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Heart of Darkness

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: November 28, 2004 | Publication: Mail on Sunday | Author: Sue Corrigan

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Gerard Butler understands all too well what drives the obsessive,bitter Phantom.He tells Sue Corrigan of the dark secrets in his own past that drew him to the role.

Scottish actor Gerard Butler knew nothing about the Phantom of the Opera when he first read the script for the new film, but from the moment he did,while listening to a CD of music from the stage show,the 34 year old wanted to play the title role.

Desperately,"I thought,"I could eat this part alive,"says Butler in his sexy Glasgow growl.

"If only I could sing that kind of music,I had been in the school choir & in a rock band,but I'd never had any formal training, so I wasn't sure I could do it."

Butler found out the hard way: auditioning in front of Andrew Lloyd Webber himself in a room at the composers London home, singing "Music of the Night", with only a piano accompanying him.

"It was a very bizarre setting" says Butler, "apart, from Andrew, I was also singing in front of (director) Joel Schumacher and the film producer, Austin Shaw. There were only the three of them in the room, all sitting staring at me, with Simon Lee (Phantom's musical director) playing the piano. As I started singing it was at the back of my mind that there was one note in the song that I just couldn't reach, I really went for it, but I didn't make it, and I thought 'Oh my God.' At the end Lloyd Webber stood up, came over and we all sat together, he talked for about 15 minutes, giving me a very in-depth critique of my voice. I should have taken it as a good sign that he'd spend that amount of time talking to me, but I didn't, I had it in my head that I'd been terrible. I annoyed the hell out of Joel for the rest of the day, saying,'I have to go back and sing it again', I think Joel was ready to punch me."

Butler tells another anecdote to demonstrate just how much he wanted the plum role.

"The night before I sang for Andrew,I went to see my football team, Celtic, I had to sit through the whole game and not scream once,a friend was saying(thick glasgow accent)'Pipe up Gerry boy, or I swear I'm goin' ta punch you in the face' and I was going 'I can't, I have to protect my vocal chords.'" and with that the actor laughs so hard he almost bounces off his chair.

Gerard Butler-'Gerry' to his pals is still, at this relatively early, pre-stardom stage of his career, like a hyperactive puppy.

It only takes a starter question about why he thinks he was chosen for this coveted part and he is off.

"I identified with the Phantom totally," says Butler "He breaks my heart-he just breaks my heart,I was amazed how strongly I felt this role ,he represents that fear we all have of being unloved, imperfect, ugly, of being left alone. I have a very happy life, but I've also had a lot of darkness and I'm very much in touch with that."

Butler was 2 years old and the youngest of three children under the age of 6, when his parents, both Scottish, but living in Canada, split up. His mother returned to Glasgow to bring up her children alone and Butler was 16 before he saw his father again.

After leaving school he went to Glasgow University to study law, but despite graduating and starting work in an Edinburgh law firm, Butler was emotionally troubled, drifting aimlessly for several years, he drank heavily, took drugs and says that, by 24 he was contemplating suicide. Butler spent a number of nights in police cells, and once hung drunkenly from the rails of a cruise ship, singing Rod Stewarts' 'Sailing' at the top of his voice.

The week before he qualified as a lawyer ,he was sacked by his law firm, "That period of my life happened because I was going down the wrong road,I knew law wasn't for me, but I was stuck, so I behaved crazily."

The day after being sacked, he left for London, where he took a number of dead end jobs before he happened to meet actor and director Steven Berkoff in a cafe.

"He asked if i was an actor, I said I wasn't, but I wanted to be and he offered me a part in a production of 'Coriolanus'"

From there the young actor won the lead role in an Edinburgh production of 'Trainspotting'. Chance and luck have continued to play an extraordinary role in Butler's rapid rise. In 1997, when the producers of 'Mrs Brown' were looking for a young Scottish actor to play Billy Connolly's younger brother, Butler was an obvious candidate. The film, based on the story of Queen Victoria's relationship with John Brown was a huge hit in America, thereby bringing Butler to Hollywood's attention.

Butler says that Schumacher happened by sheer fluke to see his performance as Dracula in a disastrous 2000 remake of the venerable horror story.

"After that Joel followed my career," Butler says earnestly. "He saw me in'Attila'(a US cable mini series),then in 'The Jury'(an ITV mini series) and he saw various components of the 'Phantom' in all those roles, then 2 years ago, we had lunch together and we talked about acting, but some months later he called my agent and asked if i could sing."

Not only can he sing, but Butler is stunning in the role of the mad,tragic,figure who haunts the catacombs of the Paris Opera.

"I became very defensive of the 'Phantom'," says Butler,'he is very egotistical,sefish and bullying, but look what's been done to him, if you'd been abandoned and loathed, with no warmth or love and only spurned and hated by the world ,you'd have every right to spit a bit of venom back out at everybody. Christine is the only human thing he has any feeling or love towards, representing the only chance he has of being born again, to have any sense of love or connection with human beings and he can't even have that."

"(To play the role)I had to climb back into that fear of not having the one thing all humans deserve, which is love. When it comes to something as powerful of love,it brings up the fear of rejection, and I have that in heaps."


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