Sunday, March 11, 2007
Did the Butler FINALLY do it?
This weekend's release of 300, Zack Snyder's cinematic "translation" (to use Robert Rodriguez's term) of Frank Miller's well-known graphic novel has lots of people very excited, not the least of all comic book fans. I happen to be one of those fans. I was very much looking forward to the film and, having just seen it, it fulfilled all of my expectations. There is, however, another reason why this film's release, and all of the hype surrounding it, pleases me. It's because I am confident it will accomplish something that I've been hoping will happen for a long time: it will turn Gerard Butler into a star.
For those who may not know, Gerry (as he prefers to be called) is the 38-year-old Scottish actor who plays the role of Spartan King Leonides with conviction, authority and gravitas. He's someone whose career I have been following for several years now and despite the fact that I think he has everything a fellow would need to become an enormosuly successful leading man and A-list movie star (looks, talent, charisma), the level of fame and celebrity available to the likes of Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale seems to have eluded him... hopefully until now.
Though I didn't realize it until years later, the first time I saw Butler was in a minor role in the film Her Majesty Mrs. Brown. He wasn't particularly memorable in it, but then it's hard to be when you're working across from Judi Dench and Billy Connelly. Apparently he also appeared briefly in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Kind of funny given that years later Butler's name would be one among dozens of potential successors to Brosnan (though, quite frankly, all it seems an actor needs nowadays to be considered a possible Bond is a penis).
To this day, though, the first time I really consider "seeing" Gerry Butler in a movie was in Wes Craven's Dracula 2000 where he played the titular vampire. The film itself, to use tremendous understatement, is certainly no masterpiece but does have some interesting ideas, a few halfway decent scenes and boasts an effective Van Helsing in the form of veteran actor Christopher Plummer. The biggest impression left on me when I first saw it, though, was by Butler himself. I vividly remember Dracula making his entrance on screen and thinking to myself "Whoa! Who is THAT?" First of all, the man (and I'm secure enough in my sexuality that I can say this) is gorgeous. Secondly, he had remarkable presence. Over the course of the film, Dracula does very little talking and yet Butler still commands the screen whenever he's on it. When he does speak it's in a rather sinister whisper, giving him far more strength and power than if he were waving his arms about and shouting angrily. Despite the massive shortcomings of the film, I think Butler's interpretation of the character is good enough to deserve a place beside such great screen Draculas as Lugosi, Lee, Langella and Oldman. It's amazing that a film which is so overblown and corny can have an element of such subtlety and dignity. I made it a point to remember Butler's name because I was convinced this guy was going places (I thought the same thing of Natalie Portman when I saw her in The Professional).
Over the next few years Butler's face would pop up on occasion, either playing a supporting role in a rather forgettable movie (Reign of Fire, Timeline or the Lara Croft sequel) or a prominent role in a made-for-TV mini-series (BBC's The Jury or TNT's Attila). When it was announced that he would be playing the Phantom of the Opera in the big screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular stage musical, I was one of the few people who was actually pleased. At the very least, I knew that he could act the part and would have the requisite amount of menace, sympathy and sexiness. I was also hopeful that it might finally lift his career to the next level, but unfortunately it did not happen. If anything, it probably hurt him. Butler's limitations as a singer did not endear him to many "phans" and, as one critic astutley observed, he had the un-enviable job of being "the guy who's not Michael Crawford." After the film's upsetting reception I realized I was going to have to wait a little longer for Butler to get the attention I felt he deserved... although during this time Butler was making the rounds of the talk-show circuit (Leno, Ferguson, Ellen, etc) demonstrating his immense charm and ease and, through the process, winning a few female fans. That sexy Scottish accent I'm sure didn't hurt him either.
Also during this time, Butler managed to show up in a couple very good, though perhaps not hugely successful, indie movies such as The Game Of Their Lives (also known as The Miracle Match), a charming little film about one of the great upsets in sports history. There was also Dear Frankie, a tale about a deaf boy (Jack mcElhone) living with his mother (Emily Mortimer) who has told him some rather rosy untruths about his father, a terribly abusive man from whom she is feeling. Butler plays a character known only as "the stranger" that she hires to pretend to be his father. In spite of how it sounds, it's actually a very charming, very sweet (though not maudlin) film and a film that Butler should be proud of, despite the fact it wasn't going to be turning him into a "above-the-title" actor.
Now, with 300, Gerry finally lands his first "real" leading role in a high-concept Hollywood blockbuster (in which he performs admirably well) and I think it's high time. Perhaps from now on, whenever the name "Gerard Butler" is mentioned, the typical response from people will no longer be: "Who?"