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Against All Odds

It's a bit of a jungle out there for Phil Collins, but Disney loves his tuneful contributions to 'Tarzan.'

May 02, 1999|JOHN NAUGHTON | John Naughton is a journalist and author. He's a commissioning editor for the British edition of GQ, a contributing editor on Empire and film editor of Q

LONDON — "Hello, everybody. That was Kevin's fault," Phil Collins says with a laugh, pointing a finger of mock-blame at music-video director and former 10CC drummer Kevin Godley. A rare Godley glitch has interrupted shooting of the video for "You'll Be in My Heart," the first single to be released from Disney's forthcoming "Tarzan" soundtrack, but Collins doesn't look like he's about to walk off the set just yet.

Instead, he perches contentedly on top of a packing case, trading jokes with the technicians who swarm around beneath him and staves off the incipient boredom with short bursts of impromptu hand drumming on the side of his makeshift seat.

It's midafternoon on the final day of shooting, but the atmosphere in the west London studio remains relaxed. Collins, 48, dressed in dark Armani, sits in front of a blue screen, rigidly still, lip-syncing his lyrics repeatedly as rotating lights whirl over his head, illuminating those thinning locks now worn in the style of a mini-Mohican.

The sound of hailstones--the latest weather installment in a typically English four seasons in one day--reverberate off the studio's roof as Godley moves on to the next stage of shooting, which requires Collins to mime his words at double speed. As Collins motors through his song as if he's got a plane to catch, there seems to be something apt about seeing him work at twice the normal tempo.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 9, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Page 83 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit--A photograph of Rosie O'Donnell and Phil Collins in last Sunday's Calendar should have been credited to Rob Kinmonth.

This, after all, is the drummer who preferred to be in two bands rather than one (Genesis and Brand X); to have a skyrocketing solo career at the same time as belonging to a touring supergroup; a man who supposedly only had enough free time to read two books (both jazz biographies) in two decades; to be the only person to play in two sites, London and Philadelphia, during Live Aid; and--perhaps not unrelated to the above rota of relentless ambition and application--the man who has two wives and two divorces already behind him.

But if Collins could understudy James Brown as the hardest-working man in show business, he's had to apply himself to an altogether tougher task of late. Learning to accept that the public doesn't want him quite as much as they used to. After four hugely successful solo albums beginning with "Face Value" in 1981, his last two albums of original material--"Both Sides" and "Dance Into the Light"--sold relatively disappointingly, giving him time to pursue his beloved vanity project, the Phil Collins Big Band.

Meanwhile, as the British press has moved on to newer and juicier targets, after attacking Collins over his divorce from his second wife, Jill, he has been able to live out of the spotlight in Hermance near Geneva in Switzerland with his girlfriend, Orianne Cevey.

Collins seems to have adjusted to his new position.

"It's quite possible that maybe I've had my 15 minutes of fame--well, I've had a couple of hours, not 15 minutes, really," he reasons. "I haven't done badly. And I'm quite well-adjusted philosophically to that idea. I'm not craving the success. I'm not craving the attention."

Collins speaks these words sincerely enough and talks engagingly about his contentment with Orianne and the pleasure he takes from having seen more of his three children in recent years, and yet it's difficult to believe him entirely.

Not least because as the "Tarzan" project nears completion after four years' labor on his part, Collins senses that maybe he might have a hit on his hands. Lighting engineers walk around the studio whistling "You'll Be in My Heart's" undeniably catchy refrain. More tangibly, the single is picking up strong radio airplay.

And Collins himself can't resist showing his excitement at the prospect of signing on for a few more minutes of fame. "I can't help feeling," he confesses, "that I could be on the crest of a wave."


"Tarzan" boasts the latest innovation in animation, a technique the animators call "deep canvas."

Explains the film's co-director, Kevin Lima: "We integrated three-dimensional and two-dimensional animation so the camera can move in this movie in much the way it does in a live-action movie, not just flat against the artwork but into and around the artwork." It gives the ape man's movements a startling kinetic credibility.

Even if the film boasts the latest technical innovations, Collins is as aware as anyone of the importance of songs to a successful Disney film and also of the heritage of the Disney back catalog.

"I know what those songs have meant to me in other films," he recalls, "and the effect they've had on my kids, and I didn't know if I'd be capable of the same thing."

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