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Lloyd Webber's great Phantom gamble

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: November 26, 2004 | Publication: The Telegraph (London) | Author: editors

Posted by: admin

Two relative unknowns have been chosen to star in the screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'The Phantom of the Opera'. John Hiscock reports

They seem an unlikely couple: the happy-go-lucky Scotsman who used to sing in a rock band, and the opera-trained American teenager. Yet when Emmy Rossum saw Gerard Butler lurking in the shadows at her screen test in New York, she knew he was the man to play the Phantom to her Christine.

"Gerry was kind of in the corner lurking in the darkness," she recalls. "When it was over, as I left I saw him in the shadows wearing a dark coat and smoking a cigarette and I remember thinking in retrospect how appropriate it was for the Phantom."

Andrew Lloyd Webber has gambled by choosing two relative unknowns, neither of whom had seen his hit stage musical, to star in his long-awaited 45 million film version of The Phantom of the Opera, about a disfigured musical genius who haunts the Paris opera house. His original choices when the film was first considered 16 years ago were his then-wife Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford.

Now it is up to the cinema-goer to decide whether Gerard Butler and 18-year-old Emmy Rossum she was 16 when she won the role will go down in history as one of cinema's famous couples.

Rossum seemed already destined for stardom when she auditioned for the role of Christine. She began her theatrical career at the age of seven when she was chosen to join New York's Metropolitan Opera. For the next five years she appeared in 20 different operas singing in five languages, working alongside some of the world's greatest opera singers. She made her television debut in a daytime soap opera when she was 11 and played the teenage Audrey Hepburn in a television film.

Her performance as Sean Penn's daughter in the drama Mystic River was described as "transfixing" by the New York Times and she more than held her own in the big-budget disaster epic The Day After Tomorrow.

She laughs when she recalls her singing audition for Lloyd Webber in his New York apartment. "He had the most magnificent apartment I had ever seen and I was floored by it. I went in and started vocalising with the accompanist and Andrew walked in as we were preparing. He didn't say hello, didn't introduce himself and just sat down in front of me and said, 'Shall we?'

"I thought to myself it was my one shot so I had better just stand up and do it, so I didn't introduce myself, I nodded to the accompanist and I did the two biggest numbers in the show. Then he stood up and said: 'That was great. I'm Andrew.'"
Emmy Rossum

Because she had never seen the stage show she had no preconceptions about Christine, although reading the script she quickly realised the size of the task in front of her. "This girl couldn't be more different from me," she says. "I am a happy, sociable, really rational girl and she is a young woman who is very lonely and who is tortured emotionally.

"I had never felt the fear and the real terror that she experiences so I went to the Museum of Television and Radio and I watched tapes of the Holocaust and I watched what it was like in the camps and I watched mothers dragging their children. It was so powerful and so frightening." Her voice tails off and she wipes tears from her eyes.

"It took me a while to come out of the hole and see the light again."

Unlike Rossum, Butler, a 35-year-old former lawyer from Glasgow, was particularly in need of a career boost when he caught the attention of director Joel Schumacher, who recommended him to Lloyd Webber. Though he had landed several leading roles, they were in turkeys such as Dracula 2000 and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, and he had failed to make much impression in Hollywood.

But he didn't give up. He had sung with a rock band called Speed and when he heard that Schumacher was considering him for the Phantom role, he immediately hired a voice coach.

"I knew I could sing but I didn't know if I could sing the songs from the Phantom of the Opera, so I hired the coach because I didn't want to waste their time or mine," he says. "I had three or four sessions with the coach and when I met Joel I didn't tell him that I had taken singing lessons."

Schumacher was impressed and Butler then auditioned for Lloyd Webber. Although he was so nervous his legs were shaking, he passed the test. He then had to endure several nine-hour make-up sessions where he estimates he tried on a thousand masks of different shapes and sizes before the right one was found.

Although he considers the figure of the Phantom as "sad" rather than sexy, the director, he says, "wanted to push the sexy aspect of it for the film".

"I trust that my chemistry with Emmy was very sexy because I used so much passion and longing towards her, which wasn't difficult because she's beautiful and she's sexy and I enjoyed delving into that older-younger thing because it was dramatic and," he bursts out laughing "in some ways it was a dream come true for a guy who ain't 22 any more."

How does he think it will be received? "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but it's not the sort of nervousness that's keeping me awake at night because I'm confident and think it's a great movie," says Butler. "I hope it's going to become a timeless classic. I've had a lot of people saying in disbelief, 'Gerry Butler? Playing the Phantom?' I want to prove them wrong and Andrew right."

# 'The Phantom of the Opera' opens on December 10.


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