The Butler Did It

Phantom of the OperaSource: Empire Online Author:  Editorial Staff

Originally Published: 9 December 2004

The latest in a long line of Scottish superstars, Gerard Butler last sang in a student band with his mates. Now he’s tinkling his tonsils as the most famous ghost in stage history (with the possible exception of Hamlet’s dad). We talk to the Phantom about making people scared of him and why Dracula 2000 was a good idea…

Did you have any experience of the musical before you got cast?

None whatsoever. I’d never seen it and didn’t even know the story. I’d heard the music around and about, but didn’t know that this movie had been a concept, until the day I was sent a script in January 2002, which seems like just a couple of months ago.

So it had been in production for 18 years, then came together in a flash?

I was just in the right place at the right time. I had become a mate with Joel perhaps a year before – funnily enough he had spotted me in Dracula 2000. Which just shows you, you know, you can be on a movie set thinking, “I’m making a piece of s**it”, but you never know who’s gonna end up watching. Anyway, when the script came to me, I couldn’t really understand why it had. But when I read it, it very much moved me. I knew instantly that I had it in me to play that role – if I could sing.

What’s your musical background?

I had sung in a rock band called Speed. People make a big deal of it, but really I just did it for fun. It wasn’t professional. I was training to be a lawyer at the time and the rest of the guys were lawyers as well. It was just a bunch of mates.

How was working with Emmy?

I went to New York for my screen-test and skulked around in the background, in character. I was behind Joel watching, and didn’t say a word, until Emmy walked in. Even before she said a word, I grabbed him and said, “That’s the girl!” I didn’t even know she could sing, but I knew that there was our Christine. Fortunately she sang like a f***ing angel. She has the most beautiful voice. We struck up a great friendship. She was like my little sister. We spent a lot of time together. Sometimes I thought it was maybe too much, that we would lose that sense of mystery, but it just seemed to work.

How did you approach playing such an iconic yet shadowy role?

With the Phantom, I wanted people to feel raunchy and sexy and turned on, but at the same time bring out this almost primal sadness within people. They are kind of warring opposites, but you can do both. In practical terms, I went to the real Opera House and did a lot of reading on cranial disfigurement, coping with it socially and stuff. But hardly any of that counted in the end – the Phantom came from within me, and my life experience.

That mask looks like it would be a pain in the arse to wear for months.

It was definitely uncomfortable and problematic, but I managed to turn that to my advantage. I must have tried on a thousand masks, all different textures, materials, styles and shapes. Then, on the first day of filming, we realised we hadn’t worked out any way to keep it on! Joel was furious, and understandably so. In the end we used double-sided sticky tape, which sometimes stuck to my face so hard you’d have to rip it off my skin. And the opposite – sometimes if you were all hot and sweaty, it would just slip off.

Did people on the set treat you differently when you had it on?

Yeah, people didn’t know how to treat me. Most stayed away, which I was happy with. Not that I’m Method, but a certain amount of that creeps in. People wanted to laugh and joke with me, but I could see a certain hesitancy.

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