In the new action film, “Gamer,” video games have conjoined with reality, and gamers can control the lives of real people from the comfort of their couches. It can sound a little like today’s Hollywood: teenage boys rule the world.
The star of “Gamer,” Gerard Butler, has seen his star rise thanks to that very demographic, who have cheered him in “300,” Guy Ritchie’s “RocknRolla” and the 2001 TV series, “Attila,” his early breakthrough.
But the Scottish actor has proven just as appealing to women. He’s been labeled a full-fledged sex symbol after performances in the 2007 romance “P.S. I Love You” and this summer’s romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth.”
In a Hollywood increasingly bereft of stars, the charismatic Butler has been pegged as an ascendant A-lister. It’s an unlikely fate for the 39-year-old, who was once days away from becoming a lawyer. Dragged down by too much partying, he was fired and immediately reconsidered his life and career.
This fall, he’ll co-star with Jamie Foxx in “Law Abiding Citizen,” the first film Butler has produced. He’s also recently been filming “The Bounty” with Jennifer Aniston in New York, where he lives most of the time.
AP: What’s the last year or so been like, as fame has come quickly?
BUTLER: It’s been a mixture of learning to adjust to slightly different realities in terms of your career, how you’re viewed by the industry and the public and in terms of how you’re viewed when you walk down the bloody street. It’s been a mixture of coming to terms with that and then relaxing into it and really enjoying it.
AP: It appears that you wear fame well. You’ve artfully denied tabloid rumors about you and Aniston with sarcasm.
BUTLER: That got me into trouble once in Britain when they were asking me about James Bond. I was so sick about being asked about James Bond — it was before Daniel Craig had taken the role. They said, “So is it true about Bond?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m in talks with (producer) Barbara Broccoli. I told her that if Ann Widdecombe can be my Bond girl, then I’ll do it.” Now, Ann Widdecombe was at that time mid-70s, hugely overweight, very little hair. Thought it was funny but the next day in the Scottish papers — they took one part of it and said: “Gerald Butler is going to be the next James Bond.” That’s when you think, “Should I just lose my sense of humor completely?”
AP: Have you seen a change in the scripts you’re offered?
BUTLER: What I notice is the scripts have become, one, of a far higher quality, and, two, more diverse. It’s not all action, it’s not all comedy, it’s not all romantic comedy. I’m getting all sorts of scripts from heavy dramas to maybe a black comedy to even a musical.
AP: Have you admired the arc of anyone’s career in particular?
BUTLER: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen could do a drama with a really cool edge to it, but then also do comedy. … The kind of career trajectory that I’ve had, a more modern example, would be a Mel Gibson.
AP: Movies like “300” and “Gamer” tout a violent vision of tough-guy masculinity not seen in many films these days. Is that a subject you’re drawn to?
BUTLER: I am very much a man and I naturally bring a masculinity to those roles. Mike Chadway in “The Ugly Truth,” for example, could have been played in many different ways. … But I also think I’m attracted to roles where guys get to talk about the mythical struggle of guys and what it is to be a man.
AP: You’ve also become a sex symbol, a role you’ve made light of but acknowledged is mostly to the good.
BUTLER: I joke with that because it’s way better to be appreciated than to not be appreciated. For anybody to blow it off and dismiss it, they’re either insane or they’re just not being honest or they’re being extremely arrogant. … As you’re saying that, my natural response is going to be, “Well, I don’t really see it.” But then again, I do — just on the street sometimes.
AP: It’s probably about then that you wish you had become a lawyer.
BUTLER: Yep, I have nightmares about that every day! Why aren’t I still doing the law? (Laughs.)
AP: You came so close. That must have been a dramatic turning point.
BUTLER: The most incredible turning point. I’m not exaggerating when I say seven days from qualifying after seven years of my life and I was let go. I couldn’t deny any more that I had issues in how I was living my life. But I also was in many ways set free from what did feel like a prison sentence for what my soul was. Obviously, I was meant to be here.