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Gerard Butler is best known for his role as King Leonidas of Sparta in 300.
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While working as a casting assistant for the play Coriolanus, he ran into the play's director, Steven Berkoff, in a coffee shop and begged for a chance to read for the lead role. He says of the experience: "I gave it everything. Afterward, the casting director came up to me almost in tears. She said, 'You're the best he saw in two days!' Walking home was probably the happiest moment of my life,
when there's an energy in you that can't be put down. I'd gone from handing out pages to getting the lead role." After a successful run in Coriolanus, Butler landed the lead in the exact same stage rendition of Trainspotting that had inspired him to try acting again, and he was really on his way as an actor.
Making the transition from the stage to the screen, in 1997 Butler starred with Judi Dench and Billy Connolly in Mrs. Brown and also scored a small part in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. During the film's shooting, he was picnicking with his mother near a river and heard screaming from a boy who was in trouble. He immediately dove into the river and saved the youth from drowning, winning a Certificate of Bravery from the Royal Humane Society as an example of his courage and caring. After acting in a series of largely forgettable films, in 2003 Butler finally got his break with the role of the Phantom in Joel Schumacher's on-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera. It was a demanding role that required the actor to sing most of his lines. Even though Butler had been the lead singer of a rock band during his time in law school, he was incredibly nervous about auditioning for the part: "I'd had maybe four singing lessons when I went to sing 'Music of the Night' for Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was perhaps the most nerve-wracking experience I ever went through. But I got the role. Some people thought I did a great job, but others thought it was sacrilegious."
Though Phantom did not hit blockbuster gold, it got Butler recognized in Hollywood, and four years later he landed the lead role, as King Leonidas, in 300, the testosterone-infused historical epic about a small legion of Spartan soldiers defeating the enormous Persian army. To look believable as a warrior king, Butler trained every day for four months in the most intense workout regimen of his life, giving him an incredible physique in time for the shoot: "You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you've pumped—the history of that is all in your eyes," he said. "That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think… 'I should have trained more.' Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion." The role boosted Butler's career profile even higher. Since appearing in 300, he has starred in several romantic comedies such as P.S. I Love You with Hilary Swank and The Ugly Truth with Katherine Heigl, along with appearing on many "world's hottest men" lists. His career is not showing any signs of slowing down.
In spite of all his success, Gerard Butler still retains the breezy attitude of a guy who rolls with the punches and has a down-to-earth sense of humor. Looking back, he is still slightly stunned at the twists his life has taken and reflects on what could have been: "I wasn't going to be an actor. I was going to be a lawyer… There was something else at work, something I didn't have control of. If I hadn't [messed] up that job, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. I might be a very mediocre lawyer in some small town in the middle of Scotland."
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