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Rocking the opera

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 20, 2004 | Publication: Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia) | Author: Peter Mitchell

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Opens in Australia on Boxing Day

THE man behind the man behind the most famous mask in showbusiness is seeking an Australian bride.

"The woman I settle down with will no doubt be Australian," says Gerard Butler, the Scottish-born actor who won the coveted role of the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber's extravagant new film version of The Phantom of the Opera.

Butler, 35, has yet to visit Australia, however. His enchantment with Australian women began in 2001 when he starred in the TV movie Attila, playing warrior Attila the Hun with Simmone Mackinnon, now a star of McLeod's Daughters.

"Since then I have honestly thought the perfect woman for me when I eventually settle down will be an Australian woman, because they are so beautiful, but they're also cool," he says.

"They're like the guys. They love to have a blast. Simmone is probably the coolest woman I have met. She's easygoing, fun, crazy, but cool and honest."

Butler's performance as the Phantom, a disfigured musical genius who haunts the catacombs of the Paris Opera, is easily the actor's most challenging role.

He starred alongside Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Reign of Fire with Matthew McConaughey and Mrs Brown with fellow Scot Billy Connolly.

Unlike other leads in Phantom, Butler's musical background was little more than singing in an amateur pub rock band, Speed, 10 years ago in Scotland.

"Was I a rock star in Scotland? Definitely not," Butler says.

"I was twice thrown out of my own gigs. I was ejected from the clubs. Once it was because I ran out on to the street with the microphone and I was still singing. Everyone in the club could still hear me.

"Another time it was the biggest gig we ever did. There were 10,000 people at the Edinburgh Festival.

"The band got pissed off because I got smashed before the gig. I forgot all my words and I was having such a laugh with the audience, but I was using abusive language. The police ended up on stage. Our guitarist was saying to the police, 'Arrest him, arrest him'. He was so angry at me."

Big names such as Michael Crawford, who starred in the original stage version in 1986, Hugh Jackman and John Travolta were rumoured to be interested in playing the Phantom, but Lloyd Webber and Phantom director Joel Schumacher were after an actor with "a rock 'n' roll sensibility".

"He's got to be a bit rough, a bit dangerous; not a conventional singer," Lloyd Webber said.

Before he met Lloyd Webber, Butler secretly hired a singing teacher.

"I decided I'd have two singing lessons and then ask my singing teacher: 'Honestly, can I do this?' If she said no then I was not even going to go and meet Joel. I wasn't going to make a fool of myself in front of Joel or Andrew.

"But in my second session I finished singing Music of the Night and there was a moment when I looked at my teacher and we both broke into small smiles and she said, 'You can do this'."

He was summoned to Lloyd Webber's home in London. The crucial audition was on the day after Butler's beloved Celtic soccer club played Portugal's Boavista in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup.

"I couldn't shout or scream or make a noise during the game," he says.

"It was probably the most vocal you have ever heard Celtic fans and my mates were going, 'Come on, Gerry, cheer' and I had to say in my softest voice, 'Sorry, I can't'."

LLOYD Webber describes his new star as having "a great rock tenor voice".

There is also talk that Butler will replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, but Butler says that is just speculation. He says neither he nor his agent has been contacted by the 007 producers.

"I think there are 100 actors the press is speculating about and I'm just one of them.

"I can state I haven't had any discussions. I heard it could be Eric Bana. I've heard it could be others. I suppose I could look at it as flattering that the press would want to include me as a possibility and make up stories about me." AAP


More than 25 million theatre-goers have seen The Phantom of the Opera in 18 countries since its world premiere on October 9, 1986, at Her Majesty's Theatre in London.

French author Gaston Leroux's novel, on which Andrew Lloyd Webber based the musical, was published in 1910. There have been many film treatments of the story set in the Paris Opera and its catacombs. A 1925 silent version starred Lon Chaney, and Claude Rains, Susanna Foster and Nelson Eddy were in a 1943 production.

In 1962 it was remade with Herbert Lom and Heather Sears, and, in 1983, Maximilian Schell starred with Jane Seymour. In 1989 Robert Englund played opposite Jill Schoelen. Italy's horror master Dario Argento made his version in 1998.

Lloyd Webber surprised everyone with his casting for Phantom. He signed Michael Crawford, best known as a comic actor, to co-star with soprano Sarah Brightman. In 1988 Phantom conquered Broadway, where it scored seven Tony awards.

The Australian production opened in Melbourne in 1990 with Anthony Warlow and Marina Prior, and seven years later was revived with Rob Guest and Danielle Everett.

Takings from the stage show are estimated at $3 billion internationally.


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