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Music of the Night

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: March 2, 2005 | Publication: Starlog | Author: Ian Spelling

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Listen to the movie musical fantasy. . .The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera very nearly haunted movie theaters 15 years ago. Had it happened then, the stage musical’s original stars, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, might have played the Phantom and his pupil, Christine. However, it never came to pass. Years went by and new players were touted as the big screen’s Phantom (John Travolta, Antonio Banderas), but still nothing came to pass. Now, finally, the film has been realized, and into the mask stepped Gerard Butler and into the corset went Emmy Rossum, and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber -- who composed the musical and for the film served as co-producer and co-writer (with director Joel Schumacher) -- couldn’t be happier.

“When we originally talked about it, quite honestly, all my collaborators and colleagues – and it wasn’t just me, but [stage director] Hal Prince, [stage producer] Cameron Mackintosh and the others – were very against the idea of a film happening at that time.” Lloyd Webber says, “Nobody knew what impact [a movie] would have on the theater and, at that point, many of [the Phantom] productions had not opened, like in Germany, Japan and the touring companies here in the U.S. Hal particularly didn’t want it to happen, so we sort of forgot about it, but four years ago, I began to think, ‘Now is the time.’ However, I found quite a lot of opposition in Hollywood to doing a film musical, and we ended up having to buy the rights back. I’m glad we did, because it meant Joel and I were able to make exactly the movie we wanted.”

Schumacher was on board as director way back when, and he returned to the project after Lloyd Webber resurrected Phantom. The two had hit it off immediately upon meeting, and remained friends even after the initial plans to make a movie of the Phantom fell through. “When we finally started work on this, the joy was that it was only Joel and I,” Lloyd Webber says. “We didn’t have to answer to anybody, and we didn’t have to submit a screenplay or anything like that. We just wrote it and then we made it. I guess we had a very close relationship [during the production] because I don’t pretend to know about the cinema, but I think I do know a bit about theater. He respected that, and so we truly had a collaboration. I saw the dailies every other day, and if there was anything that was at all a worry that we didn’t have, Joel would shoot it. And the other advantage was that we devised a way of making scratch tapes as we went along, so most of the performances that you see are in fact the performances.”

In the years before Lloyd Webber wrote Phantom for the stage (STARLOG #139), the basic story was considered the stuff pf horror, particularly the figure of the Phantom himself (as memorably portrayed on film by Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, Herbert Lom and Robert Englund, among others). Though some people believe that Lloyd Webber greatly downplayed the genre aspects in the musical, he feels otherwise. “If you look at the original Gaston Leroux book, it’s a very confused novel, but all of the romantic elements are in there – although perhaps it isn’t as high a romance as I’ve made it,” Lloyd Webber notes. “Still, I took the cue for that from the book. In Leroux’s story, the Phantom’s body is exhumed and Christine’s ring is on his finger. That’s the moment where I thought, ‘Hang on, this isn’t quite what I remember from the Lon Chaney film.”

So far as the difference between the musical and the film, there are several. Most notably, Schumacher filled in the backstories of the Phantom, Raoul (Patrick Wilson) and Christine. For example, Schumacher flashes back to the Phantom’s youth and presents him as a boy forced to show his disfigured face to the patrons of a traveling fair. He is then rescued from that predicament by a young Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), who shelters him in the Paris Opera House, which ultimately becomes his home and the place where he falls in love with another orphan, Christine.

However, there’s another alteration that Lloyd Webber considers even more crucial. “We moved when the chandelier drops,” he says. “And so the chandelier drop isn’t a defiant gesture at Christine, which it is in the stage musical. In the musical, the Phantom destroys his world and the opera house because he has been so humiliated. I think it’s a very powerful change.”

The Phantom of the Opera film was described by the Hollywood trade industry bible Variety as the perfect marriage of a man of the theater with a man of the cinema. Schumacher smiles as those words wash over him. “That’s a very good analysis,” he agrees. “Andrew isn’t a film person and doesn’t pretend to be, and I’m certainly not a musical expert and don’t pretend to be. We also had 16 years of friendship. Usually, the end of a film is when you know someone you’ve worked with, and then you can trust each other and work together again because you’ve earned a friendship. But we had 16 years of ups and downs in our personal and professional lives, and also the fact that we almost made the movie in 1990 and then didn’t.

