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Actor unmasks talent and torment

Category: Interviews
Article Date: December 31, 2004 | Publication: Denver Post | Author: Ivor Davis

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It took some 15 years, but "The Phantom of the Opera" has finally made it to the big screen - though, somewhat surprisingly, without a big-name actor in the title role.

While many had been considered to play the tormented, disfigured Phantom - including Michael Crawford, who made the role his own onstage, as well as Antonio Banderas and John Travolta - Scotsman Gerard Butler won out without a distinguished singing career.

Butler, 35, had sung a bit in an informal rock band, and he brings a rock-star quality to the sympathetic but troubled Phantom in director Joel Schumacher's adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Butler, who dumped a law career for acting (he has had two high-profile roles in "Dracula 2000" and "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"), talked about "Phantom."

Q: Was this film everything you hoped for?

A: Everything and more. Good and bad.

Q: Tell us about the bad.

A: Whenever you get into a job, there's just a lot of things that you don't appreciate that are going to be very trying on you as an actor. To me, the untold hours of prosthetic makeup and actually what that involved with the gluing the eye down. There were thousands of hours of costume fittings and thousands of masks to try on.

Q: Anything else?

A: Then, of course, the singing, which was a wondrous and thoroughly inspiring experience. At the same time, it was hard and stressful because I was learning - in some ways from scratch - because I hadn't been a singer before. There was a lot of pressure.

That's what I mean.

Q: Was the mask glued to your face?

A: What's hilarious is we tried quite a few hundred masks, of every shape and size and material and color and facial expression and size of eye. We finally got the perfect mask - the right texture, and it had a great physical expression on it that was kind of beautiful and ominous. Then when we started filming, every time I tried it on - with my finger just holding it - I go, 'How do I put the mask on?' No one knew! Joel understandably is going, 'What the hell happened?' So we got some special double-sided sticky tape.

Q: Did you have a voice coach?

A: Yes. I actually started taking lessons before meeting with Joel Schumacher because I didn't want to waste anyone's time. I thought, 'If this voice coach says to me that I can't do this, then she knows more than me.' So I sang with her three times, and I'll never forget the third time. I stopped singing 'Music of the Night,' and we looked at each other and smiled. She said, 'You can absolutely do this.' It was a beautiful moment.

Q: So are you a natural?

A: I never found that whole process very difficult because I knew either I can do this or I can't. To me, putting in the groundwork is just something that you do, and if they said that I can't do it, then I wouldn't want to do something that I'm not capable of. But if they said, 'You could do this with a stretch,' then that's the perfect role for me. ...

Q: How did you get inside the Phantom's tortured mind?

A: I just know that when I felt his struggle and the passion that he had for life and for another person, I think that he touched inalienable fear in me and many things that I've been through in my life - of abandonment. It's just wanting something so much that you feel as a human being you have the right to some form of companionship or connection or intimacy or love and you're told, 'No. You just can't have that.' That's just a big powerful source that I drew on.


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