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Star of 'Phantom' is 'invisible' actor

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 28, 2004 | Publication: Indy Star | Author: Hap Erstein, Cox News Service

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Gerard who?

It's Gerard Butler. The relatively unknown actor who won the right to don that eerie white half-mask by beating out the likes of Antonio Banderas, Hugh Jackman and the original Phantom of the Opera, Michael Crawford, understands if you do not know who he is.

Yes, he has been featured in such films as "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life" and "Timeline," but he still values his privacy and is pretty sure that will not be changed by "Phantom."

"Even I don't recognize myself," he says. Butler spends most of the movie under that mask, you see, "and when I'm not, it's prosthetics. I've shown pictures from the movie set to a couple of my friends and they go, 'That is not you.' Even if it's a big hit, I think I can pretty much get away with remaining anonymous."

So far at least, the Scottish-born Butler, 35, has been a reliable working actor, rather than a traffic-stopping star. People he meets in everyday life who have seen him perform do not always realize it.

"I walked into this shop not so long ago, a shop that I go into all the time. The guy said to me, 'What do you do?' When I told him I was an actor, he said, 'I'm not being rude, but I've never seen you in anything. What have you done?'

"The fact is, almost everybody at some point has seen something that I've done. I said, 'I've played Attila,' " the title role in a British miniseries. "And he said, 'Oh, my god, was that you?' I said "Yeah, and I played Dracula,' " a reference to Wes Craven's "Dracula 2000." "This guy had seen everything I had ever done and still did not recognize me. It's a compliment, I guess, that I look completely different. But never will I look more different than I do in 'The Phantom.' "

Or sound different. His only previous singing experience was in a rock band in his teens and, before that, in a production of "Oliver!" when Butler was 12. "I was one of the boys in Fagin's gang, one of those little thieves," he says with amusement.

Nor had he seen "The Phantom of the Opera" onstage, until he was preparing to audition for the movie. "As research, yeah," he explains. "Then I left it alone, I put it in the back of my mind."

Butler knows about the extreme competition for the film role, as well as the legion of fans who have been vocal about not accepting anyone playing the Phantom other than stage star Crawford. "Yeah, but they aren't the ones putting up the money," he says with a throaty laugh.

For an actor for whom wider fame has been predicted in the past, Butler would rather not consider what is in store for him now. As he puts it, "I hope people love the movie and whatever happens to me, so be it."


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