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PLAYING FOR KEEPS

Supporting Cast

Of all the women in George Dryer's life, one keeps throwing him for a loop: his ex Stacie, who has moved on with her life after ending things with George, raising their son on her own and now getting ready to marry her longtime boyfriend. Playing the role of a woman who adores her ex's boyishness but wishes he would finally grow up, is one of today's more sought-after leading ladies, Jessica Biel, who will next be seen as Vera Miles in HITCHCOCK.

Biel was immediately excited about the role and the entire project. "For me it was the whole package. I was really interested in working with Gabriele and I was interested in playing a woman who has a child which is something I'd never done before," she says. "Plus, to play opposite Gerry, Uma, Catherine, and Dennis was like a dream. All those elements combined made me excited to do this." On the set, she found she had potent chemistry with Butler -- as Stacie and George dance around their suppressed feelings for each other. "Their relationship is filled with things unsaid, things wanting to be said and things afraid to be said," she observes. "Gerry is incredibly giving as an actor and was always asking 'how can we make this more real and better?' It was wonderful to work with him."

Another draw for Biel was how relatable the film's characters and situations were. "What's nice about this movie is the story is so real -- and real life can be hilarious, embarrassing, humiliating, surprising and crazy. I like that the comedy in the film comes out of these very organic situations. These are flawed characters making decisions from the heart and sometimes making mistakes. I think a lot of people will relate to that," Biel says.

Seen in a change-of-pace role is Uma Thurman, widely celebrated for her femme fatale performance in KILL BILL, who here plays Patti King, a bored trophy wife who is among the many women who has her sights set on George. Thurman was drawn by the chance to do something light- hearted.

"I thought PLAYING FOR KEEPS was such a sweet story about family and marriage -- and I don't always make a lot of those," she confesses. "I also like Gabriele's films and I knew I'd have fun playing a colorful character in a comedy with him."

Most of all, Thurman was drawn to the love story that plays out within the screwball antics. "Underneath the comedy and silliness of all these ladies going after George, there's something very moving about a story that is, at heart, about a broken family getting healed," she observes.

Another woman who knows what she wants -- former sportscaster Denise -- is brought sexily to life by Catherine Zeta-Jones, winner of the Academy Award for her performance in CHICAGO. Zeta-Jones also found the story irresistible. "To work with Gabriele coupled with a cast of this caliber in a piece that is charming, poignant, funny, well-written and has lots of different layers to it -- it was a slam-dunk for me," she says. "I'm also a huge sports fan and kind of a frustrated sports anchor, so getting to actually play one was a lot of fun."

Once on the set, another part of the fun, says Zeta-Jones, was watching Gerard Butler bounce between these very different, but equally determined, women, all the while trying to figure out what he truly desires. "I love the fact that George is having all these relationships, but nobody in them knows what's going on," she says. "Every woman thinks she is the only one, and unbeknownst to all of them, he has the whole soccer mom league team all googly-eyed."

As for one of the things she thinks audiences might enjoy most, Zeta- Jones names a high point for her as well. "I think people will really enjoy seeing Gerry in shorts," she laughs.

Perhaps the most obsessive of all of George's soccer mom suitors is Barb, a newly single mom who has the hilarious tendency to spontaneously burst into tears. Diving into the role with comic abandon is Judy Greer, who many know from the television series, MAD LOVE and who starred with George Clooney in last year's acclaimed comedy- drama THE DESCENDANTS.

Like many, Greer has long been a fan of Muccino. "I've been wanting to work with him since I saw his Italian THE LAST KISS, and then I fell in love with THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and SEVEN POUNDS. He tells these stories of redemption for the common man that I find interesting. His passion for these 'every man' characters is what makes his story telling so beautiful and elevates the story from your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy or drama. This particular story is timeless, but told in an original, comedic way."

Amidst all the new women creating havoc in George Dryer's life is Carl King, Patti's jealous husband who wants nothing more than to have a former soccer pro as a best buddy. Having fun with the role is Dennis Quaid, the diverse and award-winning actor last seen starring opposite Bradley Cooper in THE WORDS.

He says the project offered the best of both worlds. "What I look for in a movie is a really good story or a really good time -- and preferably both," Quaid muses. "This script was funny and had great people involved. With Gerard as my competitor and Uma Thurman as my wife, it seemed like a very fun time would be had."

As for his character, Quaid says of Carl King: "I think he's a guy who always wanted to be a sports star. He wasn't one, though, so now that he has a chance, he essentially buys one!"

Butler loved creating a comic rivalry with Quaid. "Dennis is wickedly funny and he brings so much energy to his scenes," sums up Butler. But within the fun, Quaid also notes that there is a strong story of father's transformation. "This is a great 'date night' comedy, but it's also the story of a guy who is out of his element and has got to figure out what's meaningful in his life."

The final role -- and one that had to be cast just right because it lies at the heart of the movie -- was that of George's young soccer-playing son Lewis, who is both suspicious of a father who always finds a way to screw things up and in awe of a coach who can literally do things no one else can.

After an extensive search, the production landed on a talented newcomer: 9-year-old Georgia native Noah Lomax, who has had small parts in a few television shows, including AMC's THE WALKING DEAD. Gabriele Muccino notes that the search seemed against-the-odds until Lomax appeared. "Searching for the right kid was not an easy thing, and finding Noah was quite lucky," says the director. "What we needed was a kid who would be relatable, who would remind us all of our own children in a way. He had to be able to talk in a way that was sweet, real and funny, but never sentimental. He had to act in a way that feels natural trained, and most of all, he had to be really, really likeable, so that you are rooting for him and for George to be together. Noah was able to give us all of those things."

Gerard Butler was especially impressed with his pre-teen co-star and comic foil. "Noah's incredibly energetic, creative and positive and it's been fun watching him grow and our relationship grow over the course of the movie. I mean you can't not be moved by this kid. A lot of my favorite scenes in this movie are with Noah," he points out. "He's a difficult character to play because he's trying to protect himself from my character. I'm his hero, yet I've let him down time after time, and now I'm trying to make things work but without really knowing how. It's a great relationship to watch develop as an audience, but it was a tricky one to do. You need a talented little actor to do it with and Noah was that guy. I think there's a big future ahead of him. I felt blessed just to have had the chance to work with him."

With such a stellar cast, the emphasis behind the camera was on keeping the focus on all the comical ways the film's characters collide, and ultimately connect, with one another. Muccino's accomplished crew -- including cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. (CLASH OF THE TITANS), production designer Daniel T. Dorrance (MAX PAYNE) and Italian costume designer Angelica Russo -- kept the visuals vivid and colorful, allowing the stars to shine. It all added up to a romantic comedy that everyone felt was, in a word, universal. Summarizes Alan Siegel: "In some ways PLAYING FOR KEEPS is a throwback to those classic romantic comedies about real people who just happen to find themselves in crazy situations, with a cast of characters who make you laugh even as you root for them."

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