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The Phantom of the Opera - The prosthetics were a difficult thing to deal with. It was a bastard!

Feature by: Lizzie Guilfoyle

HAVING mesmerised theatre-goers for the past 18 years in London's West End, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera has finally been given the Hollywood treatment thanks to American director, Joel Schumacher.

Yet the transition from stage to screen has not been an easy one.

The film was originally discussed by Lloyd Webber and Schumacher in 1990, when it was due to shoot in Munich and Prague with both Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman - the stage stars - due to reprise their roles.

However, it had to be shelved for both 'personal and professional reasons' and did not resurface until two years ago, when Schumacher returned to London to complete post-production on Veronica Guerin.

But far from being daunted by the prospect of bringing such a much-loved musical to the big screen, Schumacher was determined to bring a fresh perspective to it.

"I just approached it as if it was a new task and the first thing I said to Andrew was, 'you know if you analyze the story, Christine must be very young. And she must be innocent. It just has to be the awakening of many things in her life'," he told a recent London press conference, held at the Dorchester Hotel.

"And I said, 'I need a very young cast to do this story. It's really a tragic young love story. If there are famous young people that can do it, great, if there are none, then I want to have the freedom to cast whoever I think is right for the part'.

"And Andrew said, 'that's fine but they all have to do their own singing'. And that was our deal and that's how we started.

"I didn't know I was going to find these two young people, but that's where we started from, two years ago."

The subsequent audition process led him to rising young stars Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, who bring a terrific chemistry to the movie. Yet their casting was probably a surprise to many on-lookers, who may have envisaged bigger names in the roles.

Butler, especially, raised many eyebrows, particularly as he had very little musical training prior to taking on the role.

But as Schumacher explained: "He had mentioned once, in passing, that he'd been in a band. Ok, so we all know what that means. It was either Gerry was playing the tambourine and trying to pick up girls, was rapping and trying to pick up girls, was trying to play the guitar and trying to pick up girls, and possibly succeeding at the latter!

"But I thought he'd be a great Phantom, and the deal I had with Andrew was that, definitely, the two of them would sing for him.

"Whoever was going to play those roles would ultimately, at the end of the process, sing for Andrew and that would be the determining factor, because the deal was he wouldn't force me to put anyone in the movie I didn't want, but I wouldn't force him to use anyone whose voice he didn't feel was right for this movie.

"And Gerry was very passionate about the character. And I said, the good news is you'd be a great Phantom; the bad news is, you're going to have to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber. And Gerry did.

"He came in and I tell you something, he was amazing.
I saw Andrew - I was sitting behind Andrew in his music room here in London - and I saw Andrew jump up. Gerry sang Music of the Night and I saw Andrew jump up and sort of race across the room and shake his hand vigorously.

"I knew Andrew would be polite if he didn't like him, but I could tell by the enthusiasm, and then Gerry got the role."

Having been cast, Butler set about ensuring that his portrayal of the Phantom - and his all-consuming love for rising starlet, Christine Daae - wasn't just about creating a monster, but someone who was more of 'a wounded, pained human being'.

"It was much more that we were trying to tell the romantic triangle between myself, Raoul and Christine. We had to tell a much more human story," explained Butler.

"For me, from the second I arrived, I came in saying 'I need to find a way of movement for the Phantom which is powerful and focused and yet subtle'. I didn't want to be theatrical because I thought on camera it would be grotesque."

Given the nature of his make-up, this wasn't as easy as it seemed.

"My best way of expression was through the eyes, and from what I was feeling and what I could say in the voice," he continued.

"So I always wanted every note that he sang to be an expression of his life, of his pain and his love, and his frustrations."

Getting the look and feel of the character right did come at some personal discomfort, however.

"The prosthetics were a difficult thing to deal with. It was a bastard! The first three times I did it, it was nine hours in the doing and then about an hour and a half to get it off.

"It's difficult when somebody's super-gluing the bottom of your eye and then pouring alcohol to get it off the eye-lash and you're screaming with the pain, and then attaching a piece of silk with a bit of string to the lower eyelid, pulling the string, underneath the prosthetic, round your back, down to a piece of metal and then pulling it so it literally hangs down.

"We finally got it down to about five hours but there was a six-day stretch when I was up at 3am every morning."

Such was the physical and mental strain of playing the Phantom, however, that Butler even considered taking a long break from movies after filming had been completed.

When asked to elaborate, he explained: "Up until that point I did five movies back to back with literally a couple of days off in between each one, and the Phantom really killed me off.

"I mean, I loved it, it was the most amazing experience, but by the end of it I was done in, I really was."

The Phantom of the Opera is now playing in cinemas.

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