LOS ANGELES — To most film audiences, Gerard Butler's acting career easily fits into two phases: the years spent toiling as phantoms, vampires and Attila the Hun, and the glorious months since hitting big with "300.” Following that global blockbuster, a pairing with Oscar winner Hilary Swank in "P.S. I Love You” makes sense to both the producers who write the checks and the audiences who buy the tickets.
These days, the Scottish actor jokes about the days before his sudden rise, making winking statements such as, "It didn't happen; I was always a successful actor!” during a press day at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. But long before his performance as King Leonidas in "300” transformed Butler's life and career, he seemed destined for legal briefs instead of loincloths.
"Well, I trained as a lawyer, believe it or not. So studied law for five years, and I trained as a lawyer for two years in a firm,” Butler said. "And that didn't go so well in the end. A long seven years of my life, and I was a week away from qualifying, and I was fired, because I was a bit all over the place.”
Butler does not go into what "all over the place” means, but he describes the period as "chaotic and insane.”
But he got it all together in time to make a run at an acting career. In 1997, he started pulling work in British television and small roles in features such as "Tomorrow Never Dies.” Butler was geared up for a career in British productions and poured all his savings into a flat in London, but just as he was closing on the real estate, his agent secured two major stateside roles, one in the 2000 miniseries "Attila,” and the lead role in "Dracula 2000.”
Since "300” grossed $456 million worldwide, Butler's career outlook has dramatically changed.