With two big new films releasing back-to-back – Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen – Gerard Butler is securing his position as one of Hollywood's top leading men. While Gods of Egypt sees him play a villainous deity of fire and darkness, London Has Fallen sees him return to the role of the secret service agent Mike Banning (first seen in hit film Olympus Has Fallen) who uncovers a plot to assassinate world leaders gathered at the funeral of the British Prime Minister.
Did Butler bulk up for both roles in the style of his former 300 alter ego? "Not a chance," he laughs. "I trained, of course, and got myself into good shape for both of the films, but I'm never going to go through what I did for 300. When you're sculpting your body and bulking up to that extent, you're only doing it for vanity. I'd much rather concentrate on the fighting techniques and the things like that which are what adds to the realism of what you need to bring to the work."
Butler was born in Glasgow to Margaret and Edward Butler and spent his early childhood in Montreal, Canada, until his parents separated when he was three and his mother moved back to Scotland with Gerard, his sister, and his older brother.
A brilliant student, Butler excelled as a law student at Glasgow University where his charismatic personality and legal acumen earned him the prestigious position as head of the Law Society. But after beginning work as a trainee at a major law firm in Edinburgh, Butler felt depressed and disillusioned – and that's when the desire to change his life took hold. After being fired by his law firm – though he admits he brought that on himself – Gerry, as he likes to be called, found his chance to pursue his dream of becoming an actor…
Are you enjoying doing some of these bigger action films of late?
Butler: I love it! I like the tension and physicality that comes with doing fight scenes. Although, on Olympus Has Fallen, Rick [Yune, his co-star] and I beat the shit out of each other! I wound up with two cracked ribs and a broken bone in my neck. But apart from that I like playing tougher kinds of roles. Some of the other stuff I have been doing lately wasn't getting the attention I had hoped for so it was time to go back and get badass again.
Do you think that audiences appreciate that tough side of you, then?
I think doing 300 created certain expectations and they kind of follow you around. That film got my career going and I've been able to make many different kinds of films and play a lot of interesting characters. That's what I always wanted to do as an actor. You still have to pay attention to the business, though, and figure out what kinds of projects are right for you and are going to find an audience.
You went from working at a law firm to becoming a Hollywood star. How do you make that kind of adjustment and maintain a degree of privacy?
I live pretty normally but can't really stay in one place for very long or crowds tend to form. When I go to a shopping mall or I'm getting a coffee, I usually move as fast as possible to avoid attracting attention. I still like to do errands on my own and it's fine as long as the paparazzi don't start following you. That's the only downside. I'm very lucky to be doing what I'm doing.
Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had kept on working as a barrister instead of getting into acting?
Sometimes I think about that. There's a part of me that misses Scotland and I imagine I would probably be married and have a few kids by now if I had stayed there. Becoming an actor was a massive transformation for me, but I didn't have the heart to stick it out as a lawyer. I would have made a good one, except I hated the work – I was partying every night and I got fired. But my bosses also knew that acting was my passion. They were very realistic with me and said I should just go and do what I really wanted to be doing instead of wasting my time at the office. They were right.
I didn't have the heart to stick it out as a lawyer. I would have made a good one, except I was partying every night
Were you worried about risking the kind of security that comes with being a lawyer to take a chance at acting?
Oh, I was very worried. I still wake up sometimes at night in the middle of a dream where I'm back at the office in Edinburgh. It's a strange feeling but it reminds me that I didn't enjoy the work I was doing.
I still remember my very first day going to work and showing up in a dark suit and tie and thinking, "Is this what I really want to do with my life?" I spent most of my time poring over tax cases, and in a way it was a huge relief that they fired me because that was what made me follow my dream. The very next day I packed my bags and moved to London. I was still in shock, but that was the best thing that could have happened to me.
You're Hugo Boss's brand ambassador for its new Boss Bottled aftershave. The image of the fragrance is 'today's man'. What does that actually mean to you?
It means being passionate, intense and strong, but also sensitive. I've always loved being able to talk to women in a very deep and vulnerable way where you're not hiding behind any kind of macho exterior. I think it's important for men to be caring and compassionate in life and I've found that women appreciate men who are able to talk about themselves and be open about their feelings.
Have you always had that kind of gift when it comes to charming women?
Even as a young man I was drawn to the kind of sensitivity that women bring to the way they see the world. Women don't think the same way as men and that's part of what is so fascinating and attractive about them.
Do you think you have changed a lot over the course of your Hollywood career and all of the success you've had?
I'm not as driven as I was, although I'm still very ambitious. I've learnt to relax more and try to enjoy everything that comes with success. I meditate a lot because I find that helps calm me and keep things in perspective. There's nothing better than sitting on the beach and mediating on a beautiful sunny day.