On a sunny day out along the Pacific Coast Highway, heading up past Malibu in a dark SUV, destination a biker-boozer-surfer roadhouse called Neptune's Net, Gerard Butler – Gerry to his friends – has his eye cast out to the sparkling blue sea and just for a moment seems lost deep in thought. He has been in this neck of the woods before, but a long time ago, under far different circumstances. Now he's a movie star, a Scottish transplant with a killer crooked smile who slayed as King Leonidas in the epic Spartans vs. Persians bloodfest '300,' then went the way of rom-coms and high-octane action films. In the past few years, he's also had the good fortune to be linked to everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Jennifer Aniston; in fact, he can't say hello to a woman without it being said they're a hot-and-bothered item. Plus, he owns houses in New York and L.A., vacations in India and Brazil, usually drives a BMW Z8, and no longer has to do his own grocery shopping. Sweet stuff. Everything's roses. Right now, as well, he's got a Coca-Cola in hand and is loving every minute of it.
"It's my first one in three days," he's saying, happily taking a big swig. "There are times, though, when I'll have six in a day. It depends on the mood I'm in, whether I'm Gerry the addict, or Gerry the saint, or Gerry the whatever it may be. Yes, there are way more Gerrys than I would like. There really are."
Which brings him back to the last time he was in these surroundings, in the mid-1990s, before he even became an actor. He was midway through law school in Scotland, had come to Venice Beach for an apprenticeship that never materialized and stuck around for a year. He was Gerry the addict then, a big-time drinker and party maniac. "I actually can't remember those times so well," he says, squinting with the effort. "The good old days. I once drove from L.A. to Chicago in this horrible whiteout of a snowstorm – you could not see one foot in front of you – and the car, this little Pontiac, was sliding all over the place, making funny noises. It would have been scary if I hadn't been smashed out of my head. I didn't say that. I'm kidding! I wasn't. I really wasn't. But sometimes I would leave L.A. and wake up in Florida and think, 'How did this happen?'"
While he was in California, lots of other stuff happened too. For instance, he got arrested a number of times, usually because he was drunk and disorderly. At one point, he ended up in a Los Angeles jail, shackled to eight other evildoers, real bad guys with no saint sides to them whatsoever, thinking, "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!" – at a time when, back home, he was still president of the University of Glasgow Law Society.
But that's the old Gerry. The new Gerry, at the age of 40, hasn't had a drink in 13 years. The new Gerry still might get in scrapes with the law. Last year, he was arrested for punching out a paparazzo. But this Gerry does not suffer unduly. He was acquitted.
And so down the road he moves, closer to Neptune's Net. It's a place he says he's never seen before. But he's heard about it. He's heard tales. It has a reputation. He wants to go.
Pulling in, he scratches at the stubble on his chin and looks around. The motorcycles. The battered picnic tables. The seagulls and seagull crap. The ocean over there. The Porta-Potties right here. "Oh, yeah," he says, a lightbulb going on somewhere in his head, an old memory illuminated. "I never went in, but I did stop here once before." He smiles that crazy fractured smile of his, then jumps out of the car and heads toward this place he's never seen before for the second time in his life.