becozy Posted September 22, 2008 Report Share Posted September 22, 2008 from October 2008 Issue of Men's Health (U.S. Edition) feature/cover story, now available on-line here previously posted 'excerpt' of Gerry's 4 rules is 'closed' but may be found here Beat Stress for Good Gerard Butler's Tips for Success There Are No Rules A decade ago, Gerard Butler traded a law career for an acting class. The decision changed his life. More important, it changed the man By: James Davidson, Photographs by: Anthony Mandler "What was I thinking?" says Gerard Butler. The star of the upcoming Guy Ritchie romp RocknRolla is standing in the middle of a stone-cut medieval courtyard in Edinburgh, Scotland. It's raining. He's staring at the building in which he used to work as a lawyer, a lifetime ago, before acting took over his life. The 38-year-old looks momentarily like a character from one of his epic movies -- heroic and tragic, statuesque and pensive -- as raindrops envelop him. "I know it was exactly what I needed to do. But at the same time, what the hell was I thinking?" His voice trails off. Butler was a very smart kid. He was president of the University of Glasgow Law Society. After college, he landed a job at a prestigious law firm. He was one of a lucky few to escape the working-class Scottish city of Glasgow and make something of himself. The thing is, he was miserable. "I was drinking constantly. I hated my life." He stares down at his feet as his loud, deep Scottish brogue echoes off the nearby buildings. Then one night, in 1995, Butler saw a stage production of Trainspotting at the Edinburgh International Festival and suddenly felt alive. He knew he couldn't be a lawyer anymore. "A week later, I packed my bags and moved to London to become an actor. I had no connections, no experience, no training, and no prospects." He laughs. The old adage "nothing ventured, nothing gained" is always spoken retrospectively, after some great gamble has paid off. And Butler's gamble clearly has. Having starred in such megaprojects as 300, The Phantom of the Opera, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, his acting career is the envy of all but a handful of megastars. But imagine his situation 13 years ago. "Everybody was laughing at me. Everybody was thinking I'd just messed up my whole career." What drives a man to take such an enormous risk? How do you know it's a good idea? And how do you pull it off? Butler stops and puts his hands in his pockets. "What happens is that the universe conspires," he says. "Once you make a decision to do something, the universe starts to help you." He's paraphrasing a famous idea attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. And in Butler's case, it worked. After a year of studying, he landed a role in the exact same production of Trainspotting he'd seen the summer before. Do the work It helps to have talent, of course. And although Butler clearly does, he believes talent alone is rather meaningless. "There are a lot of people I think are really talented, and I can see that they're not going to make it because they don't work hard enough." In other words, the universe conspires only when you really mean it. When you're willing to work for it. Over time, contends Butler, talent and hard work become indistinguishable. You can work very hard to become better at something, to learn all the ins and outs, to acquire all the necessary skills. And if you're successful, people compliment you on your talent. If there's a lesson to be drawn from Butler's great gamble, it's not that enormous risks should be taken impetuously, but that they must be taken when appropriate -- that is, when you're motivated to do the work required for the risk to pay off. Digging a bit deeper into Butler's decision reveals another important force at work: the misery. "You have to understand that I was completely out of control. If I hadn't been so lost and insane, I'd still be a lawyer. Misery is a sign that something is wrong, that your life is in need of some big changes. "I haven't had a drink in more than 10 years," he continues. "That's when everything changed for me. That's when I learned what had to be done to succeed and be happy in life." Accepting his desire to do this crazy thing ended his need to anesthetize himself from his life. What seemed crazy to others -- abandoning a responsible career to pursue an apparent pipe dream -- was in fact the sanest thing he could have done. It freed him. "I knew moving to London was a huge risk. But I said to myself, I'm aiming for the stars. I'll worry about the details later." Obey your principles The irony is that Butler has become famous for playing characters, who also leap before they look. One Two, the charming and streetwise mobster at the center of RocknRolla, is the kind of guy who has no trouble stealing millions of dollars in broad daylight. Now if he could only start his getaway car... "When we did that scene where we were trying to steal the car, we had to improvise a lot, and each time we ran it, I pissed myself laughing." The scene, in which two car thieves are asking directions for how to start a car they've just stolen, has a sort of Pulp Fiction-meets-Snatch absurdity to it. It's the humanity of the movie, and the quirks and insecurities of the characters, that make it more than just a predictable action flick. In Butler's most famous role, as King Leonidas in the epic film 300, he played an enormous risk taker -- a king with an army of 300 soldiers who