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December 2004
Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera: An Interview with Emmy Rossum

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera: An Interview with Emmy Rossum

By Wilson Morales

Emmy Rossum is an actress who has many advantages her colleagues don't, and that is singing skills. Not that many actresses can belt out tunes in operatic styles. Only 16 when she took the part of Christine, Emmy is about to bark on major stardom as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera finally comes to the big screen. Rossum was recently seen this past summer opposite Jake Gylenhaal in "The Day After Tomorrow". A few years ago, Emmy was seen singing in the indie film, "Songcatcher" and was murdered victim in last year's Mystic River. In speaking with blackfilm.com about The Phantom of the Opera, Rossum talks about her audition for the role of Christine, working with Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson and her musical aspirations.

What happened to make you almost miss your screen test?

Emmy Rossum: I met (director) Joel (Schumacher) on a Wednesday in Los Angeles and we had to screen test on Saturday. It happened so alarmingly quickly and I had actually had plans to connect at this family gathering that weekend. I told him I couldn't make it to the screen test. I assumed it wasn't only one screen test because I didn't know that he had been casting for six months and I was the last person he ever saw. I thought, ĆOh I'll catch the next one,' but once I figured out that it was my only shot I thought if I get the part my family will forgive me and they did.

Were you nervous about the audition?

ER: I really went into it very focused and thinking I'm going to do the best job I can and be proud of it and leave it there because I know I'm not getting it. I never thought I'd get the part. I mean I'm sixteen years old and was not famous and knew I was the youngest and least famous person going in for it. I hadn't been singing in five years. The complexity within the character that I envisioned and the fact that I wanted her to be the real core of all this spectacular theatricality isn't something that they normally entrust to young girls. I walked into the screen test and it was this huge studio and this elaborate set and hair and make-up and something that I was totally not prepared for with fifteen people in the crew and Joel Schumacher yelling, Ćaction!' It was very surreal. I even met Gerry Butler (Phantom) that day kind of lurking in the corner very phantom-like. I must've been so concentrated and focused that I don't remember half the people I met. I remember shaking lots of hands. I remembered being intent on doing the best job that I could.

Do you remember the moment when you found out you got the part?

ER: At first I thought it was a practical joke because I thought it was too good to be true. It took about five minutes to sink in. I was sitting at the breakfast table and I put the phone down after hearing (I got the part), and my mom was reading the New York Times over (eating) her toast. I said, Ćmom I got Phantom of the Opera,' and she said, ĆOh that's nice honey,' and kept on reading about Somalia! It was very surreal to me especially because I never expected to get it and it was so thrilling to me.

Since you already had experience singing in The Metropolitan Opera, what was the most challenging part of the role?

ER: I was wearing corsets the entire six months which were insanely uncomfortable and prohibited me eating any solid food all day long besides ice cream which would melt and actually pass my esophagus. It had enough sugar to actually sustain me and give me enough energy. I think the most difficult thing was carrying the movie of this size. They don't normally give Hollywood ninety-million dollar budgeted musicals to un-famous sixteen year olds.

Your character meets the disfigurement of The Phantom with so much compassion. What do you think the film says about being treated unfairly because of that deformity?

ER: I think you just hit upon the thing that was the most resonant to me about the project. I thought the themes were about love and compassion and understanding of people who look different and are different. Especially right now in the world I think that compassion is something we need a little bit more of. That was the one quality about her that I really identified with. I was brought up in a house that really emphasized that compassion and understanding of different people and kindness. One of my best friends that I grew up with was born with a crania-facial deformity. She's had twenty-four operations since she was born to try to make her look Ćconventionally' normal as she would like to. It's never been something that scared me or repulsed me or anything like that. I just see her and like her because she is a wonderful person inside. That's always been something especially in guys that I look for. There seems to be a strange thing when guys say about women, Ćyou should really look for the girl inside because she won't look so good.' Guys (should) too. They're not gonna have six packs by the time they're fifty so I look for something a little bit more than that.

You were cast opposite two men Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson who were much older than you. Was that intimidating?

ER: They're cute too! I just have to tip my hat to Gerry and Patrick for being so professional about it. I was seventeen and having serious complex relationships in this film with guys who were thirty and thirty-four. I think they were such gentlemen about the whole thing and so charming and hard working. They didn't treat me any differently because I was younger and that's really nice.

How did performing for the Metropolitan Opera at such a young age shape you as an actress?

ER: After I auditioned for the Opera when I was seven they laid down the rules. They were be prepared, be on time, perform like a professional and carry yourself as an adult because it was a privilege to be there. That's the ideas that I've taken to every set with me. They taught me a combination of heavy preparation and in the moment spontaneity because there's no such thing as a second take in live theater. They teach you to be prepared and to respond naturally in the moment and I think that's something I've taken with me too.

Were you ever concerned about becoming a diva?

ER: I started working when I was seven and I was working for five dollars a night at the Met (Metropolitan Opera). There was a horse on stage in a (opera director Franco) Zeffirelli production that got one hundred and fifty a night! (laughs) I think it's the moment where you realize that when you're valued less than livestock and you're singing an aria next to Placido Domingo, you really realize you're there because you love it. I've learned to take jobs as an actress that is meaningful to me because I've never taken a job for the money.

Is it true that you had an embarrassing moment on the set where your bum was showing to the cast and crew without you knowing it?

ER: It's kind of been blown a little out of proportion from what actually happened. We were doing the Don Juan opera and a seam from the back of my dress had ripped and I didn't realize it until I got back to my trailer and realized that my behind was a little bit exposed. Thank god we were shooting all in close-ups that day. But the English are so polite about everything that they just kind of smiled and nodded and not even mentioned it. It was lovely.

Do you have any plans to record an album?

ER: I don't want to be a pop princess by any means. I'm not interested in doing bubble gum (music). I am interested in recording an album because it would be an opportunity to express the feelings I have inside, not playing a character. I just think I have this thing inside me, this need to create and to express feelings whether that's in film (which is my favorite way of doing it because it's so intimate), or in music which is an emotional expression as well.

Who are your musical influences?

ER: I would want to do something in the popular vein only because I worked so hard on something and put my heart and soul into it, and I want people to like it and hear it. I also kind of would want to use the range that I have naturally, something which I think Whitney Houston does really well and Faith Hill, Celine Dion, Evanessence, Sarah McLaughlin, or R. Kelly. Anyone that's got great passion and a great voice and something real to say is who I get inspiration from.

How do you feel about the Oscar buzz already surrounding your performance?

ER: I know that I am my worst critic. I know that if I can walk away from the set at the end of the day and feel that I did the best job I could and feel proud, that's what will satisfy me. Those kinds of things are huge, the Oscars. It seems kind of so unattainable to any real person. I remember growing up on sets, and I was just so happy to be working.

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