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The Voice and Face of the PHANTOM

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 21, 2004 | Publication: Fangoria.com | Author: IAN SPELLING
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Gerard Butler seethes, sighs and sings quite convincingly as the Phantom in Joel Schumacherís big-screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webberís venerable stage musical of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (opening December 22 from Warner Bros.)óbut heading into the project, the Scottish actor considered himself an unlikely choice for the character. "I was very surprised when they first came to me with this, because Iím not a singer," Butler says. "I can sing. Iíve been singing for a long while, but I never had a lesson in my life. When they approached me, I had sung for fun in a rock band when I was training as a lawyer. But that was about as good as it got. So when they came to me, I thought, ĎWhy? Iím too young.í And I didnít come from a musical background. So I was surprised until I read the script and what I connected with, I could see.

"Also, Joel Schumacher and I were friends," Butler continues, "and if thereís one thing about Joel, itís that heís a genius for casting. I thought, ĎThere must be something going on here. He must have some reason for coming to me,í and then when I read it I understood. Then I talked with him, and when he explained wanting to bring the whole age down, I could see the genius of that. Itís all the more heartbreaking for [this] Phantom because heís a man in the prime of his life. Therefore, heís denied sexually, intimately. Itís more heartbreaking when you know heís already had his story, so heís already been through a lot of that pain, but here he still has so much to offer, but this love is not for him. That killed me in every way."

Schumacher co-wrote the Phantom script with Webber, and in this version, the characters are indeed younger. While the basic story from Gaston Lerouxís novel and its many other film adaptations remains the same, there are significant additions. The Phantom still haunts the Paris Opera House, where he has surreptitiously trained the beautiful young orphan singer Christine (Emmy Rossum); now heís eager to push her into the limelight on stage, as well as to woo her romantically. Christine seems willing to do both, but then another suitor, the handsome Raoul (Patrick Wilson), enters the picture, forcing Christine to consider her options and driving the Phantom to great fits of anger and bursts of violence.

Despite the more youthful castingóRossum is 18, while Butler and Wilson are in their early 30sóit remains to be seen if PHANTOM will appeal to that most important of moviegoing demographics, 18-25-year-olds. Complicating the challenge, PHANTOM is steeped in classical music, unlike something along the lines of CHICAGO or MOULIN ROUGE. Butler says he canít worry about matters outside his realm of responsibility.

"Iíll tell you something: Iím an actor, and I do something because it touches me," he notes. "If I were to offer something up, it would be the same reasons it touched me. We are all at heart romantic and passionate, and there is nothing like a dark romance to stir us, no matter what age we are. On top of that, this movie has everything. It has a lot of old Hollywood and it feels like a vintage musical, but at the same time itís vibrant and alive and beautiful and lush. It has a great energy, because thatís what Joel is great at capturing. Cinematically, itís a treat. The music appeals to all ages.

"When I walk past [the theater showing the stage] PHANTOM here in New York, I canít believe how many kids are going to see it," Butler continues. "So itís obviously their story, and it appeals to everyone. And the movie makes it more accessible because of the price. A lot of kids donít go to the theater because of the cost, but now they can go see it in the cinema and claim it. This movie has recreated the world of the Phantom, of the Paris Opera House, in a dark, luscious way. And you can claim it and abandon yourself to a romantic, tragic love story."

Butler has played formidable characters before, among them the Count in DRACULA 2000, Attila in the cable movie of the same name and Beowulf in the upcoming adventure/horror film BEOWULF & GRENDEL. So that came easy. What proved scary, so far as PHANTOM was concerned, was the scope of the project and, more to the point, meeting and trying to impress Webber. "The thing is, I treated this in my head as an interesting independent production, which it was," Butler explains. "That helped me to not get too nervous about it. I work very, very hard as an actor. Even before I met Joel, I was working with a vocal coach taking singing lessons, even before I knew how interested he was in me for the role. And then after that, I always knew [it would boil down to if] I could sing or not. ĎIíll put in as much work as I can and then the experts will tell me whether I can handle this kind of singing or I canít.í So that didnít make me nervous; it was either a yes or no.

"Acting is much more difficult; itís a comment on your soul," he continues. "A bad acting audition can go far worse than a singing audition. You have a page and notes that you can stick to. If youíre not good, you can lose 20 percent, but at an acting audition, I can lose 300 percent or I can fly. So therefore, I wasnít nervous until I stood by the piano and then the enormity of what I was trying to achieve [struck him], and my mind went, ĎNo, this isnít an interesting independent movie. This is THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, probably the biggest musical of all time.í And then I was singing ĎMusic of the Night,í one of the most famous songs of all time, sung and made famous by someone who isnít me [stage Phantom Michael Crawford], in front of the composer, one of the most famous composers of all time. All those things went through my mind and my legs started shaking. [Longtime Webber associate] Simon Lee was playing the piano and he was [Butler imitates a gasp]. It was like a comedy act; he was telling me to breathe, but he kept [gasps again]. I kept singing, and, of course, Iím my own worst critic. I thought Iíd sung terriblyóbut Andrew really dug it."

 


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