Gerard Butler dreamed of playing pro soccer
Gerard Butler in an interview with The Canadian Press in Toronto on Thursday November 15, 2012. You could say Butler was practically born to play his latest film role, that of a soccer player in “Playing for Keeps.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO - You could say Gerard Butler was practically born to play the role of a soccer player in the new film "Playing for Keeps."
After all, he grew up in Scotland, which has one of the oldest national football associations in the world.
And naturally he went to a lot of games (first St. Mirren and then Celtic club games), and kicked the ball around "every second" he had, he says.
"I played in the morning before school, I played in the morning break, I played at lunchtime, the afternoon break and after school; I played for the school team, I played with boys clubs and I just loved to play," Butler said during a recent stop in Toronto.
"It was actually my dream to be a soccer player, but in truth I knew I never would be one.
"I was good — but I wasn't that good."
Opening Friday, "Playing for Keeps" stars Butler as one-time European soccer superstar George, who moves to a Virginia suburb to rebuild his relationship with his son (Noah Lomax) and his ex-beau (Jessica Biel). His efforts are complicated, however, when he starts coaching his son's soccer team and the team members' mothers (Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer) become entranced and aggressively pursue him.
George's situation, where women act in strange ways as they project their hopes and dreams onto him, is one Butler identified with as a high-profile actor.
"A very simplified version would be, for instance, if I'm out somewhere — I might be in a bar or a club, or even just at a premiere — and how when a woman talks to you, she often wants to put her hand on your shoulder or put an arm around you, even if she has no right to, because in her way that's her saying, 'Hey, look, I'm very close with you,'" he said.
"You often find yourself kind of having to push them away or say, 'Wait, what are you?' in a polite way, and I think this is kind of a wider representation of what that is."
Gabriele Muccino ("The Pursuit Of Happyness") directed the romantic comedy, which was written by Robbie Fox and co-stars Dennis Quaid and Nova Scotia native James Tupper.
Butler, who co-produced the film, said he started kicking around the ball with soccer coaches about two months before cameras began rolling to refresh his fancy footwork.
The experience brought him back to one of his most powerful memories: when he won a game as a kid in Paisley, Scotland.
"I think all the highs that I've had as an actor — and I've had a lot — if you were to ask me what was one of the most exciting moments of my life, it was literally scoring a goal for my school team when I was nine years old in a cup game in front of our whole school," said the 43-year-old, who got his big breakthrough with the 2006 blockbuster "300."
"For some reason, our whole school had got let out to see the end of this game, and it was the most exciting game and we ended up winning 5-4, I think. I scored three goals in it and then the fifth goal was such a scramble in the goal ... and it just somehow crossed the line and I ran over and hugged every person in the line.
"That day I was the biggest hero on the planet — at least I was in my book — and that intensity, you don't match that in many other arenas of life."
The beginning of "Playing for Keeps" shows Butler's character playing professional soccer in front of adoring sell-out crowds in massive stadiums.
Those scenes were shot indoors and created with special effects, but Butler did eventually get the chance to experience the real thing: in the summer he played for Celtic in a charity match against Manchester United — in front of 60,000 people.
"Oh my God, the best moment of my life," said Butler.
"My whole family were there and even they say it was probably the best moments of their life as well."
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