It was Joel Schumacher’s seminal horror classic The Lost Boys that initially convinced Andrew Lloyd Webber that he would be his ideal director on a Phantom of the Opera film back in the mid-80s. 15 years later, the pair has finally collaborated on a sumptuous film with an energetic young cast. Schumacher has been absent from the bigger Hollywood films, but here, the now veteran filmmaker has virtually reinvented himself and the classic movie musical. He talked to Paul Fischer in New York.
Question: Do you think this is a very different movie than you would have made 15 years ago?
Answer: Yes. For lots of reasons. One is, I’d only made four movies when Andrew asked me to do this, which is kind of amazing when I think about it. It was amazing then, and really. He saw ‘The Lost Boys,’ and he loved the way the music and the visuals were used. I was shocked that he even knew who I was and brought me to London and offered me the movie. It’s hard to even imagine what I would have done then because I’d done four movies and now I’d done 18 before we did it this time. So I have no idea what I would have done. But besides the fact that hopefully I’ve grown and learned something, technology changed so much. Especially in the recording of the music. As you know, the way a lot of musicals used to be done is they would do the album first, and then everybody would lip-synch to it. But we didn’t want to do that because it’s acting; they have to act these songs. And that was very important to me, and Andrew really understood that. So we did a scratch track as a guide for them. But they acted the songs, and then some of it was able to be recorded right there live, and then more importantly, they were able to go back to the cut movie and sing the emotion of what they were doing at that time, so therefore they had total freedom for spontaneity. So if they broke down crying or laughing or they wanted to pause or whisper or do anything that was natural within the context of acting the song they could, and that may not have been available to us at that time.
Question: The Variety review said this was the perfect marriage of a man of the theater and a man of the cinema. Do you agree with that? Do you think the two of you were able to work almost independently of each other?
Answer: Yes, I think that is a very good, your analysis, I think, is really good. Andrew is not a film person and doesn’t pretend to be. And I’m certainly not a musical expert and wouldn’t pretend to be. We also had 16 years of friendship. Usually at the end of a film is when you know someone you’ve worked with and now you could trust each other and work again together because you’ve earned a friendship. But we had 16 years of ups and downs in our personal lives and professional lives and also the fact that we almost made the movie in 1990 and didn’t. So we went into it, I think, with that trust and also a lot of excitement. Andrew’s the only person I’ve ever made a movie with who doesn’t think he knows how to make movies better than the people who make movies. He, like a lot of very intelligent people, doesn’t pretend to know anything he doesn’t know about. So I made the film. He reinvented his music; I think he fell in love with it all over again. Also, when you see a show, if you’ve got 20 great musicians in the pit you’re lucky. But this is 110 symphony, the best symphony musicians in all of Great Britain; 110 at Abbey Road in this recording studio, and it’s thrilling. It was thrilling for us. I think he also fell in love with the actors’ voice, especially with Emmy and Patrick and Gerry, their voices. But he was like a kid in a candy store because, when you do theater, what you see is what you get. With film, when he would come on the set to visit, there might be 500 people on the set, but then when you’d go to dailies, he might see just what the camera sees, and it’s thrilling for him because it’s magic. It’s magic, the art of cinema. And our cinematographer, John Mathieson, is just brilliant.
Question: Talk about the casting of Gerry and the story that you first saw him…
Answer: In ‘Dracula 2000,’ right. But not for ‘Phantom.’ I just saw him, and we became friendly. I met him through his agent, the way I see a lot of young people in movies and go, ‘I’d like to meet that person.’ We had been friends for a couple of years. prior to having seen that? No, after that, but that was quite a while ago – 2000, exactly. So I knew him for two years ’cause when I decided to do this was Christmas of 2002. I’d met him a couple of times, and I did want to work with him, and I just had this instinct he’d be a great Phantom. When he talked to me about the role, he really was so emotional about the loneliness, the disconnectedness. He really understood the part brilliantly. And I said, ‘But you have to sing, you know.’ And he had told me he sang in a band in Scotland a couple of years ago. And you know what that means: nothing. … My deal with Andrew, I said, ‘Andrew, if you want me to do this movie, Christine must be very young. And if Christine is young, the Phantom and Raoul have to be young. And if they’re famous people, fine. If they’re unknowns, fine. But I don’t want to be saddled with anyone I don’t want, or I can’t make this story work for you.’ And he said, ‘You can have anyone you want, but they have to do their own singing.’ And I said, ‘That’s fair,’ and that was our deal. So Patrick was first, and that was easy. And then Gerry was second. I said to Gerry, ‘You can’t have this role unless you can sing it; it’s that simple. Can you do it?’ And he said, ‘I could try.’ And I thought, ‘Well, if he’s willing to do that, we’ll give him a shot.’ So he came in and sang for Andrew and me, and he sang ‘Music of the Night,’ and he was great.
