Bringing The Phantom to Film - Part 2

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 23, 2004 | Publication: ComingSoon.Net | Author: Edward Douglas
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With Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "The Phantom of the Opera" finally coming to movie theatres this week, fans of the original will anxiously be waiting to see if Michael Crawford's replacement will have the presence and the voice to continue in his footsteps. While they may still be shocked by director Joel Schumacher's decision to cast virtual unknowns in the roles of Christine and Raul, they may be even more alarmed by the fact that his Phantom, Scottish actor Gerard Butler, had never sung professionally before making the movie. Of course, one would never know by seeing or hearing him on screen.

In Part 1, ComingSoon.net talked to Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Webber about the casting of Emmy Rossum as Christine, but Schumacher told us about working with Butler, who also told us how he go to the point where he could sing in front of the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber.

CS: How did you come up with the idea to have Gerard Butler play the role of the Phantom?
Joel Schumacher: I had known Gerry for a couple of years and wanted to work with him. He told me that he had been in a band in Scotland, which means nothing except that you want to pick up girls. When I gave him the script to read, he was so connected emotionally to this character and his loneliness that he broke down crying when he talked to me about him. I said, "Gerry, you'll be a great Phantom, but you have to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber or you can't have this part." So he said that he would try, which I thought was very courageous of him. He came in and sang "Music of the Night" for Andrew and me, and I saw Andrew jump up and charge across the room to shake his hand vigorously. And so, Gerry got the role.

CS: Was it hard for you to work with him because he had never sung before?
Schumacher: I think it was harder on him than it was on us, because Andrew and I really had faith in him. Most importantly, Simon Lee, who coaches the singers, really felt he can bring Gerry to this point, but he had to have endless coaching. Andrew loved that Patrick has this very pure lyric tenor voice and that Gerry had a coarser, more rock 'n' roll and a much sexier voice. There was such a unique difference between the two of them. I think we both believed in Gerry, but I think Gerry was very nervous and insecure. We only had six weeks of rehearsal, but Gerry was contracted to do a soccer movie in Brazil-I told him that if he broke his ankle doing that movie that I was going to kill him--so he came in at the last second and didn't have those six weeks of rehearsal that everyone else did. He kept calling me from Brazil, because he was so worried about the movement and the singing. If our musical people had said they didn't think he could do it, he probably wouldn't have been hired.

And now, let's hear what the Phantom has to say about this difficult role:

CS: Have you ever seen the original stage musical?
Gerard Butler: I hadn't before I met Joel, and I'm glad I hadn't because the whole thing was fresh to me. But then, I was over here training for the soccer movie, and I popped along to see it, more out of curiosity because you could already see from Joel's script what we were trying to do with this movie. Even after seeing it in New York, it gave me a lot of ideas (how) to break away from what they were doing and what Joel and I talked about. I loved that feeling that even though it is a musical, it still felt very fresh. We would react to the environment, and things would change sometimes, because we'd come up with these ideas that we weren't expecting.


CS: Can you talk a bit about preparing for your audition with Andrew Lloyd Webber to get this role?
Butler: I didn't know why they sent me the script, but I called my agent and said, "Get me a voice coach," because I don't even want to go meet Joel if I can't do this. I was going to sing with this woman, and if she told me I can't do it, then I'm not going to waste anybody's time. I'm not going to go and sing in front of Andrew Lloyd Webber and make a fool of myself if I know I can't do it. I'm very good at mapping out in my head ways of thinking about things, even if they're not right, but I thought that either I can do this, or I can't. What it requires is taking a bunch of singing lessons, and I did. And then I had to go and sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber, and that was a nerve-wracking experience, as you can imagine, singing "Music of the Night". Once you start, the enormity of what I was trying to do suddenly hit me, and then all those vulnerable insecure feelings go through your head like, "You're not a singer! Who do you think you are singing 'Music Of The Night' in front of Andrew Lloyd Webber?" But I got the role, and I thought that I had to trust that if they think I can do this, than I can. After my third session with my singing teacher, I sang "Music of the Night," we looked at each other, and she said that I could do this. At that point, I'd read the script, and listened to the music from the stage show, and I went from questioning why they'd come to me to thinking that I had to do this. I just love this character, and I'd love to tell this story, especially what Joel was trying to do. It's so romantic and so tragic and painful and it really touches people, because they identify with the secrets we have inside ourselves. You can feel compassion for someone else, because you see the Phantom suffering like that and though he does some shifty things, at the end of the day, he's just a lost unfortunate creature who wasn't given the opportunity that so many of us take for granted in life, just to have somebody there to love, to care for, and to look out for you. That really touched me. I'm a hopeless romantic at heart.

