Sadie Montgomery Interview July 27, 2008

Interview conducted by Tracy at Gerard Butler: Gerrylicious


First I would like to thank Tracy and those at gerrylicious for giving me the chance to talk about my novels in The Phoenix of the Opera series. Since the publication of The Phoenix of the Opera I have been on a non-stop roller coaster ride—both thrilling and at times a bit frightening. I had only planned to dip my toes in the waters by publishing the first of the four novels that I wrote continuing the story of the Phantom from that point in the movie when he steps through the broken mirrors. However the response to the first novel convinced me to publish Out of the Darkness: The Phantom’s Journey and The Phantom’s Opera. I just concluded the series by publishing this past April Phantom Death, which doesn’t mean that other novels might not follow, but which does round off the series I hope in a satisfactory way. So thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

Tracy 1. How long have you been a Phantom Phan?

I have to confess that I was never drawn to the story of the Phantom of the Opera until I saw the Schumacher/Andrew Lloyd Webber version in 2004. The only versions I saw were the horror film renditions of Gaston Leroux’s novel. I am one of the few people who has not seen Webber’s stage play. I did like the atmospherics of the Lon Chaney original. But later versions emphasized either the grotesque or the pathetic aspects of the Phantom, turning him into a ghoulish madman or a poor sop.

When I saw the filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, directed by Joel Schumacher, in December of 2004, all my preconceptions about the story were overturned. In particular it was Gerry Butler’s portrayal of the Phantom that gripped me. Schumacher’s insistence on younger characters and on the romantic triangle was brilliant. His lush sets and back-stage drama brought the story to life. The music gave the whole an emotional power that sucked me into the drama immediately and still hasn’t let me go. Instead of a horror story, the 2004 film was a story of tragic love as powerful as Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights. It was this aspect of the story, together with the music, that made this film an entirely different experience from the previous horror tales that I had watched. Gerry’s portrayal of the Phantom as a man on the verge of madness in a world that gave him only pain touched something deep in my imagination. From that point on, I was a definite Butler fan, obsessed with the Phantom.

Tracy 2. Have you read Gaston Leroux's original novel?

Yes, I read the novel shortly after seeing the movie for the umpteenth time in early 2005. At that point I was unwilling to let the experience fade away and thought that if I read the novel it might satisfy my desire for more information. I enjoyed the novel, but it didn’t quench my need for more. I realized that what haunted me was the wounded hero, the Phantom himself, as portrayed by Gerry in the movie.

Tracy 3. What qualities did Gerard Butler bring to the character that you found unique?

There are so many ways in which Gerry Butler made this Phantom unique that I don’t know where to begin. First of all he brought virility to the character. Gerry’s Phantom was both sexy and powerful. Even in the moments when the character is silent and unmoving, there was always a sense just beneath the surface of power and desire that the Phantom had to bridle. There are scenes in which Gerry barely moves, yet his presence fills the screen. The sensuality of his expressions—he has amazing eyes—and the beauty with which he moved communicated a maelstrom of emotions just barely kept in check. This sense of containment fueled the dramatic tension.

I loved the range of emotions Gerry was able to communicate—from anger to despair, from sarcasm to menace. His portrayal of the character was very physical, and yet this physical dimension also revealed a depth of psychology that is only hinted at in the surface story. He managed to emote even when most of his features were covered by a mask. His voice was beautiful, not operatic but boldly stirring. Approaching the role as an actor who sings rather than a singer who acts, Gerry expressed a wide range of emotions through Webber’s music, making his version of the Phantom come alive as a tremendously complex and conflicted human being.

I could also believe in the Phantom’s genius in this version. This may be due as much to Schumacher and Webber, but Gerry gave the Phantom a soul. His desire for beauty and the world of illusion he constructs around himself suggest a genius that goes beyond his talent for musical composition alone.

Tracy 4. One of the things that disturbed me was the thought of this man being denied a sexual relationship. Did that motivate you in anyway in writing your novel?

Yes, it did. I think the denial of touch is one that moves many of us. There is such a basic need for this that to think someone could live without it is horrifying. The back story Schumacher’s movie creates of the child caged at the fair becomes a symbol for this separation. The vaults under the opera house mirror this isolation as well. He is literally and symbolically an outsider, shunned and beyond the touch of another human being. Slipping like a shadow among those that inhabit the world above him, he is incredibly alone. I think the idea of his never experiencing the full range of human companionship is one that pulls at our hearts. The kiss Christine gives him is an awakening and a promise, but the movie ends at this point. For me, it was a bittersweet gift that she gives him. It must suffice him for a lifetime; he must live without love. I suppose that many of us wanted to continue the story for this very reason. We could not bear to imagine him going on for the rest of his life on the power of that one moment with Christine.

I also think that another aspect that moved me with regard to the issue of the Phantom’s sexuality is that the man, as portrayed by Gerry, is a sensual and sexual being. He has lived mostly in his imagination. He builds his lair based on the operatic world he watches from the flies. He composes and dreams and draws. The dress mannequin that resembles Christine is an apt symbol of this living through the imagination. He has sublimated all his desires into art, but he cannot deny the body. For me, it was imperative that he be able to experience a full life and this includes the sexual.

Tracy 5. Without giving any spoilers how did you resolve The Phantom's obvious obsession with Christine?

