Gerard Butler
Dale Robinette, FilmDistrict / Everett Collection

It is not a big surprise to learn that Gerard Butler (300, Law Abiding Citizen) was a big soccer fan growing up in Paisley, Scotland. Fortunately it was a skill that came in handy during production of his new romantic comedy Playing for Keeps.

“It was a big thing in my life,” he says during a recent promotional stop in Toronto. “I played football every second that I could. I played before school, morning break, lunch break, afternoon break, after school, and at night. I played for the school team, I played for boys clubs. It’s all I did. I didn’t have much of an imagination!”

Playing for Keeps stars Butler as George Dryer, a Scottish soccer star, now retired and in debt, who moves to the US to be closer to his son Lewis (Noah Lomax) and the boy’s mother Stacie (Jessica Biel) who is about to remarry. George is hoping to get hired as a local TV sports reporter, but, in the meantime, agrees to coach Lewis’s soccer team in an effort to get closer to the boy. That immediately makes him the centre of attention of all the soccer moms (including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman), even as he tries to repair his relationship with Lewis and maybe even win over his ex. An offer from ESPN, however, threatens to foil all his relationship building.

In addition to starring in Playing for Keeps, Butler also produced it alongside his frequent collaborator Alan Siegel (Law Abiding Citizen, Machine Gun Preacher). Butler even helped hire the director, Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness).

“Well, to be honest, I now try and get involved with producing any movie that I do,” he says, “especially when they come to you in the early stages with a script and you know you have a chance to develop and mould the idea into something that works more [for you].

“And originally, believe it or not, this was written with the backdrop of baseball, and we wanted to get a more international appeal. And also I think soccer is an upcoming, exciting idea in America, so we moved it towards that. And it’s just a chance to get more involved.”

Butler’s scenes opposite young Noah Lomax are particularly impressive, and, despite, being warned not to ask personal questions, one of the journalists in our group asks if the actor would like to have children himself.

“Yeah,” he offers. “And every time I make another movie with kids, I realize more and more that I would love to have kids. Because I do have a real affinity and a connection, and I develop a very strong relationship. Noah, by the time this movie finished, it broke my heart to say goodbye to him because I spent so much time hanging out with him. And he amazed me on a moment-to-moment basis with who he was as a person, with how he was with the other kids. He lacked such ego. He was just part of that crowd, and yet he brought it to the table. And he gives such a great performance. So he was always surprising me with that as well.”

Another writer asks if he took anything away from his character. It’s a tricky question because Butler allegedly dated his co-star Biel last summer during a brief break in her relationship with her now husband Justin Timberlake. Online gossip site Radar Online reported recently that Biel appreciated Butler’s “boyish” nature but that she ultimately wanted something more serious. If that is indeed the case then the parallels between Butler’s personal life and Playing for Keep’s plot are uncanny.

“Yeah, listen. I always think in this situation in life - and when you take risks, I think the rewards are tenfold. And I think that we have to ultimately - especially for a man, life is about growing up. You want to keep the child in you, but at the same time you have to get rid of that ego. You have to get rid of the quick fixes, and you have to learn a bit about commitment, about sacrifice to something that is ultimately going beyond the distraction, in towards family, career.

“I’d say first family, love, friendship, and then career. But that’s tough. Because in this life that we live, this crazy life, there’s so many temptations and distractions, and it can be fun and exciting.”

“And we’re all growing up a little later,” the journalist continues, “which is something that the film touched on, just how we sort of expand our youth as much as we can.”

“That’s true,” Butler says, nodding. “Well, we hit our youth earlier. I’m amazed at the maturity of kids nine, ten and eleven-years old. And yet, at the same time, they don’t really grow up until they are 40, 45-years old. And that’s what I’m experiencing right now. Every time I think ‘That’s it. I’m finally growing up,’ then I go through a long period of thinking, ‘Nope, no purpose. No real maturity or handling my responsibilities.’”