After graduating from Glasgow University, Butler works as a lawyer at a Edinburgh firm, where he's fired for being late and coming to work hung-over. Of his firing, Butler tells USA Today, "It was the worst day of my life, yet it was the best thing that ever happened to me." With a new passion for acting, the Scot moves to London, where he lands the lead in the 1996 stage adaptation of Trainspotting, followed by small roles in Mrs. Brown and the James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies.
Butler lands his first lead film role in Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000. Although the flick is a huge flop, director Joel Schumacher is impressed by Butler's leading turn as the Count–and will later cast him in the legendary film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, The Phantom of the Opera.
Butler costars with Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider sequel, The Cradle of Life. Although director Jan de Bont says, "You'll feel a sexual tension; there is a chemistry" between Jolie's Croft and Butler's Terry Sheridan (Croft's sidekick ex), the film fails to deliver at the box office, taking in only $21.8 million over opening weekend.
Butler plays the title role of Erik in the film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, with Emmy Rossum (left). The beloved movie-musical grosses more than $50 million in the U.S. "He has a magnificent physique and a rich, gravelly, rock and roll voice that adds a lot of sexuality to the Phantom," director Joel Schumacher tells PEOPLE.
Butler makes his star-making, muscle-baring turn as the Spartan King Leonidas in 300, the film adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel. "Gerry carries the movie," director Zack Snyder tells Newsweek. "There was a concern that if we had an actor who people did not know, they wouldn't know who to follow in this tale. But Gerry has such powerful charisma and presence, you just want to be led into battle." The film debuts with ticket sales of $70 million over its opening weekend.
To follow up his bloody role, Butler appears in the film adaptation of chick-lit best-seller P.S. I Love You with Hilary Swank and plays Abigail Breslin's father in the 2008 children's fantasy movie Nim's Island with Jodie Foster. "Jodie is a heroine of mine," Butler tells Redbook, "and the funny thing is, the second I'd mention Abigail's name to people, their faces lit up as much as they did when I said I was working with Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider."
Butler is romantically linked to Dancing with the Stars champ Cheryl Burke, though Burke claims the two are just friends and neighbors. "He actually lives in my apartment building, and we’ve been friends for a few months," she clarifies. Butler is then spotted around L.A. cuddling and partying with actress Cameron Diaz.
Butler returns to movie romance in The Ugly Truth as a chauvinistic TV personality who gives his uptight coworker (played by Katherine Heigl) lessons in love. "Women pinch my butt," he jokes of his life as a newly-minted sex symbol. "It's kind of amazing." He then stars with Jamie Foxx in the action hit Law Abiding Citizen, which opens at No. 2, making $21.3 million.
In addition to staring as a former U.S. Army Ranger in Olympus Has Fallen, Butler serves as producer for the film. "It's a fascinating process which you're always learning," he says. "My advice is to produce something that is meaningful to you and that you care about, because when you have that it's far more easy for you to dive into." The film earns nearly $100 million, and plans for a sequel are announced.
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