Signature Line: "Madness? This is Sparta!"
Career Peaks: In 2006, 37-year-old Scottish journeyman actor Gerard Butler broke out in the role of the muscled warrior King Leonidas in Zack Snyder and Frank Miller's sword-and-sandal battle epic '300,' which grossed $456 million worldwide. While Butler hasn't achieved those heights since, he has delivered two modest hits, which scored better with global audiences of both genders than they did with critics.
Career Watch is a bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other week, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they've made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Gerard Butler.
Signature Line: "Madness? This is Sparta!"
Career Peaks: In 2006, 37-year-old Scottish journeyman actor Gerard Butler broke out in the role of the muscled warrior King Leonidas in Zack Snyder and Frank Miller's sword-and-sandal battle epic '300,' which grossed $456 million worldwide. While Butler hasn't achieved those heights since, he has delivered two modest hits, which scored better with global audiences of both genders than they did with critics. The misogynistic studio romantic comedy 'The Ugly Truth,' which stars Butler as a sexist pig who teaches uptight professional Katherine Heigl how to please men, grossed $203 million worldwide (Tomatometer: 14 %), while the action B-flick 'Law Abiding Citizen,' starring Butler as a vengefully-powerful prisoner, delivered a global $113 million gross (Tomatometer: 26%).
Awards Attention: For '300,' Butler was nominated by such groups as The People's Choice, MTV Movie and Saturn Awards. His one win: "Best Fight" from MTV.
Latest Misfire: After 'The Ugly Truth,' Butler went back to woman-hater rom-com fare, but didn't do as well, with 'The Bounty Hunter,' in which he kidnaps and battles ex-wife Jennifer Aniston. This movie was excoriated by critics (Tomatometer: 8%) and global audiences were less amused (worldwide gross: $125 million). Is it possible that women were turned off by his non-romantic approach? Or was it just a lousy movie?
Biggest Problem: Butler seems caught between his macho bad-boy women-hating rogue persona -- claiming he likes to bare his ass in movies, and joking, "I trimmed her bush," of sometime gal-pal Aniston's Christmas party -- and his more serious acting. Has he turned off women with his tabloid exploits and poor film choices? Even men didn't go to see Guy Ritchie's ultra-nasty 'RocknRolla' or the destructive sci-fi actioner 'Gamer,' directed by the guys who brought you 'Crank.' Is Butler an action man's man or a femme-friendly romantic lead? Can he do both? His choice of roles -- as well as his roaming accents -- seem to confuse people.
Current Gossip: While denying anything serious with Aniston (even after he was photographed in France with his hand caressing her butt), Butler reportedly flew to Paris to romance TV interviewer Laurie Cholewa, after falling for her during their 'Bounty Hunter' interview.
Biggest Assets: At 40, Butler is an aggressively masculine actor with a wide range: He can do just about anything, from heartfelt romance ('Dear Frankie') to melodrama ('The Phantom of the Opera') to bone-crunching violence ('RocknRolla'). He is in his physical prime in a way that Russell Crowe is not, and he has acting chops. During a time when movie stars can't seem to find audiences anymore, Butler has developed a global following and can get movies made. While his post-'300' returns are modest, most filmmakers are seeing profits on his films. "He can do no wrong," says The Film Department's Mark Gill, who's trying to put together a sequel to 'Law Abiding Citizen.' "It doesn't matter what he's in, he's still highly appealing. He's review-proof. That's the mark of a true movie star: Even in lesser movies, he's survivable, economically."
Next Step: Butler is currently filming the Shakespearean role of Tullus Aufidius in Ralph Fiennes' 'Coriolanus.' Ramping up for a June start in Pennsylvania is 'Machine Gun Preacher,' in which he plays a biker-drug-dealer-preacher who defends Sudanese orphans, directed by Marc Forster ('Quantum of Solace'). He's also playing a crude, foul-mouthed leprechaun (CG is involved) in Brett Ratner's contribution to an untitled omnibus of comedy shorts assembled by the Farrelly brothers. Although he attended the opening of the 'Phantom' sequel 'Love Never Dies,' he has no plans to participate in a movie version. "He's sought-after," says producer James Jacks, who wants to cast him for two of his upcoming movies. "He's an action movie star. He has a great physical presence."
Career Advice: While Butler's PR reps are clearly trying to clean up his rough-and-tumble rake image via Haiti relief work and cover stories in Men's Health and Architectural Digest, he can't seem to keep his mouth shut. On the one hand, his drinking days are behind him; on the other, he's no angel, and as they say, "where there's smoke there's fire." Meanwhile, his 3300-foot Chelsea loft boasts 13-foot mahogany doors, crystal chandeliers and R-rated ceiling frescoes.
"I've had to fight even harder to try and do something at an interesting level," he told one reporter. The best way for Butler to gain some control over his career -- face it, Hollywood and global financeers want to give him formula actioners and rom-coms -- is to develop some decent material himself. In fact, he has started a film production company, Evil Twins, which is prepping several projects, from biopics of writers Frank McCourt and Scottish poet Robert Burns to Gabriele Muccino's 'Slide,' a movie about a Little League coach who is trying to bond with his son while fielding interest from his players' gorgeous moms.
Butler needs to reclaim the support of audiences and critics by making some smart choices on quality material, even if commercial potential is limited. While it never hurts to do voice work on an animated family hit like 'How to Train Your Dragon,' it doesn't exactly buttress his career profile. His best efforts have been period epics like '300,' 'Beowulf & Grendel' and the miniseries 'Attila,' which landed him '300' in the first place.
Let's hope that Legendary and Warner Bros. green-light Frank Miller's eagerly awaited 'Xerxes,' the sequel to '300.'
Anne Thompson -- who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly -- writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:
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