Gerry the Sinner, Gerry the Saint (Gerard Butler)
Credit: Vera Anderson / Getty Images
Let's not be coy here. according to the nation's movie critics, with the exception of '300' and maybe 'RocknRolla,' Butler's recent movies have generally sucked the big one. Here are some of the adjectives used to describe his three 2009 movies ('Gamer,' 'The Ugly Truth,' and 'Law Abiding Citizen'): "ghastly," "lackluster," "sexually crude," "insipid," "utterly mechanical," "loathsome," "preposterous," "relentlessly ugly," "very nasty," "cacophonous mess," "outlandishly crass," "miasmic upchuck." To top things off, early word had it that Butler was going to be nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award, a Razzie, in the always-heated worst actor category (though in the end, mercifully, he wasn't). But as far as Butler and his career are concerned, here's the outlandishly preposterous and relentlessly beautiful part: Those movies didn't flop. In fact, 'Law Abiding Citizen' and 'The Ugly Truth' were outright hits, grossing more than $300 million combined, worldwide. Rarely has the disparity between critical reception and audience response been so pronounced. Even if his newest movie, 'The Bounty Hunter', an action rom-com co-starring Jennifer Aniston, is another stinker, chances are that Butler will come out of it looking good.

There's only one explanation for this, of course: Butler himself.But what, exactly, is his appeal?

Today, inside Neptune's Net, all is revealed in a matter of seconds. He's standing in line, looking at the menu, when a nice-looking middle-aged woman and her man friend come up to him.

"Excuse me," the woman says, "I don't mean to interrupt you–"

Butler wheels on her. "Well, don't, then. I just learned that I could be up for a Razzie. This is an important moment for me as an actor. I almost feel like crying. I feel like I just won an Oscar but the other way around.
Should I kill myself? Should I kill everyone else? What?"

The woman blinks furiously, trying to piece all this together. His words, his snorting laughter, his dancing blue-green eyes, the Scottish burr compounding everything. He's a big guy, too, more than six feet tall, and thick. Blithely, she goes on, "I'm very impressed with you! P.S. I Love You is our favorite!" (2007 rom-com: "grating," "excruciating"). She nods at her man friend. "Well, not his, mine. And did you do all of the singing in Phantom of the Opera?" (2004 musical: "bloated," "tedious"). "Oh, that's where I fell in love with you. And, well, Dear Frankie, I love you in that, too" (2004 drama: "heartwarming," "touching," "solid storytelling and subdued acting," "undeniably sweet," "a lasting love letter," "terrific performances" – let's give credit where credit is due). "You were fabulous!" She shoves a wine bottle in his direction. "Would you sign this?"

"Absolutely, of course," says Butler. Then he lowers his voice and says, "I'm doing an interview right now, but if I wasn't, I'd be like, 'Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, fuck all of you!'"

Butler's kidding again, but the woman takes a step back.

He scrawls on the wine bottle, returns it.

The woman frowns. "That's awesome," she says, "but what does it say?"

"It says, 'Gerry Butler,';" Butler says, pointing. "I'm signing a fucking wine bottle, it's not the easiest thing in the world, all right?"

That noted, he gives her a great big hug, wrapping his arms around her, and you can see her melt into him. And there it is in a nutshell, the key to Butler's appeal. He's a take-charge, foul-mouthed joker with a willingness to hug. "That's the way he is in person, and that's the way he comes across in his movies," says '300' director Zack Snyder.

And he's just so many other damned things besides. He's athletic, loves his mountain biking, his skiing, and his surfing, his latest new pastime. (He used to be a ferocious badminton player, too.) He's the kind of fellow who likes to pee in the shower and says that sometimes, while visiting friends, he'll take a crap in a pot and hide it for them to find later. (He's kidding about that, he says, but the way he says it, you never know.) Finally, if he puts on a few pounds, develops a gut and guy boobs, he does not keep his shirt on and stay off the beach, out of the paparazzi's sight. He lets it all hang out. Now that's a man. And that's why, despite certain of his movies, he is currently being called "everyone's favorite Scottish hunk," not to mention general-purpose all-around-town bon vivant and ladies' man of a very high order.

He is sitting at a table now, over fish-and-chips and another Coke, legs jangling as he looks at a list of names on a sheet of paper that has been slid in front of him. Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Naomi Campbell, Jessica Simpson, Cheryl Burke, Lindsay Lohan, and Shanna Moakler, all names that have been appended to his in one way or another. It would be churlish to ask him to name names, but how about a number – of those seven, how many has he in fact slept with?

He barks out a laugh, takes up a pen, makes a mark, pushes the paper back across the table. The number is one.

This is, of course, terribly disappointing. It's a travesty is what it is. He's single, they're (mostly) single. He should be out there making hay.

"Yeah," he says almost sheepishly. "I think I get laid less now than I used to, because I'm way more paranoid now. Look at fucking Tiger Woods! I mean, I'm nowhere near as naughty as I used to be, partly because I did a lot of that when I was drinking. I'm not saying I've cut that part out. I'm certainly no angel. There's no smoke without fire. But here's the thing: While they're accusing me of that, I've probably been off somewhere else doing damage with someone else. I'm pretty smart like that. I know how to get away with these things."