Scottish actor Gerard Butler has a personal army, and it numbers far more than 300. They call themselves Gerry's Tarts, enthuse about the actor on GerardButler .net and raise money for his favorite charities. In anticipation of his current film, P.S. I Love You, this highly mobilized female fan club sent Butler a gift.
"I have to show you this," he says, leaping from his seat on the sofa and striding across his suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where he is preparing for a grueling media junket. "I just got this today. This is my doll from [the 2003 sci-fi film] Timeline, and a diary of what it's wearing, the diary of where it's been. It's been sent from city to city to different people, and they write and they take photos of the Gerry doll."
In one photo, the doll is trying to get into Victoria's Secret. Butler roars with laughter at the sight.
P.S. should unleash a new wave of adoration among the legions of estrogen-fueled fans who swooned over his chiseled abs in 300 and his sonorous vocals in The Phantom of the Opera. In the romantic comedy, based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern, Butler plays Gerry Kennedy, an Irishman who dies of a brain tumor but leaves a trail of love letters for his widow, Holly (Hilary Swank), to help her cope with the loss.
In scenes depicting Kennedy before his death, Butler sings, plays guitar and performs a comical striptease in boxers and suspenders. The get-up is more than worthy of a doll of its own.
"The thing about Gerry [Butler] is he's just a hoot, and you never know what he's going to do," Swank says. "And you never know what's going to come out of his mouth next. He'll just go off on something. And he'll tell you a story about a dream he had, and he'll say, 'What do you think that means?' He's really fresh and brings that quality to everything he does."
Butler speaks passionately about a range of topics: the way people joke at Scottish and Irish wakes, his interest in meditation and yoga, and how peeved he is to have to call football "soccer."
He exudes the quality that would inspire 300's Spartans to follow him to their deaths on the battlefield, The Phantom of the Opera's Christine to feel love for him despite his gravely deformed face and P.S.'s Holly to lose herself in grief at his death. The man has charisma.
"Gerry has this incredible combination of a sexy, masculine Spartan and a wonderful, boyish, mischievous quality and, to me, a Cary Grant quality," says P.S. writer-director Richard LaGravenese. "A friend of mine [director Ted Demme] had died prior to writing the script, and in a way, for me, Gerry was playing my friend. We talked about that quite a bit, because he and my friend had very much a similar spirit."
Butler's offbeat energy may have something to do with his Scottish upbringing and the late start he got in acting. He was born in Glasgow and raised by his divorced mother in Paisley, was more of a jock than a thespian and spent his time playing soccer, volleyball, badminton and golf.
When he was 15, he attended the Scottish Youth Theatre, but when it came time to choose a career, he didn't see acting as a viable option. "It's hard enough if you're American," he says. "Then if you go to London, there's even less opportunity. And then you take yourself 500 miles up north and say you're from Glasgow, you're an old Scotsboy, it's like, what chance have you got of making it as an actor? So I did well in school and then went into law school. And yet I hadn't asked myself the question: Is this really, really, really, in this one life that I'm going to have, what I want to do? And it wasn't."
His subsequent soul-searching years included a few youthful brushes with the law and a battle with alcoholism, but he sorted things out before too long and landed a role opposite Judi Dench and Billy Connolly in Mrs. Brown.
But it was 300 that allowed Butler to reign at the box office for the first time in his career. "Even before he was officially on the movie, he had started training," recalls 300 writer-director Zack Snyder. "That to me made me go, 'Man, this guy knows what it takes.' I mean, I don't know that he knew exactly what he was in for, but he took it head on. You know, a lot of actors often do multiple movies and overlap everything, and he kind of just committed to 300, and that was all he had."
P.S. is a true departure for a man best known for his depictions of larger-than-life characters such as Attila, Beowulf and Leonidas (in 300). Even Butler claims he "can't believe that that's the same guy that was in 300." And though he's shooting another action film, Game, and recently wrapped the Guy Ritchie mob flick RocknRolla, he's looking forward to showing audiences his softer side in P.S. - as well as in April's family adventure Nim's Island - for more reasons than one.
"I'm like, 'Look, I'm not saying I'm the best dramatic or comedy actor,' " Butler says, jokingly, " 'but you've got to let me do it, because my body can't take any more of the action!' "
Cristy Lytal writes for the Los Angeles Times.