Gerard Butler’s Phantom
To be perfectly honest, when I was writing ‘Disfigured’ I became a little obsessed with the actor Gerard Butler. I expect I am not alone! I had to complete a 12-step program to stop googling him 10 times a day. I’m over the worst of it now; I only Google him about once a year. Much better. I know I have said, in a couple of different places, that I based my Phantom on his portrayal in the 2004 movie. His hunky, sexy Phantom was all but irresistible to me, and made me wish to give Erik a happy ending, regardless of how deserving of it he might or might not be.
At the time of making Phantom of the Opera, Mr. Butler was still a relative unknown, for this was pre-‘300’, the movie that truly shot him into the stratosphere. Over the years since that time, Mr. Butler has made many movies, and he is a truly bankable star. I’ve often puzzled over his choices, thinking them odd, but you can’t accuse him of allowing himself to be typecast. Nor does he shy away from playing a bad guy now and then. But I think what it boils down to is that he really needs to be working, and likes to have a project on. I think he loves the process, and making an effort to understand his character. But there have been times that you have to think what they mostly wanted was for him to take off his shirt, Captain Kirk-style! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
In writing ‘Disfigured’, it was a challenge to try and figure out how Erik would react in different situations away from the main story line, what he might say to Sylvie and how he would say it. I did find it difficult to access the mind of such a man, what with his stalkerish tendencies and volatile temperament. I found the original book by Leroux invaluable in gleaning clues to the Phantom’s personality, and always in my vision it was Gerard Butler’s Phantom I saw, and it was his Phantom that my heroine, Sylvie, falls for.
In the original Phantom book, I thought the key to bringing this character to life in my own book was this line, spoken to his old friend the Persian: “I am not a bad man, not really. To be good, all I ever needed was to be loved.” I took that idea and ran with it. Somehow, one must have a little sympathy for the Phantom, for his lonely, dark existence, and Mr. Butler did his best to give us that in the movie.
I saved some movie screen captures on my computer as I was writing, and these were my inspiration as I went along. I have several screen captures of the interior of Erik’s cavern, so that I might describe it correctly, and make sure I had the layout right. But by far my favorite is this one of Erik near the end, when Christine has given him back her engagement ring. He is utterly shattered, but now I like to think that he will soon be rescued by the one who loves him best.
Now I am working on the second book in my ‘Disfigured’ series, and I find I have to project Erik’s developing character beyond the Phantom story line. Some things about him will never change, but I like to think he is slowly turning into the person he was always meant to become.
Gerard Butler famously said how much he hated having to be the Phantom without his mask and wig, because the transformation into the unmasked Erik was a long, arduous one, and decidedly uncomfortable. No wonder he seems angry all the time! Who wouldn’t? Nevertheless, he was very good at it, and I thank him.
There is one little fun thing I want to share with Gerry’s legions of fans: as I was writing ‘Disfigured’, I dropped in clues that reference some of his past films. Of course, these would be pre-2013 roles, because that was when I finished the book. Some of the clues are just things like mentioning Sarlat and the Dordogne area, because that was the location of ‘Timeline’, made in 2003. A few are actual movie titles. When you read the book, see how many Gerard Butler movies you can name from the clues! Some time soon I will put the list on my website.