'Phantom Folks Chat About The Film As A Phenomenon

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 31, 2004 | Publication: Tampa Tribune | Author: BOB ROSS
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NEW YORK - The cast and creators of "The Phantom of the Opera'' were in Manhattan recently for the film's premiere and to give round-table interviews at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. Among tidbits gleaned from the proceedings:

Emmy Rossum: "I came in at the tail end of casting. I think I was the last one they saw. I had never seen the show,'' says the 18-year-old, opera-trained beauty who plays Christine, the chorus girl who becomes a star and the title character's obsession. "I was only 16 at the time. I never thought I'd get it. I knew there were older, more famous girls'' up for the role.

To audition, "I sang for Andrew [Lloyd Webber, the show's author] in his living room. He was happy that I'd never seen "Phantom' before. ... He is shy, but he's easy to talk to at the piano. He wanted my character to be the realistic core of the fantasy.

"This film was harder for me than "Day After Tomorrow.' I mean emotionally, not physically.

"I think the movie stands on its own. We grew up on MTV, and this isn't classical music. It's a pop hybrid. It's sumptuous, sexy and scary.''

Is she prepared for fame? "I try not to think about things like that. Joel [Schumacher, the director] says if you read about yourself and believe the good things then you also have to believe the bad. I stay normal. I do my own laundry and I have the same friends. ... Next, I hope to take a break and go back to school.''

Although she began training at the Metropolitan Opera when she was 7, Rossum says, "I can't go back to the opera until I am 25.'' That, she explains, is when her voice will be mature enough for the rigors of a full performance schedule.

Gerard Butler: "I was very surprised'' to get the role, the movie's Phantom says in his thick, native Scottish brogue. At 35, he's not exactly a newcomer. "Joel noticed me in "Dracula 2000,''' he says with a cheery laugh.

Butler's other roles have included Attila the Hun in a TV bio-pic and Angelina Jolie's sidekick in the "Lara Croft'' sequel. He'll be seen next in the soccer drama "The Game of Their Lives'' and as Beowulf in the Icelandic epic "Beowulf & Grendel.''

"I had never had a singing lesson before,'' he notes. "I sang with a rock band when I was studying to be a lawyer, but that was it. Joel has a genius for casting. Making the Phantom younger [than on stage] was brilliant. He's in his prime and missing out on so much of life. As an actor, I do something because it touches me. At heart, we're all romantic and compassionate.''

He had to take lessons to sing the part. "Joel said he wanted to hear the character's life story in every note. Sad but sexy, as he put it.''

To Butler, "acting is more difficult than singing.'' But, he adds, when he auditioned for Webber, "my leg started shaking and the pianist had to remind me to breathe.'' He's glad he stuck it out. "The movie blows me away. I love it so much. I almost wish I wasn't in it. That way I think I would enjoy it more.''

Andrew Lloyd Webber: "Yes, I am quite shy,'' the knighted multimillionaire composer acknowledges. "But you are lucky in life if you know what you want to do.''

Webber, 56, almost made the "Phantom'' film in 1988 with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman reprising their stage roles. Then Webber and Brightman divorced and "my partners were against it. They didn't want to affect theater ticket sales. So we forgot about it.''

Although Crawford's fans wanted him to play the movie Phantom, "Michael understood that we decided to go for younger players. You could not have a 65-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl'' doing romantic duets.

After writing 14 musicals, Webber declines to name a favorite. "They are like your children,'' he demurs. But he does express regret about the state of musical theater today. "There are fewer young people in it. Fewer original shows. I wish there were more new writers.''

His all-time Broadway favorites: "West Side Story'' and "South Pacific.''

Joel Schumacher: When Webber was contemplating a "Phantom'' film in '88, Schumacher was already his director of choice. What's different now?

"Well, for one thing, I'd done only four movies at that point,'' says the former costume designer who now has 18 features to his credit, including "A Time To Kill,'' "Flatliners'' and two "Batman'' movies. He says "The Lost Boys'' was the one that drew Webber's attention.

"Andrew is not a film person and doesn't pretend to be,'' says Schumacher, 65.

"I'm not a musical person. But we had 16 years of trust and friendship to work with. And he reinvented his music for this version, working with 110 symphony musicians [instead of a smaller theater orchestra]. He was like a kid in a candy store.''

The three main characters had to do their own singing, Schumacher recalls. "Patrick [Wilson] was the first we hired. That was easy. Gerry [Butler] was next.''

Minnie Driver, who sings a new Webber song over the end credits, had to be dubbed for her opera parts. She plays a comically demanding diva and, Schumacher cracks, "We couldn't find a soprano with a sense of humor.''

Minnie Driver: "It was a lark,'' says the statuesque English brunette of her turn as spoiled Carlotta. "It was hilarious, because I was in a different movie from everyone else. At times I thought [the character] was going too far, but Joel said, "No, no, keep it going.' I can't stand caricature, but she is walking a very fine line. A lot of Carlotta was improvised.''

Although Driver's operatic voice is dubbed, she has a second career as a pop singer. Her first CD, with 10 tunes she wrote and a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart,'' came out in October. "I was a singer before I got into acting,'' says Driver, who will be 35 on Jan. 31. "I was signed to Island Records when I was 19. I had no idea the album and this movie would be out at the same time. I've been touring with my music for four months.''

As for her career, "I feel really bloody lucky to be among the one percent of actors who are employed.''

Patrick Wilson: "I was doing "The Alamo" in Texas when I got the script,'' says the singer- actor who grew up in St. Petersburg. "I loved it.''

Wilson, 31, plays Raoul, the third leg of the film's romantic triangle. "The role wasn't that difficult for me,'' he says, "because I had the singing experience. He [Schumacher] knew I came from musical theater.

Raoul has never been written like this, because "Phantom' has never been a movie musical before.''