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PLAYING FOR KEEPS

The Team

As Robbie Fox put the finishing touches on the screenplay, he began to wonder which leading actor could bring to life George's boyish charm and increasing panic as he tries to shed his man candy reputation just when he's trying to be taken seriously. It had to be someone with real comic chops, but also someone who could get under the skin of a guy who wants more than anything just to have a second chance.

"I was also thinking about which leading actors would have the ability to inspire moms to start showing up at soccer practice in lipstick and high heels," Fox laughs.

Fox knew, too, it would have to be an actor with some serious athletic skills -- someone who could scissor-kick as well as he could seduce. There was one actor with the whole combination who kept coming to mind: Gerard Butler, the Scottish star renowned for his dashing magnetism since he first hit the screen in the Oscar-nominated MRS. BROWN and soon after took the lead in the screen adaptation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Since then, a diverse career has taken Butler from action hits (LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER -- THE CRADLE OF LIFE, 300, THE BOUNTY HUNTER) to romantic films (P.S. I LOVE YOU, THE UGLY TRUTH) to animation (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON). Fox immediately knew that Butler would be the perfect George Dryer.

When the screenplay was complete, he and Mostow sent it to producer Alan Siegel, Butler's manager and business partner, who produced the thrillers LAW ABIDING CITIZEN and MACHINE GUN PREACHER, both starring Butler. Siegel says he instantly saw the match between Butler and Dryer. "Robbie Fox had done an amazing job of writing a character who jumps off the page, who you love and care for, and who you want to see win. I thought, 'Oh my God, I see myself in this, I see my friends in this, I see Gerry in this.'"

Butler, too, was instantly enthusiastic about the script. "I knew straight away this was something I wanted to get involved with," says the actor. "I thought: we can move people with these characters and we can definitely make them laugh. I felt a lot of emotional attachment to it and I could really identify with George and the journey he takes -- unraveling and then putting his life back together."

For Butler, Dryer is a fish out of water, but the funny part is that he doesn't yet realize that everything he needs to be happy is right in front of him. "He's this guy from Scotland who was at the peak of his career, playing in front of 100,000 fans as a footballer and suddenly he's in a small town in America with no money -- and then he gets roped into coaching his son's soccer team, which is the last thing he thinks he wants to do," Butler explains. "He's a guy who seems to bring chaos wherever he goes, because women like him and men want to be him, but he's not very centered and he doesn't necessarily know how to handle all that. So a lot of funny situations happen just because of who he is."

He continues: "Like the best romantic comedies, I think it's a funny, emotional story that makes you reflect on real life. And then we ended up with the most incredible cast -- Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Judy Greer and Dennis Quaid -- which was great for me, because George is sort of stuck in the center of this whirlwind around him. He has to react to all these little tornados -- the Uma Thurman tornado, the Catherine Zeta-Jones tornado, the Dennis Quaid tornado -- blowing at him and try to hold himself together in the middle of all that. I could not imagine having a better cast to do that with than this one."

Right away, Butler started training daily to beef up his soccer skills. "It was a lot of work," he admits. "I did what I love to do, which is get obsessed by it. Every time I saw a ball, I would start messing around with it. I had the best time and I just want to play soccer all the time now."

In turn, everyone around Butler was thrilled to see the way he took to the role with an energy and sense of humor that were refreshing and also, as George begins to see what really counts to him, touching. Says Mostow: "I am so thrilled with the performance Gerard delivers in this movie. I think it shows a whole new side of him that audiences have not seen. It's funny, it's honest and at the same time, it's heartwarming." Sums up producer Kevin Misher: "Gerard Butler is PLAYING FOR KEEPS. It was his passion and his commitment to the movie that elevated it and brought everyone else into it. A lot of the cast was drawn to working with our director, Gabriele Muccino, but Gerard was the glue that made everybody stick to this movie."

With Butler aboard, the search for a director began. It was Butler who first suggested Gabriele Muccino, having loved his romantic comedy THE LAST KISS and his two subsequent films, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and SEVEN POUNDS.

"I've known Gabriele for a while and I love his movies," says Butler. "They have such an incredible energy behind them. They are fast flowing and you really get to know his characters, who all wear their hearts on their sleeves. That's why I imagined him for this script. I thought it had all the things in it that he does well. He has an incredible sense of pace and keeps things flowing from emotion to emotion and action to action."

Adds Jonathan Mostow: "Gabriele was able to deliver not only on the comedy but on the heart in the script. He's someone with a track record of reaching into the cauldron of real emotions and fusing that with humor."

The lure for Muccino lay in George Dryer's attempts to turn himself around. "He's a father who is looking to be a better father, a better man, a better person -- and those are the elements that connected with me," explains the director. "This is the kind of story that can pull the audience in and let them forget they are watching a movie because they see some part of their own lives mirrored on the screen, but in a very entertaining way."

Soon, Kevin Misher of Misher Films, Heidi Jo Merkel of Eclectic Pictures and John Thompson of Millennium, joined the producing team, quickly taking the project forward. "I invited Kevin, a tremendous producer, to produce this movie with me so I could work on my directorial projects at the same time. Kevin took the ball -- no pun intended -- and really ran with it," says Mostow.

Misher worked with the team on further developing the script. "Once we were all happy with it, Alan Siegel gave it to Heidi Jo, who gave it to Millennium and they were instantly interested," Misher continues.

Markel, who has produced TRUST, starring Clive Owen, Catherine Keener and Viola Davis, and SOLITARY MAN, with Michael Douglas, also jumped in with both feet. "I had been begging for this project for a while from Alan Siegel because I wanted to work with him and Gerry so badly," she recalls. "He kept alluding to it, so I said, 'Give it to me, give it to me!'" She goes on, "When I read it, I thought, this is a great fantasy -- to have a classically handsome male protagonist who has his life upturned by gorgeous women -- which turns out to be a hilarious nightmare. I thought it was so much fun." Markel brought the package to executive producers Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort & Trevor Short of Millennium Films who instantly agreed to finance the movie. Producer John Thompson, who is responsible for making many films for Millennium, including THE EXPENDABLES, also joined in.

Like many, Thompson was drawn by the father-son story at the heart of the romantic hi-jinks. He sums up: "I think this is really a love story between a father and a son," he observes, "peppered with romance and comic circumstances."

That mix would soon draw some of the today's hottest stars to join the production alongside Butler. "Even with Gerard's broad shoulders, we knew we needed a roster of really talented people to fill these amazing character roles around him that are so well-written and fun," says Markel.

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