Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum in The Phantom of the Opera!
On December 22nd, Warner Brothers will release the long awaited film version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera. The musical is the most popular and successful Broadway show of all time. The lead roles for the movie were coveted by actors around the world. After six months of searching, director Joel Schumacher settled on two relative unknowns. He chose a then sixteen year old Emmy Rossum for the part of the heroine Christine and rugged Scotsman Gerard Butler as the maniacal Phantom of the Opera. Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler have had moderate success in Hollywood, but are by no means famous actors. That stature will change as audiences see them bring the most beloved characters in musical theatre history to life.
Auditioning for Christine was a real test of nerves and confidence. Emmy Rossum had been a learned singer from childhood. She sang at The Met in New York when she was only seven. A highly skilled singer, the thought of landing Christine was a dream she never thought possible.
Emmy Rossum: It was very surreal. I had never seen the show. I still haven't. It was something that Andrew Lloyd Weber very much wanted. He was very happy when I told him I hadn't seen the show, I was uncolored by the theatrical interpretation of the character. I wanted her to be a real as if it were a film that wasn't a musical. I went to meet Joel on a Wednesday. I walked in and he asked me to screen test in New York on Saturday. He'd been casting for six months while I had been working on "The Day After Tomorrow" in Montreal. I flew to New York, walked into the audition and it was on a set. There were two hours of hair and make-up and this incredible costume. There were fifty people on set, people touching up my face, people holding booms, giant swooping crane shots, Joel Schumacher screaming action. I don't remember being nervous. I remember being so focused. But I met a lot of people, one of whom was Gerry Butler. I remember he was lurking in the corner, very phantom-like. (Laughs) He was lurking, smoking a cigarette behind this video village. Joel said he told me something and I was shaking.
Emmy was just sixteen when she auditioned. Gerard Butler comments on how fantastic she was and how he came to be "lurking" about.
Gerard Butler: That's me, I'm a lurker. Joel asked me to come along to the screen test. I was very curious, but at the same time I had just gotten the job myself. I didn't want to be in Emmy's face. I was skulking about in the back, actually, until Emmy came up on the monitor. I grabbed Joel and said, that's Christine!. I know it! Everything about her embodied Christine before she even sang a note. She proceeded to sing like an angel. I looked in her eyes and saw so many things. She was beautiful and sensual, but also very innocent. I saw a real sadness in her eyes as well. All that before she even sang a note. I thought, at that moment, a star is born. I really did. I thought she was the one, then Joel says she's sixteen! She's definitely the one. She doesn't look like a sixteen year old and doesn't act like one either. Emmy's one of the most intelligent and confident people I ever met. She's an amazing human being and actress. Then I spent a lot time hanging out and smoking cigarettes.
Emmy comes across as a very confident young woman. She talked about how she overcame her fears and the point at which she settled into her role.
Emmy Rossum: I went out for the audition when I was sixteen. I turned seventeen on the Friday before we started shooting. I remember going into the audition and thinking I was never going to get this. I'm too young, not famous enough; it's not going to happen. They normally don't give big Hollywood, $90 million dollar musicals, to un-famous, slender sixteen year old girls. I remember going in and doing the best I could. I tried to leave it there and be proud of it, because I knew it was never going to happen. It really sunk in that I had the part the day I saw them building the sets. We went to London six weeks in advance. We had a lot of time to pre-record and do a lot of extensive rehearsing. The first day I walked unto the sets, they were building from scratch and gold-leafing everything. There was red velvet everywhere. I remember thinking, my God, I'm in this movie! Then I got really excited. There was a mixture of that, but at the same time I was really happy that I got this character. My main focus was for her to be a real goal at the center of all this theatricality. I wanted her to be the one real center for people to really identify with. I didn't see Christine as a passive character. I saw her as a very fragile, vulnerable, lonely girl who really grows in strength over the course of the movie. She comes to be very self-sacrificial, especially at the end. She becomes a woman at the end of the story and that was a journey I kind of went through with her. The character was very different from me. Especially because I've never been through the fear and terror she goes through.
