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In 2000, he starred as Dracula in the horror film Dracula 2000 with Christopher Plummer and Jonny Lee Miller.He subsequently played Attila the Hun in the miniseries Attila (2001) and then appeared in the films Reign of Fire with Christian Bale (2002) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life with Angelina Jolie (2003), before playing André Marek in the adaptation of Michael Crichton's science fiction adventure Timeline (2003).In 2003, director Joel Schumacher was deciding on the principal casting for the film The Phantom of the Opera, a film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name, and thought of Butler, whom he had seen earlier in the film Dracula 2000, to play the title character.Butler, who had had no musical experience other than singing in a rock band while he was studying to be a lawyer, was surprised at the interest, but immediately began taking singing lessons with a vocal coach.Although Attila and The Phantom of the Opera were important breaks, it was only in 2007 that Butler gained worldwide recognition for his portrayal of King Leonidas in Zack Snyder's fantasy war film 300.That role earned him nominations for an Empire Award for Best Actor and a Saturn Award for Best Actor and a win for MTV Movie Award for Best Fight.He then was cast as the role of Erik, The Phantom in Joel Schumacher's 2004 film adaptation of the musical The Phantom of the Opera alongside Emmy Rossum.
Whilst in London, he met an old friend from his teenage days in the Scottish Youth Theatre, who was now a London casting director.
At that time, he was her boyfriend and her assistant.
She took him to an audition for Steven Berkoff's play of Coriolanus.
At age 30, Butler decided to move to Los Angeles; there he won parts in Dracula 2000, Tomb Raider 2, Dear Frankie, and Phantom of the Opera.
In London, Butler held a series of odd jobs until being cast by actor and director Steven Berkoff (who later appeared alongside him in Attila (2001)) in a stage production of Coriolanus.