“We went into Phantom with that trust, and also lots of excitement. Andrew’s the only person I’ve ever made a movie with who doesn’t think he knows how to make movies better than the people who actually make them. So I made the film, Andrew reinvented his music and I believe he fell in love with it all over again. Also, when you see a show, if there are 20 great musicians in the pit, you’re lucky. But this was a 110-person symphony, the best symphony musicians in all of Great Britain. There were 110 people in this Abbey Road recording studio, and it was thrilling. I also think that Andrew fell in love with the actors’ voices, especially with Emmy, Patrick and Gerry. He was like a kid in a candy store because, when you do theater, what you see is what you get. With film, when Andrew would come on the set to visit, there might be 500 people on the set, but then when he went to dailies, he would see only what the camera sees, and it was thrilling for him. It’s magic, the art of the cinema. And our cinematographer, John Mathieson, is just brilliant.”

Schumacher is pretty high on the cast as well. That makes sense. As he had as much a hand in choosing them as Lloyd Webber. And yes, the director of Flatliners and The Lost Boys acknowledges, the story is true: he did discover Butler through watching, of all things, Dracula 2000. “But not for Phantom,” Schumacher points out. “I saw him [in that movie], and we became friendly afterward. I met him through his agent. I see many young people in movies and go, ‘I would like to meet that person.’ We had been friends for a couple of years before I decided at Christmas 2002 to do Phantom. I had wanted to work with Gerry, and I just had this instinct that he would be a great Phantom. When Gerry talked to me about the role, he was so emotional about the loneliness, the disconnection. He really understood the part brilliantly. I said, ‘But you have to sing, you know.’ He told me that he sang in a band in Scotland years ago. And you know what that means: nothing!

“My deal with Andrew was, ‘if you want me to do this movie, Christine must be very young. And if Christine is young, the Phantom and Raoul have to be young. And if they’re famous people, fine. If they’re unknowns, fine. But I don’t want to be saddled with anyone I don’t want, or I can’t make this story work for you.’ And he said, ‘You can have anyone you want, but they have to do their own singing.’ And I said, ‘That’s fair,’ and that was our deal. So [Broadway veteran] Patrick was first, and that was easy. And then Gerry was second. I told Gerry, ‘You can’t have this role unless you can sing it; it’s that simple. Can you do it?’ He said, ‘I could try.’ And I thought, ‘Well, if he’s willing to do that, we’ll give him a shot.’ So he came in and sang ‘Music of the Night’ for Andrew and me, and he was great.”

It was a tough, long casting process that led Rossum to the role pf Christine. She wasn’t just offered the part. In fact, Schumacher had been casting for six months, and those six months happened to coincide with the time Rossum was in Montreal at work on The Day After Tomorrow. The actress finally met with Schumacher near the end of Phantom’s auditioning period.

In fact, I was the last person he ever saw,” Rossum notes. “I had never seen the show, so he sent me the script, and from that I got a feel for the character. I flew to L.A. to meet with Joel, and we talked about the character and about me. Because there isn’t much dialogue in the script. I had to express how Christine feels [at the same time] I was talking to Joel about those emotions. It was a strange audition. And then he said, ‘Well, can you screen test of Saturday?’

“It happened so quickly. I flew to New York for the test, walked in and found myself in this huge studio. Suddenly I was thrown into makeup, hair extensions and a costume, with a 50-person crew and a sweeping camera. The whole time I was thinking, ‘Joel Schumacher is in the corner yelling “Action” at me.” So it was rather surreal. Then they sent that footage to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who called and said I hadn’t been eliminated. I was like, “Oh my God! It’s a miracle!’ I was 16 then, and never thought I had a chance for the part.

“The screen test was musical and acting,” Rossum continues. “I remember thinking the night before, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get this part, so I should just do the best job I can, so that I can be proud and walk out of the room knowing that there was nothing else I could do.’ I understood that there were other girls auditioning who were older and more famous than me, and that they don’t normally sit big, Hollywood, $90 million musicals on the shoulders of a non-famous 16-year-old. But Andrew agreed to see me, and I had to go sing for him – in his living room, no less. I walked in and Andrew was sitting on his couch, and there weren’t any pleasantries. It was very strange. He said, ‘Shall we?’ And I answered, ‘Oh, OK. I guess that’s the way things are done around here.’ I took that as my cue, nodded to the accompanist, opened my mouth and sang the two biggest numbers from the show. Then he said, ‘That was good. I’m Andrew. Nice to meet you.’ Afterward, I heard that I got it.”

Christine is but one part of the romantic triangle that drives Phantom’s story, and so it was vital that she share some serious chemistry with Butler and Wilson. “Gerry is very handsome; it wasn’t difficult,” she smiles. “But that’s on a very superficial level. Christine is a compassionate person, and she sees past the Phantom’s deformity. One of my best friends was born with a cranial facial deformity. She has had 24 operations to try to get to a point that she thinks is ‘normal.’ So [physical abnormalities] don’t scare me. I totally look past that and see the person inside, and Christine is the same way. That’s one of the reasons that I identified with her.

