Scottish actor Gerard Butler spent seven miserable years studying law before trying his hand at acting on the London stage. Half a decade later, a much happier Butler had over a dozen theater, movie, and television credits under his belt, including starring roles in the stage version of Trainspotting (1996) and the award-winning film Mrs. Brown (1997).
Born on November 13, 1969, in Glasgow, Butler is the youngest of Margaret and Edward Butler's three children; he has a sister and a brother. When Butler was barely six months old, his family relocated to Montréal, Canada, where his father undertook several failed business ventures. A year and a half later, Butler's parents divorced, and his mother took the children back to Scotland. He saw his father once more when he was four years old, and then not again until he was 16. In the meantime, Butler grew up in his mother's hometown of Paisley, where he frequented a nearby movie theater. Enamored with acting, he convinced his mother to take him to auditions, eventually joining the Scottish Youth Theatre and playing a street urchin in Oliver! at the Kings Theatre in Glasgow. An exceptional student, Butler graduated at the top of his class. Hoping to please his family and his teachers, who felt acting was an unrealistic career choice, Butler enrolled in Glasgow University's law program. He served as the president of the school's law society and earned an honor's degree.
After finishing college, Butler took a year and a half off to live in Los Angeles, where he appeared as an extra in the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston vehicle The Bodyguard (1992). He then traveled to Canada to be at his father's bedside as he succumbed to cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Butler returned to Scotland to begin a two-year law traineeship in Edinburgh at one of the country's top firms. But he was bored and discontented as a lawyer, and still dreamed about performing. He went to see Trainspotting on-stage at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh and knew he had made the wrong career choice. Soon enough, Butler's unhappiness began to show in his work, and his firm fired him with only a week left in his training. Two days later, at age 25, he moved to London to begin his acting career. Butler took on a series of odd jobs -- from waiting tables to demonstrating clockwork toys at a trade show -- while looking for work as an actor. He was supposed to be serving as a casting assistant for the play Coriolanus at the Mermaid Theatre when he ran into the show's director, actor Steven Berkoff, at a coffee bar and asked to read for a part. Impressed with the ex-barrister's moxie, Berkoff agreed and Butler secured his first professional acting role. While rehearsing for Coriolanus, he accompanied one of the other actors to an audition for the same stage adaptation of Trainspotting he had seen in Edinburgh and landed the lead part of Mark Renton.
In 1997, with his theater career firmly established, Butler made his big-screen debut opposite Billy Connolly and Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown. Sometime later, he had returned to the film's shooting location, Taymouth Castle, for a picnic when he saw a child drowning in the nearby River Tay. Butler dove into the water and saved the boy. The actor received a Certificate of Bravery from the Royal Humane Society for his selfless act. That same year, he earned a small speaking part as a bad guy in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies before spoofing ex-Wet Wet Wet singer Marti Pellow for the 1998 series The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. Butler finished out the '90s by appearing in the television comedy Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, as well as returning to the stage to appear opposite Sheila Gish and Rachel Weisz in Suddenly, Last Summer in London's West End.
Butler began the new millennium with supporting parts in the gangster film Shooters (2000) and the war drama Harrison's Flowers (2000). He then simultaneously landed the high-profile title roles in Wes Craven's Dracula 2000 (2000) and the USA television movie Attila (2001). Produced by the creators of The Mummy franchise, Attila chronicled the life of the eponymous fifth century barbarian and co-starred veteran actors Tim Curry and Powers Boothe. It also re-teamed Butler with his Coriolanus director, Berkoff, who played his uncle in the film. The hype that surrounded both Dracula 2000 and Attila was fueled by CNN's announcement that Butler was the frontrunner to replace Pierce Brosnan as the next James Bond. The following months, however, were anticlimactic for Butler. Dracula 2000 bombed at the box office and Attila, though one of the year's highest-rated television miniseries, proved to be forgettable. The rumors surrounding his involvement with 007 were quickly quelled when Brosnan announced that he was staying on for at least two more Bond films, and the series' producers never contacted Butler.
Determined to get back on his feet, Butler signed on with a new agency. He returned to British television for ITV's miniseries The Jury (2002), which also featured Derek Jacobi and Antony Sher, while simultaneously filming a role as Christian Bale's dragon-slaying best friend in the special-effects spectacle Reign of Fire (2002). He then quickly landed a supporting role in Renny Harlin's Mindhunters with Val Kilmer and LL Cool J, but pulled out of the project to play the lead in Richard Donner's long-awaited adaptation of Michael Crichton's best-selling novel Timeline (2003). Butler also turned heads as Angelina Jolie's hunky love interest in the sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life that same year.
Though, to this point in his career, Butler had no doubt displayed immense talent as an actor, the films he had appeared in had almost consistently disappointed in terms of box-office returns. In 2004, that disheartening trend continued as Butler donned the famous mask of the disfigured musical genius made popular on the stage by actor Michael Crawford in the big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, with subsequent roles in The Game of Their Lives and Beowulf & Grendel doing little to increase his international recognizability. By 2006, it seemed that Butler was finally poised to break big, and as he prepared to lead the soldiers of Sparta in battle against the overwhelming forces of the Persian Empire in Dawn of the Dead director Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's popular graphic novel 300, it appeared as if he was determined to do so in style.
The movie was a huge international box-office hit, and Butler followed it up with the Guy Ritchie film RocknRolla the next year. In 2009 he took the starring role in the thriller Law Abiding Citizen, and appeared in the virtual reality action film Gamer. 2010 saw the release of his romantic comedy The Bounty Hunter opposite Jennifer Aniston, and in 2011 he starred in the drama Machine Gun Preacher. That same year he played the arch enemy of Coriolanus in Ralph Fiennes adaptation of that Shakespearean tragedy.