Lead role in `Opera' is high note for Butler

Category: Interviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 21, 2004 | Publication: Boston Herald | Author: Stephen Schaefer
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For a phantom, Gerard Butler seems positively jolly.

The 35-year-old Scot won one of the year's plum parts when he persuaded Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Webber that he was the man to slip on the mask in the long-awaited screen version of Webber's stage success, ``The Phantom of the Opera'' (opening tomorrow).

``This was everything that I hoped for and more, good and bad,'' said Butler of playing the physically and emotionally deformed musical genius who lives in the bowels of a late 19th century opera house in Paris. As the Phantom, he schemes and murders so that his beloved, a chorine named Christine (Emmy Rossum), will become an operatic diva.

For Butler, the bad included hours of prosthetic makeup, necessary for the climax when Christine tears off his mask and reveals his hideous face.

``What that involved was the gluing of the eye down to a piece of string that hangs right down your back. They'd literally pull it from there,'' Butler said.

Add to that hundreds of hours for costume fittings, and you have one stressed-out actor.

But there was more: the singing, which Butler handled without any overdubbing.

It was ``a wondrous and thoroughly inspiring experience. It was also hard and stressful because I was learning from scratch because I hadn't been a singer before,'' he said.

Only in Hollywood could a non-singing actor star in what is easily the most famous musical of the past 30 years.

Butler's youth helped him land the role against better-knowns, including John Travolta and Antonio Banderas. From the beginning, Schumacher announced that he was going to make a youth-oriented ``Phantom.''

Butler's bare-chested film debut in ``Dracula 2000'' sparked Schumacher's interest.

The director recalled the film, laughing. ``Gerry's first entrance is in a plane - He bursts out of a coffin,'' Schumacher said. ``And I said, `This guy has fantastic screen presence!' And my associate producer Eli said, `His agent's been trying to get you to meet him.' ''

Butler took vocal lessons months before he had to audition for Webber. When he won the role, he decided to skip the melodrama that ignites the stage version and opt for a lower-keyed tone appropriate for the intimacy of cinema.

``Even though I loved (the stage version), it gave me so many ideas of where I didn't want to go with the movie,'' he said. ``It wasn't because of bad acting, but we're making a movie. What appealed to me was the human side of the phantom. That's what grabbed me when I read Joel's interpretation. I played the music from the stage show, lit my candles, read the script, and by the end of it, I was the Phantom. I was so sold on him and especially his pain.''

Unlike the stage version, the film explores the Phantom's back story, showing how he was abandoned as a child.

Butler could relate to that. ``It's just wanting something so much that you feel as a human being you have the right to some form of companionship or connection or intimacy or love, and you're told, `No. You just can't have that.' That's just a big powerful source that I drew on.

``I abandoned myself to the music,'' he said.