Fans on the official message board were asked to submit questions on the making of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera to Gerard Butler, who stars as The Phantom. Below are his answers, recorded on November 16, 2004 on a balcony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
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Why do you think that Phantom is such a hit? Do you feel that many people have a strong connection to the story?
GB: You must have a strong connection to the story or you wouldn’t go and see it. And about 80 million people have, so that it’s probably the most—if not THE most—romantic love story of all time. At the end of the day, ‘kinda tragic and I think we’re all attracted to that., to those elements of love and tragedy.
I also think that the imperfections and fears in the Phantom are something that we all have within our self—it’s something we identify with. And also, one other thing—sometimes I think that, but I also think that as humans we all have compassion within us and it’s not necessarily about connecting with those feelings of the Phantom. It might be, but it might also be just feeling sorry for somebody who’s been so unfortunate.
Hello, Mr. Butler. I can’t wait to see your portrayal of the Phantom! You mentioned in an interview that Phantom appealed to your dark side. How is that so?
GB: I think I’ve lived a very interesting life, and it’s been full of a lot of joy, but it’s been full of a lot of sadness as well, and a lot of pain. I’ve always been very in touch with that. Not that it’s controlled me, but I know where it is. And, therefore, this kind of story—but never more so than the Phantom—I just connected with in a way that I can hardly even explain, in a way that went to my very core and felt that it’s a role that I had to take on and express and be. ‘Cause I think to be able to move people, like that—if I know how moved I get—I think if I could move other people like that, then that’s a tremendous experience because that’s one of the beautiful things in life—being moved. Whether in a happy way or a sad way, it makes ya think, y’know? About your life and what life means.
What was it like to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher?
GB: There were many times in this movie when I had to stop and say to myself I knew I was involved in something very special. And I knew this would not happen again. I was working with two of the few geniuses there are in their respective crafts. Two masters: one on the music side, and one on the directing side. To be so closely involved with them and so supported by them, cause that was the case—I had been friends with Joel before, and had complete confidence in him, I love his work, and because we were friends and because we started on a more fun, just buddy thing where we’d always said we wanted to work together, to then take on this heavy role—but know that he was my friend was fantastic and I felt supported and loved and encouraged by him the whole way through. And then from a very early stage with Andrew, I quickly found I changed him from a source of fear—because I felt, y’know, ‘what am I doing, I’m doing a musical, I’ve never done a musical before’—to he quickly became a very inspirational figure for me, who got me in an unbelievable way. Where he would just sometimes throw everybody else away and the music from the scene and go ‘what have ya got. Just do it. Cause I love it when you just give me your soul.’ Therefore when he would walk into a room my performance would go up 50 percent, it was incredible.
Hi, Gerry! Happy Birthday!
What did you do to “get in character” for the Phantom? Was there a certain way you made yourself think, or did you feel like him when you saw yourself in the prosthetics? How did you prepare yourself before each shoot to convey his feelings?
Thank you, Gerry; I am a huge phan and I can’t *wait* for this movie. I’m really very impressed by what you’ve shown us so far.
GB: I don’t have any particular approach. Y’know, I guess I do, but I don’t know what it is. I do a lot, I work hard—harder than most actors I know—and I in fact abandon myself to the role, and I never abandoned myself more to a role than the Phantom because I sang for almost 16 months in training for that and recording and while I was filming, every second of my day was taken up with singing with the musical director with my own personal singing coach, maybe with another singing coach, recording in the studio or rehearsing, or performing on set.
I would be taking movement classes, because I felt his movement was so important, especially to create the Phantom, in terms of the film rather than the theater and still keep the power, y’know, keep the power and that charisma and that control. And yet, let through more of his soul which you can see in this medium so much more. So there was all of that going on, but I instinctively felt his heart, and you don’t want to toy with that too much. We spent a lot of time delving into those areas using every thread I was wearing, my mask, and those sets, and spending a lot of time hanging out in back corridors and watching things from above, behind. I spent a lot of time in my own head even though I was friendly with people, I always felt very separate which really helped.
