The glacially-paced Phantom of the Opera film project may have inched a bit closer to production. The Daily News has reported (Jan. 19) that Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur is close to signing a deal to direct the movie.
As previously reported, the film is to star Antonio Banderas, who has been tapped to play the title role. However, a spokesman for Banderas' agent, Emmanuel Nunez, told Playbill On-Line that the flick wasn't any closer to a start date. Calls to Warner Brothers, which will produce the film, were not returned.
A new wrinkle in the phantom-like Phantom story has Banderas' "Mask of Zorro" co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones also in the cast.
The only seemingly certain aspect of the production is that efforts by champions of original Broadway Phantom Michael Crawford are having little effect on WB's casting plans. This despite the special Oscar edition of Weekly Variety (for Jan. 11) carrying an open letter to Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Michael Crawford Phantom Movie Campaign used the ad to ask that Crawford be given the film lead. The Campaign letter, written to remind to Lloyd Webber of Crawford's background with the Phantom, states: "Reports told of you offering the Phantom role to other actors. Phantom fans worldwide were stunned. We had felt certain that, above all others, you knew that this film required a vocal performance that would mesmerize and seduce the audience. What happened to the visionary who trusted the genius of his composition and was rewarded with the soul of the Phantom, brought to life by the brilliant casting of Michael Crawford?
We want the same things you want: a commercial and artistic success that will live in the hearts of audiences for generations to come. Show the courage of your original conviction. Phantom is poised potentially to make or break the musical film genre. Will you take it to new heights or bury it? Please join with us and together we can convince Hollywood to make a motion picture that the world will cherish. Honor our trust in you by casting Michael Crawford in The Phantom of the Opera movie."
The Dec. 11 edition of Entertainment Weekly picked up on the Crawford Campaign carrying a short piece on the Crawford/Banderas casting conflict. In the Jan. 8, 1999 issue, the bemused magazine noted "This week was a strange one in the world of mail, as most of the letters we got were not for our huge TV Winners and Losers cover story, but for two of the smallest items in the issue" -- the first, the Banderas/ Crawford piece, the second a C- review rating for the new Depeche Mode album.
The Nov. 16, 1998 edition of Variety carried an ad on page 17 that was another effort to keep Crawford in the running. The full-page black and white ad, paid for by the Michael Crawford Phantom Movie Campaign, features a mask, an image of Crawford in the midst of a filmstrip, and the famous chandelier crashing. The ad's opening reads:
"The financial success of any work of art depends on the fans who pay to see it. Forty million fans enjoyed Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera on stage. Thirteen million people around the world purchased the Original Cast Recording. Michael Crawford is indelibly impressed upon them as the voice of the Phantom.
"We will not pay to see any other actor portray the Phantom on film."
To raise money for the ad, the MCPMC raffled off a porcelain doll recreation of the Phantom and an EFX program signed by Crawford. Tickets for the raffle went for $50 a piece with an all entries consolation gift of a "Anyone for President -- Michael Crawford for Phantom" tee-shirt.
Linda Okada was the big winner, taking home the "two of a kind" doll (Crawford was given the other in 1990). Renee Rothera won the program.
Website protests against Phantom casting and a Phantom movie have existed since John Travolta was first mentioned in 1997 as a front runner for the movie role. The biggest protest is the Michael Crawford Phantom Movie Campaign, begun in the April of 1998 by Diane and Steve Flogerzi. With a membership of "300 active organizers with a steering committee of 12," the group seeks a "Phantom" film with Crawford as the lead. The MCPMC website is located at http://www.phantommovie.com.