Gerard, on the other hand, had no experience whatsoever in musical theatre. He talked about his life before becoming an actor and how he found himself up for the part of The Phantom.
Gerard Butler: I trained as a lawyer. I did law for five years. I was actually president of the Glasgow University Law Society. I trained with a top law firm in Scotland. It made me desperately unhappy. I couldn't sleep. I had terrible insomnia. My only solace was going out of my head. I just felt I'd stepped into a life that I never wanted to do. It was my only life and when I was younger I thought it would be an incredible life. It no longer felt that way. Actually I was in a rock band then, so I could creatively get out of that life. I was thrown out of three of my own gigs. I was a crazy dude in my time. I'm dull now, but I'm glad I had those experiences. I didn't even know they were making the movie until the script arrived at my door. My agent called me and asked if I could sing. I told him I sang in a band, but he was like, "Could you sing like The Phantom of the Opera?" Why? "Because Joel has been calling and asking if Gerry can sing." Dracula was what Joel saw me in. It just shows you that you do a movie like that and it can serve its purpose. (Laughs) He knew a bit of my story and had seen various components of my work. He said, straight away, I want you to be my Phantom if you can sing. That's literally how it went. I was unaware of anything until then.
Meeting Joel Schumacher was just the first part of the process. Both actors had to sing for Andrew Lloyd Weber before getting the part.
Emmy Rossum: I screen tested on a Saturday and they sent the footage to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Who said I had not been eliminated, which was fantastic! (Laughs) I was so ready for the better luck next time call! He agreed to hear me in person. I went to his living room in New York. I walked in; he was just sitting on his couch. I remember pinching myself and thinking, this is the godfather of musical theater. There were no pleasantries until after I auditioned. It was the funniest audition I've ever been too. He said, "Shall we", and I opened my mouth, nodded to the accompanist, and sang the two biggest numbers in the show. He stood up afterwards and said, "I'm Andrew Lloyd Weber, nice to meet you!" I thought, great, I'm Emmy. The span of the audition ended in two weeks.
Gerard Butler: The experience of performing for Andrew Lloyd Weber was very nerve-wracking in that moment. Until then I was actually relishing if I could do this or not. Can I sing, can I pull it off? Fortunately this went the right way. The whole process was fun. I include fun to mean tearing your hair out, threatening to stab the musical director, smashing chairs against the wall, that's fun, that's part of the creative process.
Emmy and Gerard give Joel Schumacher a lot of credit for their performances. He gave them the confidence they needed to play such storied characters.
Emmy Rossum: People have told me I was a shoo in for this part, but I never, ever thought that. I hadn't been singing for five years when this part came up. I had been doing movies. I had hardly been singing, but I did have this training and it was a skill I had. Joel gave me confidence by believing in me. The first sign of that was when he gave me the part. It was mentally courageous of him and Andrew to entrust me with this character. Joel very much understands actors. He loves his actors. That's something that's so unique; he understands that every actor works differently. He said, go out there and do it, go make her real, do what you need to do.
Gerard Butler: There wasn't necessarily a lot of confidence there. There was a lot of questioning. I trust my feelings about a role. When I first was sent the script I didn't understand why it was sent to me. I never had a singing lesson in my life. I wasn't the Phantom, I'm too young, I'm not right. Then I read the script and saw why Joel thought of me. I really felt that I understood this character. I felt the humanity. I wanted to do it, but there was never a confidence. I felt I could blow it away, but the next second I was like, who are you kidding? I think it's great. Grey areas and mixed feelings are such a part of this character's psyche. It helps add a richness and texture to it. For me, it was very much abandoning myself to a very passionate and heartbreaking journey. I spent a lot of time in a weird space in the film. There was a soulful side of things, but then there was the technical aspect. I love this job. I use to work in an area I hated, so I relish the chance to work hard and improve at something. The singing, nobody was kidding me and I wasn't kidding myself, but I had a lot of work to do. I was amazed how quickly I picked it up, but it was the final ten percent that took the fifteen months to learn. That's what made the journey so rewarding by the end. You didn't finish something that you thought you could do. You finish something that you thought, my god, I can't do this.