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. Next year, he will star with Jodie Foster in the fantasy film "Nim's Island” and in director Guy Ritchie's return to guns and thuggery, "RocknRolla.” But he does not see those years at Glasgow University Law School and his two years of internship as lost time. If anything, the experiences taught Butler valuable lessons about his career. "I don't see any of it as wasted time,” he said. "I honestly think that if I had left school, which I considered at one point to concentrate on acting, I wouldn't be here — I wouldn't have been successful. "The teaching that I picked up both in studying law and training as a lawyer — because I did learn some stuff — has really helped me in organizing my career,” Butler said. "It's amazing how involved mapping out your career as an actor becomes in terms of what you choose, what you don't choose, how you prepare for meetings, the difference between a good meeting and a bad meeting, getting the job and not getting the job, which is everything and nothing. "I always think that if I had left, fresh-faced, without that experience, I wouldn't be able to say any of that.” Travel and accommodations paid for by Warner Bros.
Gerard Butler stars as Gerry in the romantic comedy "P.S. I Love You.” WARNER BROS. PICTURES