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Gerard Butler: The Man Behind the "Phantom" Mask

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 21, 2004 | Publication: Fashion Wire Daily | Author: Jenny Peters

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Fashion Wire Daily December 21, 2004 - LOS ANGELES - As the wildly anticipated movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" rolls into theaters on Wednesday, December 22, many fans of the musical are asking the same question: Just who exactly is Gerard Butler, the man who plays the Phantom?

You might remember him from the second "Tomb Raider" flick, or maybe from "Reign of Fire"; he played Attila the Hun in the USA Cable Network television miniseries "Attila," and was Dracula in Wes Craven's "Dracula 2000." But what you won't remember is ever hearing him sing before; that's because this is the first time he has tried out his pipes in a performance.

"I actually started taking singing lessons before I even had a meeting with ["Phantom" director] Joel Schumacher because I didn't want to waste anyone's time," the darkly handsome Scottish actor remembers. "I thought, 'If this coach says to me that I canít do this, then she knows more than me.' This is not my area of expertise. So I went and I sang with her, I think three times, and I'll never forget the third time. I stopped singing for the night, and I felt something and I looked to her and we both stopped and we looked at each other and smiled. She said, 'You can absolutely do this.' It was a beautiful moment. In that respect, I never found the whole process very difficult because I knew, 'either I can do this or I can't.'"

Obviously Schumacher and Webber (who also had a strong influence on the casting of the film) agreed, and gave Butler the part. As Butler tells it now, he's very proud of his performance, but not for the reasons one might think.

"I had to express so much in my voice, which I think will work for some people and not for others. Some people want to hear more perfect singing and other people want to hear the feelings and the emotions and the passion and the pain in the voice. That's what I went for," he explains. "I think that sometimes when you can break away from perfection, it's better. I wasn't singing for people to go, 'What a wonderful voice,' but for people to feel his journey. I had to focus on the elements of communication in a more subtle way because of the mask. Yet I had a lot to say with the emotion."

When it came down to it, just simply wearing the mask was as big a challenge (or maybe even bigger) for Gerard Butler as mastering the singing was.

"We tried probably quite a few hundred masks, of every shape and size and material and color and facial expression and size of eye and the size of the mask. We finally got the perfect mask," he recalls. "It was the right texture. It had a great physical expression on it that was kind of beautiful and ominous. Then we went to start filming and every time I tried it on like this, with my finger just holding it and we go to filming and I go, 'How do I put the mask on?' And no one knew!

"Can you believe it? We didn't even know how to put on the f**king mask! So we're all running around and Joel understandably is going, 'What the hell happened? We're about to film and no one even knows how to put on the mask?!' So we got some special double-sided sticky tape."

And that's when the real challenge came in.

"That was an experience itself because if it was dry in the studio, which it often was, the tape would stick so tightly to my face that I couldn't get it off. It was like a comedy act," Butler grimaces. "My skin, literally, I would be pulling my skin off and then I would get a lot of bruising. I often had a lot of bruising on my forehead and right down [the side of my face]."

Happily, the good-looking 35-year-old seems none the worse for the experience, with all the skin on his face looking just fine again. Which means that now all he has to worry about is whether the fanatical fans of "The Phantom of the Opera" will embrace him in the role; only time will tell for that one.

"It's a great story. And the music, I abandoned myself to the music," he shrugs, "that's all I can say, I did my best and I hope people like it."


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