Question: Minnie Driver doesn’t sing in this movie–
Answer: But that wasn’t the deal. I was talking about Christine and. But Minnie’s part of the comedy part, so it wasn’t. No one can sing those opera notes except an opera singer, and we couldn’t find a soprano who had a sense of humor about herself. long laugh from reporters. I wanted a gorgeous, statuesque Carlotta. I wanted a Maria Callas who could make fun of herself. that doesn’t exist If you find one, send her to me; we’ll put her in something.
Question: Did you ever meet with original Phantom, Michael Crawford?
Answer: I was going to make the movie with Michael and Sarah Brightman in 1990. We were all set to make it in Munich and Prague. When Andrew first asked me to do it in ’88, that was part of the deal. Yeah, I knew Michael. Michael’s in Andrew’s new show. He plays Count Fusco.
Question: Is he miffed that he didn’t end up in the reincarnated film?
Answer: You’d have to discuss it with him. I didn’t call him up and have a discussion with him about it.
Question: Can you talk about casting in general. Your casting is impeccable. McConaughey, Colin Farrell
Answer: Wait a minute! What about ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ and ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘Flatliners’? Demi Moore. Brad Renfro. Campbell Scott.
Question: What do you see, your casting is impeccable
Answer: Well thanks. I’m lucky. No, I think you would hire them, too; I do.
Question: You have found a lot of good people
Answer: They’re out there, and when you’re casting a movie, you’re just lucky they came in. I’m telling you, if Julia Roberts had walked in your office when she was 19 or 20 and you didn’t hire her, you shouldn’t be in the movie business. She was filming ‘Pretty Woman’ when I met her for ‘Flatliners,’ and no one knew ‘Pretty Woman’ was going to be ‘Pretty Woman,’ but there was no contest. You see 200 actresses and Julia Roberts walks in? You’re just going drops jaw. It was the same with Emmy Rossum. That girl walks in with that figure, that face, and has been singing at the Met since she was 7? You just go, ‘Thank you, thank you!’ In ‘Tigerland,’ my deal with Arnon Milchan was, ‘I’m going to make “Tigerland” with unknowns.’ Colin came for an interview, and I thought he was great. I didn’t know he was going to play the lead. I said to him, ‘You’re just great. I’ve got 40 guys in the platoon. I’ll find something for you.’
Question: Were you surprised by his particular brand of success?
Answer: All of them. I didn’t know if any of these people were going to be successful. The only thing I know is they’re the absolute best choice for this role at this moment in this movie, and then the rest of it is up to you guys, but more importantly the audience.
Question: Was it always been important to you not to hire A-list stars
Answer: Well, in the beginning, A-list stars weren’t looking to work with me, and I’ve always made movies about a lot of young people, so those are not always the A-list stars.
Question: You could have cast this with A-list stars if you had wanted
Answer: If I thought they were perfect, yes, I would have. I would have absolutely.
Question: Was there ever anyone, Andrew Lloyd Webber or anyone else at the studio, who said to you the whole idea of wanting a very young cast goes against the idea of what we want, people with some kind of name recognition? That would obviously be a problem if you’re looking at 17- and 18-year-old women.
Answer: Yes, but the plot does. The great thing about this was Andrew had bought the rights back, and so it was just the two of us. We had no boss. Maybe Andrew would have been very happy if they were famous; I don’t know.
Question: He said he listened to you on that.
Answer: Yeah, he really believed in these three people. He had a lot to risk, too, and if he hadn’t believed in them, I’m sure he would have said, ‘Joel, I’m not comfortable with this person.’ But those are the only three people I really sent to him.
Question: You have had your finger on the pulse of our culture for some time. directed videos, now a musical. How do you find the music genre to be different from the spoken genre. It adds such a heroic dimension to it. Is this an area in which you want to do future projects?
Answer: I don’t think so because, as you know, I try to do things that are very different. I also didn’t know I had my hand on the pulse of anything except trying to do the best job I can, but thanks for that compliment, if it’s true. As you know, ’cause some of you have known me for a long time, I try to do really different things each time out, and I don’t have any plans to do anything this romantic. I told my friends this is so romantic they won’t think I made it. I think I’ll go back to more cynical, dark, dangerous pictures.
Question: Upcoming films?
Answer: Colin and I may do a movie together a year from now, a little movie, very dark. There’s one I might slip in if I’m waiting for Colin to do. If we can work out our schedules, we may do another movie, but he has to do ‘Miami Vice’ first, so we may not be able to work that out. I might slip something else in.
Question: How important was it to you to humanize the Phantom?
Answer: I wanted all three of the young leads, you to know their back story, how they got there, why they’re there, what’s going on. She greets always the Phantom with compassion, not the classic damsel in distress, and I thought that was very important to her character and the story.