CS: Once you got the part, what did you do next?
Butler: I had never had a singing lesson in my life before "Phantom." There was a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work, but then again, you can count yourself lucky that you get the best experts around you to train you in whatever field. In this field, it was pseudo-opera singing, so I had about a thousand free singing lessons. Singing's something I've always loved to do, so to sing in this movie was a fantastic opportunity. I thought, "Wow, what a great challenge!" It also meant a lot of pressure, because I arrived late, about two weeks before I started filming, and I wasn't filming in the first five weeks, but I was there every day working with the coach, the musical director and the choreographer. And then I'd go off to some costume fitting and then into the sword-fighting. Every time I'd walk past the crew, they'd be like, "When do you start? You're The Phantom!" It kind of made me a little crazy, because obviously I was nervous about taking on this role, and knew there were a lot of people going, "Who is this guy? Why is he the Phantom?" Fear is the great motivator, and it helped me get my head down and so, I worked really hard on this. In fact, there were a couple times when Joel said that I was working too hard and to just relax, especially with the voice. I was working so hard on everything that [my voice] was getting really exhausted before I even started filming.

CS: How did you work on defining the character?
Butler: In some ways, I had more days to define the character, because when they were working, I was off in singing classes with the musical director and the singing coaches. When I was with Peter Darling, our choreographer, I realized that, coming from this as a very human character, I didn't want to make him too theatrical. You have to have a form of physicality-- nimble and yet focused and very powerful--that would help suit this charisma. To use the body in a way for movements to mean something, whether to present the mask or the normal side of your face, or the way I walk, presenting a proud and confident character, which I think at the end of the day he really is. You could almost exaggerate that, but at the end of the day, he's a man, so why is he walking around, waving his hands? He's not a gay man! I wanted to keep him manly.

CS: Speaking of that, were there any discussions about you having an open shirt for a lot of the movie?
Butler: Yeah, because [Joel] wanted me topless at first! I showed him my belly and he said "No, let's keep the shirt". But it's a Joel Schumacher movie, so there's certain things you have to give in to.


CS: How was it wearing the prosthetics and make-up?
Butler: It was very hard, because the first three times we did it, we were still refining it and it took nine hours. Just sitting in a chair for half an hour, I get uncomfortable, But this was nine hours and you can't move and there are three people poking your face, and they're gluing your eye and would attach a piece of string on your eyelash, and the piece of string goes under the prosthetic right at the back of your neck, and they pull it from a piece of metal. Just having the whole thing applied was uncomfortable, but then I'm trying to play The Phantom of the Opera. He's been disfigured all his life and he's got a lot more pain than I, so anything that takes you towards that psychological state is good. Whenever I finished the makeup I was not in a great mood, and I knew in the moments of the movie when you see him in his prosthetic makeup, he is in not in a great mood either. I had to do 22 days with prosthetic makeup--six of them were back-to-back-- when I was up at 3 o clock in the morning, into the chair at 4, and on set at 9, out there screaming and crying and breaking my heart, and then back home to bed at 10 o'clock. (Note: Presumably, he meant at night and not an hour later.) It was hard to endure, but it was great for the character. The mask was not the most comfortable thing in the world to wear, and you therefore had to focus on the voice and on the physical movement.

CS: The Phantom has become such a classic film character. Had you seen any of those films before?
Butler: I did plenty of work on the movement and the singing, but I instinctively felt the role of the Phantom. I discovered so much in conversations with Joel, the art department, the props and set design, the costumes, but really it was what I discovered within myself, within the music. I didn't want to try and do a remake of Lon Chaney's version or do a not as good copy of Michael Crawford. I wanted to do my Phantom for better or for worse, just to try and make it different. At the end of the day, I hope and think that we have made him more human and more emotionally complex, and therefore more moving to an audience, because now you're closer to the hearts and souls of the characters than you are in the stage version.

CS: How was it working with Emmy, who was a relative newcomer to making movies?
Butler: She's wonderful, extremely talented, and she's beautiful. I was there at the screen test when she walked in. She hadn't even sung a word, and I said to Joel "That's Christine". She's incredible sensual, but also very innocent looking. She's hugely confident but professional, and she's done the most amazing job as Christine.

You can see Gerard and Emmy in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which is in select cities right now.