler said ruefully.
If we had to guess though, we’d bet that Butler won’t actually get around to taking that time off. The actor wrapped up our interview in order to jump on a plane to Africa. Far from the glare of the spotlight, Butler has been quietly working with several charities, including Mary’s Meals. The Scottish relief organization serves meals to impoverished children in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and South America. While cars and yachts may be nice, it was clear what the actor’s priorities are the moment we brought up his charity work.
“In just ten years they’ve gone from 200 meals a day to 800,000. It’s incredible what they do, and it’s to encourage kids to go to school, and also nourish them because – we talk about long-term perspectives, but what’s the point if the kids don’t survive in the first place? Or they can’t concentrate and learn anything because they’re so hungry?” Butler said. “In Malawi alone, we’re feeding 500,000 children, which is more than 20% of the primary school population. Mary’s Meals are just starting out in Liberia, so I’m going to Liberia with them.”
“And then I think straight after that I’m going to Haiti with another charity I’m involved with, Artists for Peace and Justice. They’re building this massive school in Haiti, which is earthquake-proof and equipped with all modern computers. It’s the only school that will take kids from 5 years old all the way through to college age, so it’s 11 years of education with qualified teachers – because many of Haiti’s schools don’t have qualified teachers, so the education is poor. They’re taking account of everything that is lacking in the current system and building these huge schools, because most schools there have just 100-150 kids. This will see 3,000 kids being educated from the Cité Soleil area, the poorest area of Haiti, which itself is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.”
While he won’t be going on holiday any time soon, Gerard Butler has never seemed happier or more fulfilled. Although it seems the Scotsman is being pulled in countless different directions, each facet of Butler’s life seems to complement the others. No doubt that dynamism is the source of the kismet between Butler and Roger Dubuis. After all, who wouldn’t want to keep time with Gerard Butler?
Photographed by Kalpesh Lathigra/Contour by Getty Images