Emmy Rossum

The Phantom Of The Opera

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“It is very grand and sumptuous and awesome to look at but it was really about the characters for me. ”

Emmy Rossum began her career at seven years old in the children's chorus at the Metropolitan Opera in New York before making a name for herself in television. She broke on to the Hollywood scene very recently playing Sean Penn's daughter in Mystic River, then featuring opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in effects-laden disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. In Joel Schumacher's adaptation of The Phantom Of The Opera she returns to her musical roots to play the tale's leading lady, opera-singer Christine.

This is your first leading role. How did you land it?

I walked off the soggy set of The Day After Tomorrow and ended up in Joel Schumacher's living room for a meeting. I had never seen Phantom on Broadway so he sent me the script and asked me for my take on it, then he flew me to New York for a screen test. It was unheard of for me to do a screen-test like this, with full costume and makeup - with two hours just to do the hair extensions - and a piano, a full cast and crew, and a sweeping camera with Joel Schumacher in the corner yelling, "Action!" I was pretty shaken with nerves but I did the best I could. Actually I didn't think I would get it just because it was too big. Parts like these in big Hollywood movies are not given to girls my age - I was 16 when I auditioned - and there were girls who were much more famous who auditioned for it. But a week later I got to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber and I got it!

Was your meeting with Andrew Lloyd Webber as intimidating as the screen test?

You know it was funny - there were no pleasantries. I was vocalising with the accompanist and he just walked into the room and sat down in front of me and said, "Shall we?" He didn't introduce himself or anything and I just thought, "Oh. Okay, that must be my cue." So I nodded to the accompanist and I sang a couple of songs from the show and afterwards he stood up and said, "Hi. I'm Andrew." But when I did get the part we talked closely together and I realised that he's just very shy.

You sang at The Metropolitan Opera earlier in your career so that must have stood you in good stead...

I had classical training but I don't consider myself an opera singer though, and this is more a hybrid of pop and classical music. I basically developed the character from my imagination. I went to the Garnier opera house in Paris and I stood on the roof where Christine stands to sing All I Ask Of You, so I developed sense memories like that. Then I went underneath the opera house and hung out in the lair and there is actually a lake underneath and it's dark and foggy so it's really kind of scary down there. I went to the Musee d'Orsay and looked at Degas' paintings of ballerinas to learn how to stand like them.

Was there a sense of camaraderie on the set?

So much so and that's amazing because on some sets, people don't get along very well at all. Here we spent so much time together - eight months of our lives almost - and it was so great because we all got so close and that really made us not afraid to improve with each other. We could just back up the scene and throw lines out there to see what happened and Joel was really encouraging of that as well.

You sing pretty much all of the dialogue. How do you keep the performance from becoming too theatrical?

Because that was the most important thing to me. When I talked to Joel about it I said that the one important thing for me was that she is the one real centre in all this theatricality. She has to be like a real girl who is compassionate and loving and somebody that people can really relate to. She's lonely and wounded and very vulnerable and it really is a story about people at the heart of it all. It is very grand and sumptuous and awesome to look at but it was really about the characters for me.

Did you have some trepidation about carrying the weight of this film?

Yes. It's heavy! It was very heavy on my shoulders. But Joel gave me so much encouragement and telling everyone how great I was going to be that, on the one hand, it put even more pressure on me, but on the other hand it gave me the confidence to make those emotional leaps that the character has to go through. I feel like I've come out of this grown up, maybe because I live through the character vicariously and she grows up so much during the course of this story.

Do you see this role as a bridge to more mature roles?

It wasn't my intention in going after this part but I suppose now I do. The adult roles are a lot meatier - you're not always just the daughter or the girlfriend or whatever. If I can't find a project that I'm really interested in, I'll just go back to college where I've been studying art history and French. I'm also going to study English and philosophy - the whole curriculum! Music is also a part of who I am so I'm thinking about recording an album.