Scottish hardman softens up for US romantic comedy

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Scottish hardman actor Gerard Butler, known for thrillers and action movies, has softened up for his latest role, in a romantic comedy set in smalltown America.

In "Playing for Keeps" Butler plays ex soccer player George, who has fallen on hard times and returns to live in Virginia near to his ex-wife and son, vowing to rebuild his life and relationship with at least one of them.

But signing up as football coach for his child's team, while helping father-son ties, complicates things as the local soccer mums swarm to his exotic Scottish charm and rugged good looks.

The film, out this weekend in North America, is directed by Italian Gabriele Muccino, who scored a hit with 2001's "The Last Kiss," but is possibly more well known for Will Smith movies "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds."

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman are among his soccer mom co-stars, while Dennis Quaid plays Thurman's husband in the movie, which has admittedly had mixed pre-release reviews.

In a first draft of the screenplay "it was a baseball movie. But soccer had a more international appeal. It also allowed me to be Scottish, which I don't get the chance to be very often," 43-year-old Butler told AFP.

He's a big football fan too. "I grew up as a big Celtic fan and I supported Liverpool for many years. Basically I went into a studio and mimicked the moves that were in those actual games and then we put it into the games.

"It was actually a cool experience to live that for a moment, because obviously as a child, it was my dream."

Born in Paisley, Scotland, Butler's past roles include 2006 action fantasy flick "300" and British gangster movie "RockNRolla" -- but he has also shown his warmer side in other romantic comedies like 2007's "P.S. I Love You."

In "Playing for Keeps", the comedy stems mainly from the relationship between his character and a succession of smalltown moms who share his bed -- although the filmmakers were careful not to overplay that.

"At the end of the day, this is a comedy, but it's also dramatic and you don't want it to feel too light, which is another reason why we pulled back on George and the women," Butler said.

"Because at the end of the day, we leant more heavily on the father-son and the story between George and his ex-wife."

The movie also led the British actor to reflect on the Hollywood star system, and on how his life would change if he stopped being a celebrity, and did something like George.

"Sometimes, when you're in the middle of this, you're like, 'I look forward to that day when I pull things out and go hiking in the mountains, or go traveling around the world.'

"And then you think 'Oh my God, I don't want this to stop!'" he added.

"But at the end of the day, it's all smoke and mirror, and what is important is growing up, becoming responsible, committing to your friends and your family, finding a home, something that you can pass on."

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