Phil Collins surprised by film success

By KAREN BUTLER  |  Nov. 2, 2003 at 11:01 PM
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After more than three decades of working as a "drummer that sings a bit," pop superstar Phil Collins is as surprised as anyone to find himself writing musicals for Disney.

"If you had asked me 10 years ago would I be doing that, I would have said: 'No, no, no, no. Not for me,'" laughed the 52-year-old father of four. "When I did 'Oliver!' and I did my acting when I was a teenager, I just thought: 'Never again. Never again. Thank you very much. I never want to go near acting again. Me write a musical? Are you kidding me?' That was something grown-ups did. And then suddenly--suddenly--30 years later, you get the phone call to do 'Tarzan' and all those films that I lived with my children and saw with my mom and dad, suddenly you're being part of that club. Will I write a song as memorable as 'Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go' ? Will I do that? Surely not."

The former Genesis front-man won an Oscar for his work on Disney's 1999 animated adventure "Tarzan" and has completed "seven or eight" new songs for Disney's Broadway musical about the scantily clad tree-swinger, due to hit the Great White Way in 2005. When not working on the show, Collins has been busy recently promoting "Brother Bear," the Mouse House's latest animated flick, for which he wrote several songs and helped compose the score with Mark Mancina. According to studio estimates, the film opened in second place and earned $18.5 million between Saturday and Sunday.

"The fact that I'm asked to do all these interesting things, it's the best reason to get up," said the singer/songwriter. "I get up and go to work every day and do what I do because I've never done it before."

After enjoying a successful solo career highlighted by a string of hits like "Against All Odds," "Take Me Home," "Separate Lives," "Groovy Kind of Love" and "One More Night," Collins said he thinks it is good for him to have people like the Disney team telling him every once in a while: "'You know what? I think you can do better.'"

"I've come to realize that maybe I'm not my own best producer," the multiple Grammy-winner confessed. "It's difficult to let go and, actually, I have a hearing problem--my left ear--for three years now--60 percent gone. A viral infection, sudden deafness, they don't know what it is, but that's the way it is. It's not going to come back probably, so I've been forced into using another pair of ears to produce my records."

Despite his packed schedule, Collins said he hasn't ruled out a reunion with Genesis, although he is doubtful he and former lead singer Peter Gabriel will ever perform together with the group.

"If Genesis were to reform and Peter Gabriel to be in it, what would you like us to play?" he wondered. "Because the Genesis with Peter Gabriel in it wouldn't play 'I Can't Dance,' wouldn't play 'Hold on My Heart,' wouldn't play 'Invisible Touch.' It would play 'Until the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,' wouldn't it? Do fans want that? Or do they want Peter to sing 'I Can't Dance.' It's a very complex issue and I think people don't really think it through. Some people want Genesis to get back together with me singing because they want to hear those songs, but they always think its the original Genesis, but then when they get the original Genesis what they get is something very different and they didn't like it the first time around, so whether they would like it the second time around, I don't know."

So, what's up next for Collins? Since he compared his career to a drifting boat, your guess might very well be as good as his.

"Sometimes I look at my career like that and wonder, 'How did I get here? I didn't even want to be a singer. I'm a drummer,'" he said. "But things happen and suddenly your life takes a diversion and you're not aware of it at the time."

Set at the end of the Ice Age (10,000 years ago) in the Pacific Northwest, "Brother Bear" is the tale of a young man (Joaquin Phoenix) transformed into a bear after he slays a bruin he blames for his brother's untimely death. With the help of a chatty bear cub (Jeremy Suarez) and two dimwitted moose (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas,) the man sees the world from a different point of view, a bear's. The film features six new songs by Collins and Mancina: "Great Spirits" sung by Tina Turner, "Transformation" performed by The Bulgarian Women's Choir" and "Welcome" by The Blind Boys of Alabama. Collins also performs "On My Way," "Look Through My Eyes" and "No Way Out (Theme from Brother Bear.") The pop star also helped compose the score for "Brother Bear" with Mancina.

"They told me the story of 'Brother Bear' and gave me a book filled with paintings that had inspired the look of the film," Collins recalled. "It had lots of great scenery of the American northwest with wide-open skies. I began looking through the book and writing phrases and impressions that came to me. Things like 'when the mountains kissed the sky' and 'when nature and man live side by side.' The lyrics to 'Great Spirits' came to me that way."

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