What the Butler saw

What the Butler saw

What the Butler saw

First published in NewsXtra

He's the hot Scot who's taken Hollywood by storm, and now Gerard Butler's starring in a feel-good romp called Playing For Keeps, which is released on Tuesday, January 1. He talks about his reputation as a ladies' man, whether he's feeling broody and why you'll never catch him in a VIP bar.

By Susan Griffin

Gerard Butler might be a Hollywood hotshot who can demand an estimated 15 million dollars a movie, but he's far from your typical film star.

"I always try to remember that it's just me, just little ol' Gerry, I'm just a dude," says the 43-year-old Scot, who's in town promoting Playing For Keeps, a feel-good romp in which he plays a washed-up footballer.

"It's not reinventing the wheel but it's a funny, poignant little story," says Butler.

He's fresh from Oslo where, along with Sarah Jessica Parker, he hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. "I did think I'd turn up, rehearse, and present the concert, and then suddenly we're being thrown into interviews with the artists and [European Commission] President Barroso who's the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize," he recalls, smiling and shaking his head.

Far from declaring it an all-out success, Butler admits he could have been better "prepped".

It's the sort of admission that's typical of the self-deprecating actor, a man as tough to encapsulate as his varied movie roles.

Back in 2000, and just two weeks after arriving in Hollywood, he was cast as the lead in the TV movie Attila. In the ensuing dozen years he's appeared in films spanning all genres, portraying the hulking King Leonidas in 300, the masked lead in the musical Phantom Of The Opera, the cheeky boyfriend in weepy rom-com P.S. I Love You, and a drug-dealing biker turned crusader in Machine Gun Preacher.

A no-nonsense Scot, he prides himself on being able to cut through the hype, and denounces the type of actors who believe themselves to be superior.

"Honestly, there are plenty of things I'm not good at but I do think I'm a breath of fresh air for Hollywood," he says.

"I'm not a guy who takes it all too seriously, who you'll find stuck at the back of the VIP room surrounded by security at a party."

Tall, broad and ruggedly handsome in his jeans and a long-sleeved fitted top, Butler boasts an old-school manliness.

Combined with a smattering of stubble, blue eyes and a cheeky, roguish charm, it's little surprise he's rivalled Colin Farrell in the ladies' man stakes.

"I don't hear so much of it now but without a doubt a lot of it [my reputation] was deserved," says Butler, who's now dating Romanian supermodel Madalina Ghenea, 24.

"In saying that, I'd say 80% of who I was accused of having affairs with, like Jennifer Aniston (his co-star in 2010's bomb The Bounty Hunter) was never true.

"But have I been a ladies' man? Yeah, but I'm a dude," he laughs in an endearingly goofish way.

"I'm a boy from Scotland who's had fun in life. I've had a lot of luck, I've worked hard and I've enjoyed myself, you know, and I feel I've always been a gentleman and never set out to hurt anyone."

To give Butler his dues, he's not a bulking mass of testosterone.

He's thoughtful and as at ease discussing his spiritual wellbeing as he is the perks of fame, all the while exuding a charisma that he's unapologetically aware and proud of.

"I'm chatty but it's my gig," he says in his Scottish brogue, which he's retained despite living in Los Angeles.

"I'm friendly, I'm warm and I'm charming and there's a flirtatious way that you can have about you. That can be with guys as well. It just means you're big and you're gregarious," says Butler.

He's really not so different from his Playing For Keeps alter ego George Dryer, a former Scottish football star who turns up in small-town America to try to rebuild his relationship with his son Lewis and ex Stacie, played by Jessica Biel.

After getting roped into teaching the local little league football team, his attempts to finally 'grow up' are thwarted by the gaggle of attractive 'soccer mums', including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman and an overzealous soccer dad in the shape of a back-slapping Dennis Quaid.

"George is 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 centred and he doesn't necessarily know how to handle all that," explains Butler, who was also the film's producer and championed the project from the start.

"It was originally a baseball movie and I was American but then I thought, 'What am I thinking?' What a chance to really allow for that fish out of water element!

"George is the guy who's trying to start afresh but doing it in a place where he's befuddled by everybody."

It wasn't so different when Butler first moved to LA, having taken up acting after he was fired from a law firm.

"You jump into the antics but at the same time you have a sense of humour about yourself in that world and spend a lot of time scratching your head about who people are and their attitudes towards life," he says, laughing.

Playing For Keeps is directed by Gabriele Muccino and, like his 2006 hit The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, centres on the strained father-son dynamic of which Butler could draw on his own experiences.

"I had an interesting relationship with my own father that's left me filled with a lot of stuff boiling away," he says of his dad, who deserted the family for 14 years.

He reappeared when Butler was 16 and the pair became close before his dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer six years later.

Butler doesn't have kids but hopes to have them "one day for sure".

"I love kids. I have four nieces, a lot of my friends have children and I'm a big child myself, so I really have a great time hanging out with them," he says.

He also reveals that a serious surfing accident he suffered in 2011 while filming Chasing Mavericks has made him take stock.

"You move around from moment to moment and you realise there but for the grace of God, and it sounds very cliched but it's so true, because I almost wasn't there any more," he says.

"I love my career but it's not everything to me. I could go off and do something completely different, I could disappear.

"There's a certain charm in becoming an explorer or a waiter in a little town in Italy," he says wistfully - in what sounds like a standard case of grass being greener.

"I love what I do but I don't need it like I used to," he explains.

"I do it now for fun, and sometimes you get such great things from it and sometimes it kicks your ass," he adds, laughing.

"But I'll carry on down this path for a while."

Extra time - Scots who've made a splash :: Edinburgh-born Sean Connery continues to be a Bond favourite 50 years after making his debut.

:: Dumfries actress Ashley Jensen starred in Ricky Gervais's Extras before popping up in Ugly Betty, and is now starring in the West End.

:: Perthshire boy Ewan McGregor was catapulted to fame following Trainspotting and will soon be seen in the tsunami drama The Impossible.

:: Glaswegian James McAvoy made a name for himself in Shameless, smooched Angelina Jolie in Wanted and is set to return to X-Men.

:: Playing For Keeps is released on Tuesday, January 1

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