What song in Phantom is your favorite, and why?
GB: I think the song “Music of the Night” because it’s just such a beautiful song and really it’s the Phantom’s song. It’s the song I auditioned with and it’s the song I could really use as my improvement—as a yardstick. But my favorite to perform was “Past the Point of No Return,” because that was my first days filming. It was truly in that moment that first action when I was in my costume and I was on the sets and they were lit and the extras were there and the dancers were there that I had no doubts that I was the Phantom. And it was one of the most electrifying things I ever did.
I felt an energy within me for the whole three days of filming. Every take I felt this power, this passion, and yet this sadness and the very energy in the room from everybody was incredible. We knew we were doing something really amazing.
What was your favorite scene to film?
GB: It was probably “Past the Point of No Return,” again cause it was my first time as the Phantom. You see, I didn’t start filming until five weeks in, but yeah, I was always there. I was always there training. I was there every day singing in other rooms or doing movement classes choreography in other rooms or doing sword fighting, or at the gym, or in with the designer—the costume designer—or doing prosthetics tests so I felt there, but distanced from everybody. And it really made me very nervous because everybody was filming and getting to know each other and bonding, and every time I walked passed them, ‘when do you start?! when do you start?!’ I knew they were all waiting, ‘where is our Phantom,’ y’know, ‘what’s he got to offer us? What’s he got to show?’ So that day was such a big day for me and for it to go so well in front of literally hundreds of people watching it.
Hi, Gerry! The character of the Phantom is very complex. What drew you to the role of the Phantom and was it difficult for you to convey all of the emotions of this character on screen? Thanks for taking time out to answer our questions!
GB: What first drew me to the role was when I read Joel’s version of the script. I put on the music, from the musical, and listened to it as I read the script. When I finished reading the script, I was wiping tears from my neck, and I got the way I get when I love a role, which is ‘I have to do this.’ I start panicking that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to do this, it’s something that becomes my life’s purpose. So I knew I had to do it.
And it’s the title role. I love doing title roles. Because between “Dracula,” “Atilla,” and “Beowulf, “Phantom….” No, I’m joking, but there was that. What drew me to the role was the opportunity to work with Joel, who one—I think is a fantastic director. I also knew that really, if there was a movie that could be done to perfection by him, this would be the one. ‘Cause this is just so Joel Schumacher. And yet it seems obvious now, I mean I think I knew that then, but I think it’s easier to state in hindsight. But of course, when you see that movie, then you think of Joel, I didn’t ever want to be physically too much, because I thought that would look ghastly and take away from the humanity, and I thought there was a lot more power in stillness. And yet, at the same time, covered with a mask. So how much can you see.
But the wonderful thing about making films is you have the power of the close-up and you look into the eyes. So you just trust that as long as you’re in the moment and feeling those feelings—which I really feel I did—I always felt I was there in the moment with that character, I felt I abandoned myself fully. I had the good fortune to be hearing the music which really helps create that emotion as well while I was performing—so there was that, and then the voice. To me, his soul was expressed more than anywhere, was in his voice. I wanted to hear his life in every note. Every sense of him: sadness and pain, and his hope, passion, love and vulnerability and his power. All of those things more than anything really through his voice.
How did you prepare yourself for this role, aside from the musical aspect?
GB: So much of it came through just grinding. It was hard grinding, were the singing lessons, the movement lessons, were the just spending time on those sets and becoming part of that world. And then the rest, honestly, takes place in my head.
My study of the script, my study of him as a character, my relationship to that, my own life, and my relationship to the other characters. I found it very easy to draw parallels in this one. And then also, the other thing is when you feel something so powerfully—instinctively—in your gut then you gotta trust that, and I think that when you start messing around with it, you can bring up pages and pages of literature to support certain arguments in the film and then it becomes technical and it becomes cold. Actually it confines then the boundaries within which your working. So I trusted my gut a lot and just abandoned myself to the role and to the music.