“And the chemistry between Gerry, Patrick and myself – the two of them are so charming and such gentlemen. At the time of the shoot, I was 17, Gerry was 34 and Patrick was 30. Gerry and I spent a lot of time together, and Patrick and I spent time together, but we were separate in our relationships. Patrick and I would go do something, and then Gerry and I would go do something.

“Gerry and I share a love of music, like the Phantom and Christine, so he took me to concerts at Royal Albert Hall. We went to see Ennio Morricone, who was great, and to some rock concerts. We attended Fashion Rocks, which was in honor of the Prince’s trust. Gerry and I also have personal sadnesses, which we shared with each other and bonded over – and that’s also similar to Christine and the Phantom. Those two are kindred spirits in a sense: Both are lonely people who very musical and creative. And as Christine has grown up – because the Phantom has always been her mentor and a father and empowered her creatively – their relationship has become something sexual, and part of that stems from their passion for music.”

So, which was tougher – The Day After Tomorrow or Phantom? “Phantom” Rossum replies. “The Day After Tomorrow was more physically difficult, even though Phantom involved many corsets. But emotionally, it was harder dealing with the things Christine goes through. It was so overwhelming and challenging to distance myself from that. I took those feelings home with me – at night, on weekends, even weeks after.”

Butler offers his point-of-view on the influence Dracula 2000 had in landing him The Phantom of the Opera. “There were six films playing at this cinema, and Joel had seen all the others, so he said, ‘We might as well go and see Dracula,’” Butler explains. “That’s the story he tells me, anyway! It just goes to show that one character, one movie, can influence someone.”

This screen Phantom has more heart and pathos than his musical counterpart. That isn’t a critique of Crawford or any subsequent Phantom performers, but rather a result of Schumacher’s decision to beef up the role and fill in the details of the Phantom’s youth. “That’s a disconnect I had with the stage play, even though I loved it,” says Butler, whose genre credits also include Timeline, Reign of Fire and the second Tomb Raider (which he discussed in STARLOG #316). “I read the Phantom script, fortunately, before I ever saw the stage version, so it was completely fresh to me when I read Joel’s interpretation, which is more emotionally complex. When I connect with something, I already imagine myself playing that role, and I knew the direction and feeling I could give the Phantom.”

Unlike many of Butler’s previous roles, the Phantom is a pained figure, as scarred inside as outside. And much of that anguish had to be expressed through singing. “Most of my acting jobs have been tough, like the one I just did in Iceland [Beowulf and Grendel], because of the conditions or a tight schedule,” he says. “But Phantom was the most difficult because of the emotional journey. The actors who do it on stage, God love ‘em, perform eight times a week. I [played the Phantom] for six weeks, 15 hours a day, and I was insane, screaming, crying. I was really in that space, and a bit of a basket case by the end of it. So it was an emotional roller-coaster, and then, of course, there was the singing, which was added pressure. I would film all day and then still have to work on the songs and recording. And it kept getting worse, because my voice was becoming tired.

“There was so much I wanted to say through my singing, because I don’t normally get the chance to be physically and theatrically expressive. To me, the Phantom’s voice is about subtle movement, so I took movement classes to understand that better. I knew that my voice was my main means of communication, and I wanted to become as technically good as I possibly could. I wanted to hear the Phantom’s life story in every note, which I think weakens him up in the beginning. I’ve always felt that even his more seductive moments – including ‘Music of the Night’ – are tinged with pain. Like the Phantom knows this isn’t going to happen for him. It’s a controlled yet desperate attempt for something he realizes he can’t have. My first reaction to reading the screenplay was, ‘This is so sad.’ And then Joel said, ‘But this is so sexy.’ Somewhere along the way, we managed to get both elements in there, which was very exciting.”

“If you can do ‘Point of No Return’ – which is so heartbreaking, sexy, sensual, lusty and yet tragic. . . If you can feel both of those things at the same time, they’re almost like warring emotions. It’s similar to Billy Elliot, which gets you laughing and crying at the same time. That’s the experience I have when I watch ‘Point of No Return.’

“In the finale, when I looked into the eyes of Patrick – who is such an exceptional and truthful actor – I could see this man dying in front of me with nothing, and it broke my heart. And yet, I wanted to kill him,” Gerard Butler says. “I wanted to kill someone, but to be breaking your heart about it as well. That’s why playing these villainous characters is so fascinating to me.”


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