refuses to kneel before a massive invading force. Something in the movie struck a nerve with male audiences around the world. Besides achieving monumental box-office success, it has spawned hordes of fan clubs dedicated to the movie, its main character, and Butler himself. "You come out of that movie so pumped up, so ready to die for your friends or your country or anything," says Butler. "Like, 'I will fight for my parking space! I will kill. This is my parking space!' "You know, generals have to follow rules," he continues. "We all do, in life and in our jobs. But with these guys, it was like, 'We know what we stand for and nothing else matters. There are no rules, only principles.'" And in a morally squishy world, where every principle can be whittled down and rationalized, it's a fresh statement: I guess we have to die now, because our principles tell us that we do not kneel. Find your energy "This city is magical. Look at that castle." Butler points south to Edinburgh Castle, a massive monument of cut stone and parapets that overlooks the town. "The houses stop at a certain point before the castle," he explains. "That was for security. The distance was the farthest somebody could fire an arrow. This was before the longbow, of course." He goes on to explain the history of the longbow, how it changed the nature of warfare, how men were bred to do nothing but fire the enormous weapons. Of course, Gerard Butler knows a lot about medieval warfare. Of course he does. As we walk, he points out the landmarks. He seems fascinated by them; talking about them infuses him with energy. "I love everything about the Scottish people--their warmth, their humor, their potential for violence." Butler is one of a very select few Scottish actors recognized as an international star. It's a very short list that includes Ewan McGregor and Sean Connery. He takes great pride in this. As we walk through town, he's feeling very...alive. He goes into shops to speak to shopkeepers. He buys things he doesn't need. He walks behind counters. He pretends to steal cell phones. He signs shirts. He cracks jokes. He sings. He swears mightily in his Scottish accent. He runs through traffic. He claps men good-naturedly on the back. He smiles impishly at women. He asks total strangers about their lives. Butler was raised by a single mother in Glasgow, about an hour's train ride away. Between the ages of 2 and 16, he didn't see his father. If there is any lingering resentment over this, he hides it well, and instead speaks highly of his mom. "She sacrificed everything for me and my siblings. I went for a walk with her last night. We were looking at these houses in this nice neighborhood, and she pointed to one and said, 'Look at that person's garage. That's bigger than the house you grew up in.'" There is pride in his voice, pride borne of having overcome difficult odds. "Nobody from Glasgow goes into acting," he continues. "You were seen as weird if you wanted to be an actor. But I didn't mind. It's just what I wanted to do." As he says this, he is skidding down the slick, wet sidewalk on his heels, like a skier. He stops and turns toward me. "But it was an amazing place to grow up. Every day I was out playing with the other kids. There was a lot of fun, a lot of craziness, a lot of risk taking. We were always running over the railroad tracks and hanging off cliffs." He turns away and starts skiing down the sidewalk again. It's not surprising that a man who so perfectly understands the transformative power of taking big risks also revels in the small ones. He slides nearly 6 feet, and it looks for a moment like he's going to lose his balance. Then, at the last second, he rights himself. "Ha! Did you see that?" he says, grinning. "Watch me do it again." Beat stress for good Pressure comes in many forms -- an approaching deadline, a crazy travel schedule, a job search in a tough economy. Taking big risks has taught Gerard Butler a few things about maintaining his calm. Borrow his 4-step plan. Step 1: Let go of what you can't control "I have a very complex process for taking the pressure off myself. It starts with me saying, 'I can only do what I can do.'" It's not just a matter of recognizing your limitations, says Butler. It's recognizing that you can't affect every outcome, and letting go of those that are out of your control. Step 2: Don't hold back with the stuff you can control The trick isn't to avoid work, but to avoid stress, says Butler. "When I'm working, that's on my mind all the time, the faith that has been granted to me by people, the money that has been spent. It seems the best thing I can do to honor it is to work my butt off." Step 3: Make time for R&R -- rest and recreation "I don't want to abuse my success, so I don't go out partying all the time. I try to get as much rest as I can." Nor does he sacrifice his workout. "When I'm working in a new place, I'm always thinking, Okay, where are the trails? Where can I go hiking and running?" Step 4: Remember where you started "I try to love where I am and what I'm doing. I see it as an honor to do what I do for a living," says Butler. It takes an incredible amount of work to achieve your goals; that should be a source of great pride during your most stressful times. read the entire article on-line at Men's Health Available for purchase on newstands, general merchandise and other sellers in the U.S. now. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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