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Butler: Actor and Phantom of the Opera

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 17, 2004 | Publication: The Jakarata Post | Author: Kenny Santana, Contributor/Cannes

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The name Gerard Butler got a mention in the Reign of Fire, Dracula 2001 and Tomb Raider credits, but many Indonesians have acquired the habit of tuning out after the big shots are listed.

The actor may yet win household recognition, however, with his portrayal of the Phantom in this month's The Phantom of the Opera, a feature film based on the famous stage play.

While at the Cannes Film Festival promoting Dear Frankie, the Scottish actor spared some time to talk to The Jakarta Post about the eagerly anticipated musical movie.

Question: How did you get the part in The Phantom of the Opera?

Answer: I hadn't heard of the project -- even though it has been around for 15 years -- until my agent got a call from writer-director Joel Schumacher, whom I'd met. Then I read the script while I listened to the music. I found it an earth-shattering experience.

I identified strongly with The Phantom like a lot of people do. I was blown away by it. I met Joel and I said, "I have to do this movie". I was forced to take a couple singing lessons and I had to sing in front of Andrew Lloyd Weber, with my legs shaking.

And then I got the role. Basically, he said "you can handle this". But I had to put in a lot of work. After months of training and movement -- singing obviously -- technical singing, songs from the show, I learned to get that fine line between being a technically good singer, and being able to express yourself.

There are many ways in which The Phantom can be interpreted because there's so much pain, emotion, sexuality in the role. I've finished now and have seen the 10-minute trailer. I've never been so excited about a movie coming out. It looks amazing.

What is Joel Schumacher like?

Joel is amazing. As a guy, he's exceptionally entertaining, funny, and cheeky; he always kept me in my place, never letting me get too big for my boots.

He's been with this project for more than 15 years now; you can tell that when you read the adaptation of the script. The way he's put everything down, the moments he's chosen, the things he's added, make the film so much more powerful.

That's what blew me away when I read the script. So I trusted him because, one, he's a great director, two, I could see.

He makes sure everything is under control. He knows exactly what he wants. You really felt you had a director that had complete control over the movie and production.

The best of Joel was he really let me do my thing in this movie. More than anything he cast the right actors for the right roles. And he wants to see what the actors have to offer.

What's more important for you when you choose a movie?

Most important is the screenplay. That has to speak to me in some way. Whether because it's funny, moving or it's original, or something I really don't think I can do.

I don't want to get a part that I can just go and do. It has to be the script, a good script. I've not always been able to say that, because that's not always been the case.

Sometimes I needed the work -- a job. I needed the money. It wasn't the scenario anymore, so now first the script, then the director and next, the cast.

You were a lawyer before. Why did you become an actor? Law school was challenging, but I did not find it a stimulating challenge. It was not exciting.

I didn't want to spend the rest of my life facing those challenges. I preferred to face the challenge of being an actor.

Did you have singing experience before The Phantom of the Opera?

Yes, but not that kind of music. I sang in a rock band for fun you know.

Do you remember the songs?

I can't remember. I was four. I don't know, but even when I sang in a rock band, I love to rock and roll but I also love to sing ballads, using the softer side of my voice.

I got the chance to do it in The Phantom of the Opera. But for me, more than anything, you've got to feel what you sing. Sometimes, when you are caught up in the singing, you can feel the soul of the singer.

Is it more difficult or fun to sing in an entire film?

I think it's more difficult. I mean it's strange to do that. There are things you have to deal with. One is singing with the mask on.

You also sing differently to the way you normally sing. When you sing in a recording studio, you use your lips differently to when you sing before a camera.

You try to avoid opening your mouth like a gaping hole because it looks horrible on the screen, especially in the close-ups (laughs).

So there are these things, and then there's learning to lip-sync. That is kinda strange, but I had to do all that and keep natural while acting.

When you are singing, you know you are less focused because you caught up in the technical side, so you panic. I learned from my technical music coach and musical director.

So you think you're a better singer now?

Oh my God, so much more so. The funny thing is I sing less for fun now. It's a bit strange.

Given the success of other musicals like Moulin Rouge and Chicago, do you feel that Phantom of the Opera will be a huge hit?

I have to say, everybody's involved in the film, they're unbelievably, quietly confident. The 10-minute trailer that I saw was one of the most powerful I'd ever seen.

This is one of the most successful musicals of all time. You know it's a story that will tear at your heart, make you laugh and cry, and make you think of so many things. You have all that in the movie -- and more.

(The Phantom of the Opera will shortly be out on general release.)


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