This is hard to answer without revealing something of what happens in my series. An obsession does not go away in a day, a week, a month or even a year. Only over time can the character let go of his obsession and allow it to shift into something else, something less destructive. When Christine chooses to go with Raoul, it breaks Erik’s heart. One doesn’t get over a broken heart easily, but we are capable of finding love again. My entire first novel, The Phoenix of the Opera, deals with the process of mourning that Erik must go through in order to deal with his obsession for Christine.

The advent of a new love is also part of the process. As Erik comes to understand Christine’s relationship to him and her love for Raoul, it is possible for him to open himself to new experiences and feelings. He has difficulty believing that anyone else can love him. It takes time for his heart to heal. Only someone who truly knows him and loves him can find her way through his defenses, past his pain, and convince him that he can love and be loved again.

Relationships are complex. There is always a connection between Christine and Erik, but in my series relationships change and deepen. The same can be said of the character of the Phantom himself. I think we mature and develop, but I don’t believe we ever transform into completely different people. There is always a bit of the Phantom alive in Erik just as there was always a man who yearned to love and live in the light in the character of the Phantom.

Tracy 6. Was seeing Erik have a marriage and a family important to you and why?

It was a natural evolution, it seemed to me. My series begins by extricating the Phantom from his drive to possess Christine and from the closed world of the Opera Populaire. So the character goes from obsessed individual living on the fringes of society to a man who can have a relationship with a woman who loves him for who he is to a man who finds a way to live in society. Marriage and family transcend the individual and represent a person’s integration into society. So it seemed a reasonable goal to guide the character from the cage and vaults to a life outside these confines and among others. I suppose I felt that to make up for all that denial of touch and love in his earlier years the Phantom/Erik had every right to be surrounded by a surplus of love! Without smoothing off too many of the rough edges, marriage and family do suggest that a loving woman can tame a wild beast, which is one of the archetypal stories that I see unfolding in that of the Phantom. Like Beauty and the Beast, the ultimate victory is an integration back into society.

Tracy 7. I prefer the unmasked Erik. Does the heroine of your novel feel the same and how does that come about?

I actually find the masked Phantom gorgeous to behold. But it’s like saying that I like it when my husband gets dressed up for an important dinner. My heroine has already seen the Phantom without a mask well before the tragic events of the night of the chandelier. So she is never really frightened or repulsed by the disfigurement. She loves him as he is, with or without the mask. Of course she prefers him without the mask because it is also a sign of their intimacy. The disfigurement is simply a part of who he is, and she loves him completely.

There is a basic strength and beauty in Erik that my heroine sees that transcends his disfigurement. It’s not that she isn’t aware that the disfigurement is what it is, but that it becomes simply a feature of a man whose beauty is overwhelming to her. There’s no pity in her love for him; as she says in my fourth novel, Phantom Death, “Why should I pity such as you?”

Tracy 8. Did you ever think of exploring the possibility of Erik having a child that was deformed as he?


That is always a possibility of course, and it’s actually one thing that Erik worries about. However, I don’t think of Erik’s disfigurement in terms of modern genetics. It’s unique to him as a character. If he were to have a child that is disfigured in the same way, then the disfigurement loses some of its symbolic power. It would become simply a biological “problem” passed on and not inherently the Phantom’s nor tied to his individual fate. I wanted to conceive of the disfigurement as something that sets this particular character apart from those around him. It’s part of who he is and symbolizes his tragic marginality. It’s something that he has to fight to accept and to re-conceptualize. This tension is always inherent in the character.

I also think that the idea that his children are beautiful suggests the true beauty of the character. There is a sweet irony in that his children are his beauty; they prove the beauty that he is capable of creating.

Tracy 9. I love how you wrote Madame Giry. I have often wondered if you go by the movie would she have been Erik's first crush? What are your thoughts on that?


Miranda Richardson is about ten years older than Gerard Butler. This is perfect for my purposes because I find her character difficult to pin down. The young boy saved from the cage certainly attaches his earliest affections to her. The nature of this love is ambiguous and puzzling even to him, especially as he goes through his adolescence. There is a stage in which Mme. Giry must have been absent. She marries, has Meg, and eventually returns to the opera house. This absence has a profound effect on the relationship between her and the young man in the vaults of the Opera Populaire.

In my series, Mme. Giry’s relationship with the Phantom is sometimes characterized as that between an older sister and a younger brother. Given that he was still a young boy when she rescued and began to “take care of” him, her relationship to him is marked by a strong “maternal” aspect. What complicates this relationship later when he’s older and yet still living in the Opera Populaire is the fact that there is a good deal of distance between the characters. Mme. Giry acts as his liaison with the world above, but you don’t get the feeling that she spends a lot of time with him down in his lair. I think this distance that comes to characterize the relationship between Giry and the Phantom is sad. In my series, this is one of the aspects that Erik has to deal with. He’s not always sure what his relationship to Mme. Giry is or should be. In time, this relationship also develops and deepens.

Tracy 10. Lastly, have you ever seen ALW's play on stage, if so any thoughts, if not, do you hope to?

No, I haven’t. I would love to see it. I wonder what my experience would be of the stage play. If I get a chance to see it, I certainly will, but I know that it will be a different experience from that of the movie.

Thanks again for the opportunity to talk about my novels. Indeed, a bit like the Phantom, I seem to have my own obsessions. Although I sat down in early 2005 to write The Phoenix of the Opera, something in the story of the Phantom continues to stir my imagination. I’m not sure that the story can ever truly end.