Meet the Gerard Butler Underground. Theirs is not an officially certified Butler-sanctioned club. They are not a religious group or a rock band. They are not a resistance movement. They have names like Cathy and Barb, and as far as I know, they are underground for one reason: No one has a clue who Gerard Butler is.
You know... Gerard Butler?
The actor? Butler?
Not ringing a bell?
Whatever. Like that matters to the Gerard Butler Underground.
The Gerard Butler Underground loves Gerard Butler so much they had a birthday party for him at Claddagh Irish Pub in Toledo. They played pin-the-lips on a poster of Gerard Butler and bought Gerard Butler a cake. Gerard Butler doesn't live in Toledo. Gerard Butler lives in Los Angeles, with the other movie people. They know this. But that, folks, is devotion. They think of Gerard Butler all the time, every day. Talk to them long enough and the constant refrain is "Not that I'm obsessed or anything..." They speak breathlessly of him, repeat his lines in unison, build Web sites and YouTube tributes.
To Gerard Butler, of course.
The Gerard Butler Underground likes Gerard Butler so much they bought Gerard Butler a forest. They paid for the land to plant 2,000 trees. They are extremely civic-minded. The land is in Scotland, which, duh, is the ancestral home of Gerard Butler.
"Stop calling us underground this and underground that. The, what did you say, Gerard Butler Underground? We are not underground. We are in your face."
That's Doris Dubilzig.
She's not underground.
She just really likes Gerard Butler - "Gerry," she calls him, but you'd be more likely to call him that guy who played the masked Phantom in the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera. His career is long and not prominent: he was that guy opposite Angelina Jolie in the second Tomb Raider movie, and that guy in that small film with Emily Mortimer (Dear Frankie). In Reign of Fire, he was that guy with Christian Bale; Carlye Seybold, a newish member of the Gerard Butler Underground, watches until the scene where Gerry is darkly toasted by a flying dragon, then flips it off.
But now, like manna from heaven for fans, he's a bona fide leading man in the visually stunning 300, which opens today. He plays the king of Sparta. But in truth, everyone is second banana to that digital landscape.
Doris doesn't care.
"Yes, I've heard there are others like me," she said. "But I'm not responsible for the others."
She lives in Rossford.
She is very sane.
But on the last Monday of every month, she "gets all Gerryed up" and meets a dozen other local Gerard Butler devotees at a Panera Bread on State Rt. 20 and they discuss all things Gerry until closing. They met online and started with four members. But "the more the Gerrier," they say.
"I thought I was the only one," Doris said. But soon others joined. They've been active for a couple of years now. They plan on seeing 300 many times, starting with the first showing in Toledo. After that, they will drive to Fort Wayne, link up with Indiana members of the Gerard Butler Underground, and see it again. After that, it's on to Indianapolis, where they reserved a block of hotel rooms and rented a theater to screen a trio of Butler classics in an intimate, limited Gerard film festival. They're expecting 200 others, most flying in from around the country. "I haven't been this excited about an actor since Spencer Tracy," Doris said.
She's far from alone.
While you were worried about Britney and Lindsay, while you were talking Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker's Oscar triumphs, the Gerard Butler Underground was hard at work. Make no mistake: It's a global movement. According to Newsweek International, Butler was greeted at the Tokyo airport by 2,000 screaming fans - far more than ever greeted Tom Cruise in Tokyo. And this summer, Glascow (Gerry's birthplace) will host a Gerard Butler convention. Forget booking a trip - the first day tickets went on sale, organizers sold all 400, and put another 300 Gerry devotees on a waiting list.
I first ran into the Gerard Butler Underground six months ago. After my review of The Departed ran in this newspaper, I received a distressed phone call: Why didn't I mention that the preview for the upcoming movie 300 was appearing with The Departed? Didn't I understand that most people were going to see The Departed simply for the trailer for 300 and because Gerard Butler is in 300? Didn't I know The Departed was doing well at the box office because of Gerard Butler?
I disputed this.
One learns quickly not to get on the wrong side of the Gerard Butler Underground. My skepticism incensed Barb Savage, the woman who phoned me. She relayed our conversation to other Butler fans, who relayed them to message boards on GerardButler.net - the "officially unofficial" site of Butler worship, boasting 30,000 hits a day. For a few days in October, I received roughly five dozen e-mails from angered Gerryheads.
With 300 looming, I sought a detente. I asked Doris to round up some Gerry Butler devotees and meet at Panera. They agreed quickly - too quickly.
Could it be... an ambush?
Doris is tiny, a ball of energy with a head of white curls. She's 73. Digging into her tote bag, she says, "I have a bag for everything I'm involved in and sometimes I grab the wrong one." Cathy White, 48, sets up a portable DVD player to watch a disc of 300 featurettes. Carlye is 19: "My mom says [Gerry] could just stand there in a movie and I'd watch it. She's right." Carlye wants to know how long the sex scene in 300 lasts. Then there's Angel Burden, 18. She's quiet. When she met her fellow Tarts, it was through a Web site, so her family accompanied her to Panera. You'd never know they haven't known each other long. Together they become a kind of support group in a harsh world that doesn't understand Gerry.
"People roll their eyes now when I mention him," Cathy says. "They go, 'Here she goes again about the actor nobody knows.'•" White shakes her head.
"I get that," Carlye says.
The others nod.
Oh yeah - Tarts.
That's what Gerard Butler fans call themselves. Nobody knows exactly where the name comes from, but it's probably short for Tartans - as in Scottish tartan.
For two hours, we talked Gerry. "If I had to pick one quality I like best about Gerry, it would be his hands," Cathy said, sighing.
"No, his smile," Carlye said.
A stalemate was reached.
I say, "So. Why Gerry again?"
Answers get less specific.
They've had obsessions before: Cathy with Michael Bolton, Carlye with Harry Potter, Angel with Star Wars, Doris with the Bee Gees. But never this intense.
They say they like Gerry because he's a good actor, because he's good looking, because there's "something about him," because he gives to charity. But they're really not so vague. Why like anything to a point of obsession? As with diehard fans of anything - Buffy, Star Wars, Ohio State football, Springsteen - they see the world through a scrim of sorts. What's unusual about Gerard Butler devotion is he was discovered by his fans, not by excessive promotion - no small feat when every American Idol castoff gets a publicist.
The closest comparison is the feel of ownership surrounding unknown bands that develop a passionate following. When the band becomes well-known, something inevitably changes. If 300 makes Gerry a star, will the Tarts feel differently? Doris says no, "we don't own him." But Carlye, 54 years Doris' junior, is at an age you don't ditch true loves so readily: "We don't want to share Gerry," she sighs. "He is ours."
They try to justify their love.
Doris sent me an e-mail arguing that "Gerry fans... contribute greatly to the economy." But it's more simple than that: It's a way of connecting. "I have a hard time making friends," Carlye says. "But I have something in common with these guys." Doris adds: "I know people who are not interested in anything. I mean, not even their own lives."
It gets quiet.
"Gerry's a good person," Cathy says. "And he's hot," Carlye says.
"Can't deny that," Cathy says.
"A good actor, too" Doris says.
They nod. Carlye breaks in.
"And he's hot."
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org