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A Phantom rises from Gerard Butler’s past, says Pauline McLeod

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 11, 2004 | Publication: The Times Online | Author: Pauline McLeod

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Gerard Butler draws heavily on a cigarette as he outlines, with a keen sense of graphic detail, how the prosthetics boys transformed his open, smiling face into the anguished, grotesque visage that is the Phantom of the Opera.
It took five hours to morph him into the mournful leading man in Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Doing anything other than curse silently during this process was impossible. “There were often three people poking at my face at any one time. One procedure involved glueing silk thread to my eyelid.

“The thread was taped to the side of my face, down and round to the back of my neck and was then pulled taut before the prosthetic went over my face, so my eye looked like this,” he says, jabbing a forefinger into the fleshy corner of his right eye to indicate what he’s talking about. It is not, it must be said, a good look.

“The glue would get on my eyelashes, they would have to use alcohol to get it off. That then went into my eyeballs and I would be screaming in agony. The good thing,” he adds brightly, “was that by the time they had finished, I was not in the best frame of mind and when you see those prosthetics, he’s at the lowest point of his journey.”

Right now, the unluvvie-like Butler, a former trainee solicitor, is clearly at a high point on his own travels. The little-known Scottish actor came out of leftfield via a handful of TV, movie and theatre parts to steal the most coveted role in musical cinema from the likes of John Travolta and Antonio Banderas.

Butler, 35, has been acting for just seven years and has never had any formal training. His unsettled background, however, undoubtedly informs his choice of roles. His parents emigrated to Toronto when he was a baby but their marriage foundered and his mother took Butler, his older brother and his sister back to Glasgow. Apart from one brief visit from his father when he was four, that was it.

“Until one day, as I walked through the door, my stepfather told me to keep my jacket on because my father was in town. I hadn’t seen him in 14 years, I didn’t even know he was still alive and I had to look around this restaurant searching for my dad and not knowing what he looked like any more.

“It was an incredibly bizarre experience. The emotion that came out when I met him showed me how much sits in this body of yours — how much pain and sorrow that you don’t know you have until it is unleashed. I think The Phantom of the Opera speaks to us all about the fears we have in life, our imperfections, about being alone. The story itself is heartbreaking, tragic, powerful and emotional and one that touches everybody.”

The Phantom of the Opera is on general release


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