Instinct: Director's pick of 'Phantom' stars took a different path

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 26, 2004 | Publication: Journal Now - Entertainment News Wire | Author: Angela Dawson
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Andrew Lloyd Webber's name is synonymous with musical theater. The prolific composer has helped create some of the most popular musicals of the past 35 years: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Sunset Boulevard, Cats and his most personal of projects, The Phantom of the Opera.

Lloyd Webber's works have entertained millions around the world, raked in billions at the box office, sold millions of albums and garnered nearly every conceivable theater award. Cats is the longest-running musical in Broadway history, followed by the gothic love story, Phantom, which alone has grossed more than $3 billion in ticket sales.

That's quite an achievement for a man whose family could barely afford to attend the theater while he was growing up in London.

Turning Lloyd Webber's wildly popular stage musicals into successful cinema has proven tricky, however. Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita were adapted into films with mixed results. For example, the 1996 film Evita, starring Madonna, was a commercial disappointment, yet Lloyd Webber collected an Oscar with lyricist Tim Rice for best original song ("You Must Love Me").

Lloyd Webber's Phantom had a few stops and starts over the course of 18 years until he obtained the film rights from Warner Bros. four years ago and restarted the project using $5 million of his own money, with foreign investors financing the rest. (Warners later got on board as a distributor.) Lloyd Webber, 56, now serves as Phantom's producer, co-screenwriter and composer.

Directed and co-written by Joel Schumacher, The Phantom of the Opera, which opened in theaters Wednesday, is now a big-screen spectacular. For Lloyd Webber, a stocky, gray-haired man with dramatic eyebrows and rapid speech, the Phantom movie is a long-held dream finally realized.

"I came to musicals through movies," he says. "My family didn't have a lot of money and we couldn't afford to go to the theater. My first introduction to West Side Story, South Pacific and Carousel was through film. A lot more people will be able to see The Phantom of the Opera now because it's expensive to go to the theater."

Lloyd Webber first approached Schumacher about directing Phantom in the late 1980s. It was to star Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman (Lloyd Webber's then wife), who originated the roles onstage and are heard on the original cast album (the best-selling cast album of all time).

Though Schumacher was still relatively new to filmmaking, Lloyd Webber was impressed by how the director combined music and visuals in the vampire drama The Lost Boys. After seeing the film, Lloyd Webber told Brightman, "This is our man."

But the project stalled and Schumacher moved on to other things. Then about two years ago, Lloyd Webber and Schumacher met up in London and the idea of making a filmed Phantom resurfaced.

The director agreed to helm the musical, his first, so long as he'd have full casting approval. Like most of his films, Schumacher wanted young up-and-comers. Lloyd Webber acquiesced.

Although a studio might have insisted on marquee stars for the three leads, Phantom's filmmakers decided to go with the actors they wanted. "We were lucky because we're an independent film and we didn't have anybody to answer to," Lloyd Webber says.

For the role of Christine, Schumacher cast 16-year-old Emmy Rossum, a promising new talent who once sang in the children's chorus at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and also starred in last summer's blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow.

Though initially skeptical about placing such a weighty role on the shoulders of a teenage actress, Lloyd Webber was pleased with Schumacher's choice after he heard her sing. "I said to Joel, 'It's like we ordered her from a mail-order catalogue,'" he recalls.

Schumacher found his fiery Phantom in 35-year-old Gerard Butler, a hunky Scottish actor he had seen in Dracula 2000. "I just had this instinct he'd be a great Phantom," recalls Schumacher. "When he talked to me about the role, he was so emotional about the loneliness and disconnectedness of the character."

Butler had never performed in musical theater or opera, but he had been in a rock band for a few years before his acting career took off. Still, he took voice lessons on the sly and rehearsed with Phantom musical director Simon Lee before auditioning for the composer at his studio. "It was a great joy when we discovered he could sing," recalls Lloyd Webber. "I thought that the idea of the Phantom having a rock 'n' roll edge was a great idea."

For the part of Raoul, Schumacher turned to Tony-nominated Broadway veteran Patrick Wilson, 31.