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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.
In the role of Andre Marek in the big-screen adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel Timeline (2003), Butler played an archaeologist who was sent back in time with a team of students to rescue a colleague.He mostly lived in Venice Beach, working at different jobs, travelling often, and, according to him, drinking heavily, at one point being arrested for alcohol-related disorderly conduct.Butler later described this year as, "I was out of control, and justifying it with this idea that 'I'm young, this is life.Then aged 27, Butler had his first professional acting job.
Less than a year later, he won a part in a theatre adaptation of Trainspotting, which he performed at the Edinburgh Festival.After this meeting, Butler cried for hours, and recalled later: "That emotion showed me how much pain can sit in this body of yours; pain and sorrow that you don’t know you have until it is unleashed." While Butler was a 22-year-old student, his father was diagnosed with cancer and died.