EMMY ROSSUM : HOLLYWOOD'S RELUCTANT NEW STAR.Emmy Rossum/Phantom of the Opera Interview by Paul Fischer in New York.
While critics and audiences are beginning to take notice of 18-year old Emmy Rossum, star of the eagerly awaited screen adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, the beautiful young actress blushes and turns away with apparent embarrassment when suggested that imminent fame is a very real possibility in the life of Hollywood's latest breakout star. "I don't like questions like that because I try not to think about those things too much. Joel [Schumacher] says that if you read what's written about you - which sometimes I do and sometimes I don't -- and you believe all the good things, then you should believe the bad things, too," says the actress and former operatic ingénue. "Listen, I try to keep myself as sane and asgrounded as possible by surrounding myself with normal people, such as allthe friends that I've had from when I was little. Nobody in my family is inthe business, I still do my laundry, make my bed and I bring my laundryacross the street to the Laundromat. It's funny, because fame is nothingI've ever strived for, as I was always just happy to get the job, and a goodone at that and I was always just so happy to be working with good people.To get to work with Miranda Richardson was great because I just got to watchher. Even though she doesn't have a lot of dialogue and the character is notoverly emotional, she can express so much just from her face, which I thinkis extraordinary. I'm 18, so working with actors that are like that when I'mso young is important to me," Rossum explains, referring of course to herexperience working on Phantom.
Sticking more to the original material, Andrew Lloyd Webber's 15-year olddream to bring his commercial stage hit to the screen, has meant youtheningthe characters, something impossible to sustain in the theatre. WithRossum's opera training, combined with her acting ability, meant the youngactress was the perfect Christine, for this sumptuous screen rendition ofthe classic tale. But she was never a shoe in, or on anyone's initialradar, the actress recalls when describing her audition process. "Icertainly wasn't offered the part. Joel had been casting for six months,which was the six months I'd been working on The Day After Tomorrow inMontreal, so I came in really at the very tail end of the casting processand in fact, I was the last person he ever saw." Rossum, who made heroperatic debut at New York's renowned Metropolitan Opera at age 7, admits tohave never seen any of the stage productions of Phantom prior to reading thescreenplay. "So he sent me the script, and I kind of got a feel for a takeon the character. Because there wasn't a lot of verbal dialogue in thescript, while I was talking to him about what she goes through, I had toexpress the things that she feels as I was talking about what she wasfeeling, so it was kind of a strange audition process. Then they sent backfootage to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who called and said I had not beeneliminated. I was like, 'Oh my God. It's a miracle. I have not beeneliminated.' I was 16 and I never thought there was a chance that I'd getthe part."
But Rossum indeed won the role over both unknowns and established stars, andset about making Christine her own, a challenge given the character'shistory with the public. "I was aware of the fact that she's a characterthat's so identifiable, especially in so many of the Phantom fans' minds,who feel such closeness to her. But having never seen the show and electingto never see the show before going into it, it meant that it would come frommy heart and soul. I went about creating the character as I would have anyother, from scratch, from the script, the dialogue, from finding experiencesin my life that are similar to ones that she goes through and if I can'tfind one, then I'd go out and have an experience that's similar." Determinedto create a believable 19th century Parisian Christine, Rossum went toParis. "I spent some time at the Opera Garnier to kind of get the feeling ofwhat it was like living there. I stood on the roof at the very apex, whereshe stands during 'All I Ask of You,' and I felt the wind. It was at night,during sunset and I kept getting visceral sense memories, and making them apart of me that made my job a lot easier," Rossum recalls.
Cynics might argue that 18 to 25-year-olds make up the movie audience andthat this isn't a film aimed at that audience. Rossum, who in part is thatprincipal demographic, disagrees. "I don't have to say anything about thismovie, because I really think it stands on its own. I remember when I saw itfor the first time, after putting a year of my life into it, and it wasreally exciting to me. Also, our generation is MTV-fed. We've grown upwatching MTV and seeing somebody sing at the same time as watching a visualand an interpretation of a song is not something that's foreign to us, soit's something we accept. And this isn't classical music by any means. Iknow, because I was brought up on classical music." But unlike recentmusicals, one can argue that this Phantom remains a musical in the classicalsense. "I think it's a hybrid of pop and classical and pretty accessible. Ithink people my age will like it, because it's visually sumptuous," Rossumcounters. "I think it's sexy, scary, really heroic and at the heart of it,it's about love. Also, for girls my age, especially, but for all people, wego through trying to define what love is, who's Mr. or Mrs. Right, how do weknow when we've found them? So I think that a lot of the struggles Christinegoes through in the movie are things that kids my age can really relate to.The main themes of the movie are so universal: love, compassion, hatred,jealously, fear, terror. I think that those are things that are important."
Unlike Christine, who is being mentored by the Phantom, there have been nomentors in Rossum's own life, just women whom she admires. "I wish I couldsay that I have a mentor, but I don't. I'm somewhat friends with Marcia GayHarden, who I think is one of the most talented actresses around right nowand I wish that our relationship develops in the way that I hope it does. Ithink she's good in every movie she does, does very different things, but Ialso think that she's maintained a very normal home life, which is somethingthat's really important to me."
Rossum is also slowly completing her university studies, which included acourse in art history "which was something I elected to take after Phantombecause I'd studied a lot of Degas paintings, of the ballerinas, becauseChristine was a ballerina at that time. I'm also taking French and I'm goingto take English and philosophy, but I'm taking some time off." Currently,Rossum is actively looking for new film opportunities and has something inthe pipeline. "I'm looking at a movie right now that's much smaller. If feellike I've come off a lot of big Hollywood blockbusters and this is aboutdrug addiction. But I don't want to talk too much about that because I'msuperstitious and I think I'll jinx it." And the actress hopes to juggle heracting with her continuing love of opera. "I hope I can mix both. I can't goback to the opera until I'm 25 because the voice doesn't develop fully untilthat point, which is why I left when I was 12, but film is really what Ilove, because I love the intimacy of the medium."
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA OPENS IN DECEMBER