Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The rise, fall, rise, fall, rise and rise of Gerry Butler

The Scottish actor will not be defeated. Good for him.

Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 22:27


In a sports stadium in South London last Sunday, a handsome Scottish fellow offered evidence that, if you try hard enough, you can achieve almost anything. He’s not the most talented fellow in his line of work. He’s not the most graceful. But there’s unbreakable will there. Oh, I’ll stop this now. You’ve all read the headline. So, you know that I am talking about Gerard Butler, not Andy Murray (or not so much).

The camera lingered a while on Victoria Beckham. It spent some time with David Cameron.  But the editor seemed particularly interested in Gerard Butler (raised only about 50 miles from Andy’s home in Dublane) and his good mate Bradley Cooper. What with his Oscar nomination, his good reviews and his ice-cream commercials and all, Mr Cooper is probably the more respectable of the two. But our Gerry (he calls himself that in America to avoid being referred to as GerARD) might just be the more bankable.

Braw! Help ma’ boab! Jings! Oor Andy scored a goal! 

This is a pretty remarkable turnaround. On at least two occasions, Butler seemed (in career terms at least) as good as dead. Deep fry him with the Mars Bars, Morag. He’s pub food. Now, Butler occupies a special place in my heart. He was one of the first people I interviewed for this newspaper. Heed this. Thirteen years ago, Butler appeared as the title character in an almost entirely dreadful film called Dracula 2000 (its European release was so delayed, it ended up being called Dracula 2001 here). He seemed nice. He was very accommodating. He laughed at all my jokes. But the film was so awful we didn’t think its  star was going anywhere. So, the interview remained unattended on the MiniDisc and we used my chat with costar Jonny Lee Miller instead.

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Time passed. Butler, who had already been acting for many years, drifted back to supporting roles and telly. We all knew where this was going. Better actors than him have ended up playing the guy who didn’t actually murder the old lady in Taggart. Hang on. There he was in Tomb Raider. That second spurt of fame didn’t stick. Ah hah! Joel Schumacher has cast him in Phantom of the Opera. Now, that’s the sort of role that makes stars. Not if the film is a spectacular flop it doesn’t. I really felt that the Phantom debacle would kill Butler’s career off for good. This was 2004.

Who would have guessed that an epic about the Battle of Thermopylae would finally do the trick? Ever since 300 was released in 2007, Butler — then nearly 40 — has been a proper sort of movie star. You can see why. He’s good looking in a dissolute barman sort of way. He can shout better than anybody. Now, it’s true that his American accent is terrible, but, bizarrely, the Americans don’t seem to mind very much. If they don’t, why should we?

Confirmation of his rise came this summer when two very similar projects entered US cinemas. Olympus Has Fallen starred Butler as a ruffian who rescues the president when terrorists attack the White House. White House Down starred Channing Tatum as a ruffian who saves the President when terrorists attack the White House. Get out of here, Tatum! Back to your dancing, ye wee skite! White House Down opened with $24 million. Olympus Has Fallen managed $30 million. And we reckon the Butler film cost a lot less.

Obviously, Butler has been in flops. The unheralded (and unscreened to the press) Chasing Mavericks might still be in cinemas as you read this. But he will remain bankable for a while. And he’s fun to watch. Heck, he was the best thing in Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus. I’m not sure you’d call that “acting”, mind you. So what. Worse performers have won Oscars.