After treading the boards in countless plays, Gerard Butler took roles in dubious movies like Reign Of Fire, Lara Croft: The Cradle Of Life and Richard Donner’s Timeline. Recently though, he scored a critical hit with upcoming Scottish drama Dear Frankie although box office success still eludes him. This time he tries something completely different, playing a masked madman in Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical The Phantom Of The Opera.
You haven’t had much experience in musicals so it seems strange that you should be cast in this…
When Joel [Schumacher] called my agent and asked if I could sing, even he wasn’t sure about it. He knew that I could sing but not if I could handle something like this. I was dubious myself as to why they were considering me for The Phantom until I read the script and then I could completely understand why he came to me and why I would want to play it. I read it as I was listening to the music and to me it was a major experience because I felt I had to tell this guy’s story. Without sounding pretentious, I felt his soul – all his passion and his hopes and frustrations and, in the end, his tragedy. It was like it was happening to me and I judge whether or not to do a part based on how easily I slip into it while reading the script.
With your lack of singing experience, did you have some trepidation about taking this on?
Yes and no. I have a level of fear going into every project and that’s what keeps me going. If I’m being honest it was a much higher level of fear with this than most other things because it was a musical. But I’ve done a whole bunch of movies where I’ve come in as the underdog but I have the tools and experience to deal with. Basically you’ve juts got to use the pressure to make yourself work harder.
Did you have to do a lot of vocal training to prepare?
Yeah, I started singing
for The Phantom in January and we started filming in October and I sang all the way through to the next June. In fact I was singing for about two months before I even knew I had the role because they pretty much said: “This role’s yours but we just can’t say it yet but you’ve got to train as if it’s yours.” That’s a weird position to be in because I didn’t know if they were then going to turn around and say that somebody else had the role but still I sang every day with my own musical teacher. When I went to Scotland to do another movie I would sing with a coach up there and then when I went to New York I sang with a coach over there – I mean I’ve now sung with coaches in LA, New York, London, Glasgow, St Louis and Rio de Janeiro! I felt like retiring after The Phantom.
Did acting behind a mask also present a challenge for you?
Yeah, but it’s something you get used to. Again you use it like a tool to help you become the character. There’s a reason he has the mask and you make his reason your reason. Also you have to understand the advantages of that mask insomuch as it’s something to hide behind and it’s also a very powerful thing to behold. He understands that because he wants to present the most intimidating and sexy exterior he can. At first it was a bit strange and daunting to have to wear a mask but afterwards I came to enjoy it. In warm conditions though it started to slip off my face. Other times they used this double-sided sticky tape and I literally couldn’t get it off my face. I would feel like I was ripping my face off and I had a lot of cuts and bruises because of it – huge red marks. People might think it was method acting.