Green Room with Mariella Frostrup

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 8, 2004 | Publication: BBC | Author: Green Room with Mariella Frostrup (thanks to fieryangel for transcribing)
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GR = Green Room with Mariella Frostrup
GB = Glorious Butler, er, I mean Gerard Butler.

GR: It sold 40 million albums, taken 18 years to reach the screen, and cost 55 million pounds to make. But finally, “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera” is about to hit the big screen. The movie, starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Minnie Driver, opens in cinemas on December the 10th. And in just a moment, I’ll be talking to the Phantom himself, Gerard Butler.

First, hang on to your chandeliers, here’s the Overture.

(Overture)

GR: Overture from “Phantom of the Opera.” Now, since making his first appearance over 90 years ago in Gaston Leroux’s classic novel, the Phantom of the Opera has provided the plot to numerous movies and stage shows. But his most spectacular incarnation has been in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical, which, over the last 16 years has been watched by over some 80 million people.

Not content with that, our Andrew has finally brought his Phantom to the screen in the film directed by Joel Schumacher. Starring, alongside Minnie Driver, Simon Callow, and Miranda Richardson, two relatively unknown actors have been cast in the lead roles: Eighteen-year-old Emmy Rossum plays Christine while slurping his coffee opposite me, the Phantom is played by the Scottish actor Gerard Butler. Gerard, welcome!

GB: Thank you, how’re you?

GR: I wasn’t casting aspersions on your slurping! Tell me how you first became involved in the project.

GB: I had known Joel Schumacher, the director, for about a year-and-a-half. He, surprisingly, saw me in “Dracula 2000.” He said there were no other movies to go and see on a wet, miserable day in St. Louis. So he went to see “Dracula 2000” and I came out this coffin or something and he went ‘oh, who’s this guy, I like this guy!’

GR: That’s a curious affection to feel for a vampire!

GB: Absolutely! Curious affection to feel for that film! And then in January of last year, my agent called me saying ‘Joel Schumacher’s been calling and asking if you can sing.’ I said ‘what did you tell him?!’ And he said ‘I dunno! I mean, I know he can sing Joel, but I don’t know if he can sing this.’ And he said ‘can you?’ and I said ‘I dunno!’ So I took a few lessons ‘cause I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time.

GR: Had you sung before?

GB: Never anything like this. I mean, yeah I sang—I’ve loved to sing my whole life—but I’d never had a singing lesson.

GR: But were you a bit worried? I mean ‘cause there’s really a huge shadow, a Michael Crawford shaped shadow that hangs over the role of the Phantom. Was that a worry a’tall?

GB: Yeah, I mean I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. At the same time, I guess in the progress of my career I’ve taken on roles that in some ways were above me, and in some ways, as much as I came in as an unknown taking on a role like “Atilla the Hun,”—which was a massive role for me to take on ‘cause I’d only played one lead in my life before that—and then in to “Dracula” and large movies, so insomuch as the Phantom was much more pressure than those—but I’d learned how to deal with that pressure—which is there’s essentially absolutely nothing you can do about it except go on with the job. Don’t look back and only focus on what I had to do. And then use any pressure that I did feel to just encourage me to work harder and hopefully prove a lot of those people wrong.

Because it does get kind of petty, y’know? Some of the stuff you hear. For instance, when the first pictures were released from the movie, from the stills of the set, and people were going crazy! ‘He doesn’t have a hat! How dare you! The Phantom doesn’t have a hat anymore! The mask is a different shape!’ People somehow seem to have ownership, because they went to see the show.

GR: And they expect it to be sort of repeated?

GB: Yeah, absolutely. Which, I never saw Michael Crawford do it, I hear he was—by many people—just incredible, but the theater version just would not work on film.

We’re trying to make something very different.

GR: The Phantom is often portrayed as quite a sinister character. Was that what you went for with your role?

GB: A lot of that is just in the movie, y’know, you trust that and what he does to people, and the way he forces his hand, and the fact that he kills a couple people along the way—I think that’s pretty sinister!

GR: But do you think also in the film that you get to learn a bit more about who he is? Because obviously there’s a sort of limit with a play in how far you can take that. That doesn’t exist for the movie.

GB: Well it does exist with this movie, and in fact that’s one of the changes that Joel made. It delves more into the back stories of both Christine and the Phantom, so that the audience kind of understands. By going back, really right to his childhood, you see him as—the way we’ve made it—as part of a freak show, y’know? He was deformed from birth. So you immediately are left with this feeling that he’s always been shunned and loathed and beaten and been a source of repulsion to everybody. And, therefore, it immediately gives you a much deeper sympathy for from where he’s coming from. And the funny thing is, that’s what I went for more. And I felt that even in his manipulative, sinister moments, or in his seductive moments, it was always tinged with that primal sadness that he has within himself. And I really tried to get that in his voice.

(Music of the Night)

GR: I’m going to backtrack now furiously, and ask you to tell me a bit about life pre-acting, because you actually trained as a lawyer—not an actor--it’s an unusual starting off point.

GB: Yeah. Yeah, I remember being younger, like 15/16 years old and, y’know, I always did well at school, but I always liked to have fun and I was the class clown. And then suddenly something clicked in my mind that if I got my head down and did some work, I might actually get a nice job and do well in my life. But at the same time I was overtaken with this mad passion to be an actor. That actually came from a dream. I dreamt one night that I was living in this movie, and it was a fantasy film, it’s called “Krull.” Was one of the worst movies ever made but I saw it recently—a couple years ago—and I didn’t realize how bad it was.

GR: And you dreamt you were in it?

GB: I dreamt I was in it! But I was actually living in that fantasy! I wasn’t filming, there were no cameras there, and I woke up the next day and all I knew was I was in love with the princess, who was Lysette Anthony—who I later worked with and didn’t know I was working with her until she was telling me her story—and I said ‘how did you get into it?’ and she starts telling me that she was a model and she was picked out to do this movie called “Krull!” And I said ‘were you the princess?’ and she said ‘yeah’ and I said…’I love you!’ (laughs)

GR: (laughs) And she said? “I don’t!”

GB: HAHA! Anyway…um.

GR: Just finally, you mentioned that you were going to be playing Robbie Burns, when you landed that role in the face of very stiff competition I believe. Though I can’t quite believe both Ewan McGregor and Sean Connery were up for it because they’re rather disparate characters only having the fact that they’re Scottish in common. You must have been pleased?

GB: Yeah, I don’t think I ‘won’ that role, I mean I don’t know if Ewan McGregor, to be honest, was ever even interested in it because I don’t think it ever went his way. To be honest, if Vadim Jean who’s directing it—I did a movie with him called “One More Kiss”—that was five years ago, and we were talking about doing “Burns” together then. And James Cosmo who’s in the movie—who’s now producing it (Burns)—they all got together and wrote a script and I’ve always kind of been the one they were going to go for. So it’s not like I beat off anybody, and Sean Connery was never up for the “Burns” role. We would love to have him in the move, but I don’t know if there’s a part that’s suitable for him. We do have Brian Cox, and I just gave the script to Julia Stiles in Iceland…she loved it! And she’s part of the movie now! And we have David O’Hara, and David Hayman, and John Hannah, I mean, we’re going to have a fantastic cast. It was Alan Sharp who wrote “Rob Roy,” who wrote this script, and the script is really mind-blowing! Just wonderful!

GR: Well, we look forward to that! And of course, for the moment you are “The Phantom of the Opera.” Thank you very much Gerard Butler!

GB: Thanks a lot.