Like pretty much everyone else here, I have been awaiting this film for a long time and I am extremely excited to see your fresh interpretation of the role.
What do you feel you have learned from working on this film? Did you learn something from the story, another actor or crew member, or just from the whole experience?
GB: I think I learn in every movie purely through osmosis, things from everybody. I learn from directors, I learn from crew members, I really learn from other actors. Sometimes you wouldn’t know what you’ve learned but you suddenly feel it in the next movie. What is interesting actually is you learn a lot in a movie like Phantom about politics. Because there’s so much crossing over of borders from different mediums from the music to the drama and you’re dealing with many different characters from many different attitudes. Learning how to keep true to yourself through all of that was something that had to be really worked at. And I think that if you could get through that, it really stands you in good stead for getting through the politics of other movies. Because, as I say in this movie, there was choreography, there was the choreography department, there was music department, the costume department was so important in this movie. And then, there was obviously the acting site. And there was Joel, and there was Andrew, so you learn how to finally come down to a performance with all of those things going on and dealing with all of those different characters.
I would just like to say that I am very excited about seeing this film and have been a “phan” since I was 12. I’m also interested in seeing your take on the role and the freshness you will bring to it.
Could you tell me what it was like working with Emmy Rossum?
GB: Emmy and I became very good friends. We were very close in the movie obviously and we became very close in real life. I love Emmy, she’s like my little sister and I watched her grow so much in this movie, both as an actress, as a singer, and as a person. I think she came in a little girl, and came out a young woman. She is an unbelievably beautiful, sensual, and a talented actress. She’s not just one of the smartest girls I’ve ever met, she’s one of the smartest people I ever met. She’s extremely intelligent, and that doesn’t always lead to good acting. But she’s also a very truthful, in the moment and subtle with her acting. I thought she pulled the part off brilliant. And I was there for her screen test, she walked across that monitor—didn’t have to say a word—I grabbed Joel and said ‘we have to have her!’
How was the four-hour mask applying process?
GB: Well it was five hours, and the first three times it was nine hours. And it was a nightmare! It was a horrible experience. But it was actually perfect for then going on to perform, because those are the moments in the movie he is full of rage and insanity. And by the time you finish that it really is like you’ve been tortured. People poking your face and your eye for hours. Gluing your lower eyelid with superglue and silk and pulling it with a piece of string. And sitting in a chair for all those hours not being able to move makes me crazy. It was like a torture process. And sometimes I had to do it days in a row back to back. I would get no sleep at night, and I’d be on stage all day crying, breaking my heart, screaming, shouting. And so yeah, it was hard, but at the same time it really helped me climb into that character because you could see yourself becoming disfigured and you could see the reaction from people around, as to how you looked to think you’d had that reaction.
First of all, Happy Birthday! I am really looking forward to seeing you in this film. You are a great actor, and I hope Phantom brings you the recognition you deserve.
In your opinion, why does The Phantom love Christine?
GB: He loves her beauty, her talent, her innocence, and more than anything her pain. Her grief is something he so identifies with and there’s that common bond and healing together in that pain. So I think he’s always wanted to father her and swaddle her and love her and care for her and protect her. At some point this has become unhealthy and more of an obsession. She really is a rose in this world he sees—in which is represented in the theater –of his selfishness and egos and greed and superficiality.
First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY GERRY!!!!!
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, it’s a very generous thing to do and shows what a wonderful man you are.
What would your key advice be to aspiring actors and actresses, your secret to success?
GB: Thank you first of all, and I have no magic answers but I would say that’s what helped me is at the same time as giving so much of your life to your roles, being prepared, not to get “actory” and bitchy—and expect to just to give yourself to the bigger picture of the story and the production. Use and love your own life experience—all the good things and the bad things. That’s what people relate to. But in terms of the journey is to think to yourself ‘I should be here, because if not me, it’s just going to be somebody else.’ When I stop seeing the whole thing as overwhelming and a dream, which is kind of sad to look at this way—but that and expected it as my right and that confidence really helped me get ahead.