Actor's versatility shines in career choices

Gerard Butler has made a career out of confounding his critics. In recent years, the Scottish thesp, who recently turned 40, has played everything from an iconic, singing spectre (“The Phantom of the Opera”) to a belligerent Spartan king (“300″) to a London crook (“Rockn­Rolla”) to a bereaved widower seeking brutal vengeance on his family’s killers (“Law Abiding Citizen”).

Along the way, he’s even managed to romance a lady or two.

That diversity in his choice of roles — and ability to mix it across the action, thriller and romantic comedy genres — has seen Butler emerge as leading man with more range than most.

“Anytime they think they have me pegged as one thing, then the challenge for me is to get out and surprise myself,” Butler explains. “I feel I’ve only tapped into 10% of what I can do.”

For Variety’s Intl. Star of the Year, the dream to become an actor began, appropriately enough, with an actual dream at the age of 15.

Born in Glasgow, Butler spent much of his life in nearby Paisley before earning a degree and becoming a lawyer. Despite showing promise in the legal profession — he was elected president of his school’s law society — the opportunity to pursue his passion for acting came when he auditioned for a stage production of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy “Coriolanus.”

Now, more than two decades later, he is gearing up to star in a bigscreen adaptation of the play opposite Ralph Fiennes, who also makes his directorial debut with the project. Butler hopes that his current streak of box office success will enable him to continue to pursue more challenging and left-field roles.

“If I can keep making movies that perform at the box office, then it allows me to go and move into Shakespeare territory,” Butler says. “I was talking to someone the other day and we were both surprised that I’ve actually been able to make it. I would always love to go off and make films like ‘Dear Frankie’ or ‘Beowulf’ even when there were larger projects around. In the long run that has paid off, but in the short term — especially when those films didn’t make any money — it can make you a liability. But I wanted to do those films because I loved them.”

This has been a good year for Butler. The romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth,” in which he sparred with Katherine Heigl, and dark thriller “Law Abiding Citizen,” co-starring Jamie Foxx, performed well in the U.S. and internationally. A clutch of buzzy projects in the pipeline — including “The Bounty” opposite Jennifer Aniston and DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon” — underline his versatility.

Butler has also been ramping up activity at the Evil Twins shingle with his producing partner Alan Siegel, with the company nabbing a producer credit alongside the Film Dept. on “Citizen” and an expanding development slate, which includes “Teacher Man,” about author Frank McCourt’s 30-year career teaching in New York’s public schools, and “Slide,” about a former baseball player’s attempts to fix his relationship with his child and estranged wife.

But don’t expect Butler to give up acting in favor of donning a producer’s cap.

“To be honest, ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ kicked the shit out of me, and it was a real breath of fresh air to work on ‘The Bounty’ and not have to worry about all that other stuff,” Butler says.

He is also becoming less enamored of the grind of publicizing his projects.

“I’ve made two and a half movies and done press for three movies in the past four months, and it made me never want to do movies again because of the press situation,” Butler concedes.

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