He says he doesn't like it here, that he wants to go home to do the interview, unaware of the reaction of the waitress, the only one left in the deserted restaurant, who hurries after him to beg for a photo with him, suddenly followed by a whole entourage of her girl friends. Call it the "Gerard Butler effect", one thing is sure: at almost six feet tall, this lady-charming perfect incarnation of the Hollywood alpha male is not someone who passes unnoticed. Perhaps it is because of his chiseled physique, honed through a grueling workout program and unveiled for all eyes to see in 300, the film that made him famous around the world. Or perhaps it is the countless flings that the press has seen fit to credit to his account (although he continues to deny them – except recently, when he publicly announced that he is involved with the Romanian actress and model Madalina Ghenea). Whatever the reason, the fact is that wherever he goes he always ends up prey for adulating young women. Half sighing, he says that he's always reading huge fabrications about himself. Once, after a party, the press proclaimed that the reason he hadn't even spoken to a certain girl was because he wanted to keep their affair a secret. But he's used to it by now.
Forgetting about his personal life and all the gossip magazines that have proclaimed him king of the lady-killers, Butler has proven himself to be, at least on the silver screen, an irresistible object of desire, at least in the eyes of the somewhat desperate mothers in Playing for Keeps (which will soon hit the theaters in Italy with the title Quello che so sull'amore - What I know about love), the latest "American" film by Gabriele Muccino. The director has put together a romantic comedy – apotheosis of feel-good movies and second chances – with the help of a stellar cast (which includes Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Biel, and Dennis Quaid). Briefly, Gerard plays George Dryer, a pure-blood Scott (happy at last to use his own accent), a former soccer star of fading charm and shaky finances who finds himself having to come to terms with all the errors of his life. Determined to win back his ex wife and the love of his pre-teen son, he goes to find them in a small town off the map somewhere in Virginia. There, he ends up coaching the kids' soccer team, attracting the appreciating looks and propositions from a few of the local unsatisfied and repressed mothers.
The thing Butler likes the most about George is the emotional and social journey he undertakes. George finds himself at an existential crossroads and finds himself totally out of his element, geographically as well as socially, catapulted into a world that he is not familiar with. What's more, he ends up teaching a sport that certainly isn't as popular in the States as it is elsewhere. Gerard is also happy with the role because he is a great fan of soccer: he has always rooted for Celtic F.C. and used to play center-forward as a kid for his school team in Scotland. He felt the same rush, the excitement, on the set of Muccino's film and relived a host of wonderful memories. He took inspiration from Kenny Dalglish, the greatest Scottish player of all time, who played for Celtic and then for Liverpool. And by chance, four months ago when Butler was playing in a benefit match (England against the rest of the world), he was their manager. A splendid coincidence.
Butler, who also produced the film, says that at the beginning it was going to be a baseball movie. The screenwriter Robbie Fox and the producer Jonathan Mostow first proposed it to him with the title "Slide". But he thought it would have had more international appeal if they switched to soccer, and so he contacted Gabriele Muccino, whom he has known for years and considers a phenomenal director. The two went out for dinner and Butler found out that Muccino had a more personal and less commercial project in mind for him. After wrangling a bit, Butler finally managed to sway Muccino, partially because had already made quite a bit of progress with the financing. Gabriele is someone who gets really excited about stories, and this one, which implies the rebirth and rebuilding of an individual and his family, really captured his imagination. Butler adds gallantly that his female co-stars were also fantastic. He is well aware of the risk of insinuations being made about working with such an attractive group of women, but isn't particularly eager to get started on the topic (regarding Jessica Biel, who plays his former wife and with whom he is reputed to have had a fling, he does go so far as to say that she is really great but that there has never been anything between them). When Butler gets to talking it is almost impossible to get a word in edgewise: his passionate temperament (he says it is a characteristic of the Scotts, and that every now and then he explodes into fireworks) often gets him going off on long spiels, not only when he is talking about work or soccer, but also when he raves about his stunning New York duplex or proudly describes his huge hat collection (a few days ago he went on a shopping spree and came home with fifteen more).
A lawyer by training, with the sacred fire of acting burning in him – which he kindled as a teenager dreaming about the films of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Robert De Niro – in only 10 years Gerard has succeeded in putting together a highly varied film résumé, alternating musicals (The Phantom of the Opera, where he proves his excellent vocal qualities) with romantic comedies (The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter), independent productions (RocknRolla), and Shakespearean drama (Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Fiennes). Also capable of embracing uncomfortable and intense roles (he is Sam Childers in the biopic Machine Gun Preacher, a former junkie who sees the light and ends up in Sudan saving children from atrocities), he is one of those actors who have no fear of diving headfirst into any character, accepting all risks: in Chasing Mavericks, where he plays a famous surfing instructor, he was nearly killed by the waves, while in Playing for Keeps he ended up losing both his toenails from kicking so many soccer balls (they'll grow back).
Coming up next, dusting off a genre he has always liked – action films – he will play a former secret service agent trying to prevent a terrorist attack on the White House in Olympus Has Fallen. He tells us it's pure testosterone, as virile a role as we could possibly imagine. While he always finds it a challenge to be credible in certain scenes, he is rewarded by experiencing the states of mind of different characters: that's the whole reason he started acting in the first place. Our time is almost up and Butler is getting a little antsy: he is going to have to do a reading in an hour and wants to be perfectly focused. Tonight he will read a new play by Neil LaBute, and tomorrow he will interpret his role in front of the author himself. He confesses that he hopes to debut soon on Broadway. Indeed, he hails from the theatre: his first job was in Steven Berkoff's "Coriolanus", a great director who helped him immensely. Butler also loves the cinema, but there is nothing like the thrill of actually being on stage. It's just like playing soccer, he says. You run onto the field and you can go anywhere, which means that maybe you screw up one time but succeed the next. Right now, scoring goals is all he thinks about.