We’re less than a week away from the theatrical release of Tom Hooper’s take on the classic stage musical Les Misérables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, on Christmas Day. A few weeks back, ComingSoon.net attended the press conference for the movie with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks and Amanda Seyfried, where they each discussed how the original musical inspired them to do some of their best work. (Seyfried didn’t have too much to say about playing the older Cosette, only looking up from her Blackberry when Hathaway called upon her to respond to a question, convinced the younger actress hadn’t been paying attention. Meow!)
Jackman spoke about what it was like taking on the role of Jean Valjean.
“He’s obviously one of the great literary characters and I kind of see him as a real hero – quiet, humble. It’s been such a great reminder in the press today about the New York City cop who bought the shoes for the homeless man. To me, Jean Valjean comes from the places of the greatest hardship that I could never imagine–don’t think any of us here could–and manages to transform himself from the inside. Obviously on film we wanted to show the outside change as well, but actually Victor Hugo uses the word ‘transfiguration’ because it’s more than a transformation. He becomes more godlike, it’s a spiritual change, it’s something that happens from within. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful journeys ever written and I didn’t take the responsible of playing the role lightly. I think it’s one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had and if I’m tenth of the man Jean Valjean is, I’ll be a very happy man.”
Jackman also talked about his own transformation he went through in order to be so unrecognizable in the opening scene of the movie where we meet Valjean after 19 years as a prisoner.
“We talked (about that) from the beginning. It’s a very big part of the story, this relationship Javert has with Valjean, and they know each other right through the story and when they meet in the play, it’s probably five minutes in when they meet nine years later and he has no idea who this guy is. It’s plainly clear that he’s taken the fake beard off and put on a wig, and he said that we have an opportunity for all the characters to show time, scale, all these things so he said, ‘I want to make you unrecognizable and if people in your life aren’t saying you’re sick, something is wrong,’ so I did lose a lot of weight and then had the joy of putting weight on, which was a 30 pound journey from the beginning, but I have to say that pales in comparison to what this lady next to me did because at least I had time to prepare and do that. Annie was doing it over 14 days, you lost about 300 pounds I think?
Jackman went on to tell a story about how his method for transforming himself differed from Hathaway’s.
“I had my hair cut off with those gashes in it and Annie had been talking about cutting her hair and she came in for the consultation with Tom and she walked into the make-up room where I was sitting there with my head shaved and I saw the look on her face, the reality dawning her and as she was talking to Tom and her make-up artist. Her stylist is a man but in the film was dressed up in a dress because you needed an actual hair stylist to cut her hair. If you notice man hands in the dress then you’ll know why. I remember Annie saying, ‘Now by the way, if you end up cutting my scalp and there’s blood, fantastic, let’s go for it.’ And I put up my hand and said, ‘For the record, I would like make-up. Fake scars, please.”
The actors were asked about how they get into the headspace to cry on cue, which they have to do a lot in the movie.
“I don’t know there’s any secrets to it,” Hathaway began. “It’s just a pulse, a vein that you follow. In my case, there’s no way that I could relate to what my character was going through. I have a very successful, happy life and I don’t have any children that I had to give up or keep.” (This got a huge laugh.) “What I did was I tried to get inside the reality of her story as it exists inside our world and to do that, I read a lot of articles and watched a lot of documentaries and news clips about sexual slavery and for this particular story, I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past, but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now. She’s probably less than a block away. This injustice exists in our world so every day that I was her, I just thought, ‘This isn’t an invention, this isn’t me acting, this is me honoring that this pain lives in this world’ and I hope in all of our lifetimes, like today, we see it end.”
“There was certainly a sense from the students point of view that this book that was written in the 19th Century had such contemporary relevance,” Redmayne added. “So with songs like ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’ and all the stuff that happened on the barricade, all you had to do was open a contemporary newspaper to see an equivalent happening, whether it was protests in New York or the Middle East, this idea of young people lighting a flame to try and expose truths or pursue their own passion for a greater good. I think there was relevance across the board for us to tap into as actors.”
Samantha Barks, the one member of the cast who had already played her character on stage, felt that helped her get into that headspace. “I came at it from the point of view that I’d done this show as a theater production so I think for me, when you have rain pouring on your face and you’re crying and you’re sniffly, you have to kind of leave your vocal vanity at the door a little bit because at first you’re thinking, ‘Is it sounding right?’ and I think that sort of realism in your voice adds to the emotion of that live singing, especially moments like ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ with me and Eddie, it allowed me to be so intimate because we’re crying but trying to add that to your voice, because when you speak and you cry, you can hear it in someone’s voice. To hear that when someone is singing, I think that only adds to the emotion of it.”
“Tom Hooper from the beginning told us all there would be rehearsals,” Jackman said about getting into the proper place for the characters. “I don’t think any of us expected nine weeks of rehearsals and I’d never been on a film where the entire cast signs up for the entire time. I come from the theater so for me, rehearsals is vital and a way of life. There are many film directors who don’t believe and some actors who prefer not to rehearse, but with a musical, you have to. We would rehearse full out. It wasn’t a half kind of a thing and Tom would be sitting here and would in fact move his chair to a very uncomfortably close place. Everything that we ended up we were doing, it was brilliant. By the time we got to the set, it was not uncomfortable having the camera that close. There had been times when Annie and all of us had done a version of the song where there’s snot coming out of her nose and that’s a little too much but everything was tested properly. I mention that because I’m so grateful to Tom and everyone at Working Title and Universal that they spent the money and time to make that possible.”
Later in the press conference, the cast was asked about creating camaraderie between them and whether they did anything to commemorate completion of the film. When Hathaway mentioned that they were at a theater near tattoo parlors, Jackman joked about each member getting a different number of his prisoner number “24601,” but then Hathaway got more serious.
“Honestly the person who I think was the beginning of the glue that we wound up developing isn’t even here unfortunately and that was Russell (Crowe). You cannot underestimate Russell’s contribution and influence on the cast. He was the first one to say, ‘Hey, everyone come to my house on Friday night. My voice teacher is going to play piano, we’ll have a couple drinks and we’ll sing.’ That was such a key part of the process because up until that point, we were in rehearsals with each other, we were very serious, we were spending all day crying but in between, I don’t think we’d gotten to the point where we thought of song as a way of communicating with each other. I think we thought, ‘This is what we have to do, this is a technical thing that we have to accomplish,’ and through those nights, Russell let us approach it from a completely different perspective, which is, ‘This is the way we’re going to communicate, this is the language we speak, these are our shared experiences.’ I can’t speak for everyone, but I know it made me so much more invested in the totality of the film. Being in the small part of the film that I am, I could easily have just gone home and forgotten about it, but I cared so much I needed to know, ‘How did ‘On My Own’ go? In my life how did that turn out?’ I think it really cemented the bond between us and now we say we’re ‘Camp Les Mis.’”
“He was so passionate about music and that was what was so exciting for us,” Barks agreed. “That’s what we linked us all together, that passion. Even though this is my first film, there was something new about it to all of us and there was this link that bonded us all together which was our shared passion for music. Anne and I sung a duet from ‘Rent’ and we sung the Adele songbook both backwards and forwards and it made us all so comfortable with each other. It was singing in this group of people that wasn’t judging you. We were just communicating and just sharing that bond of our love for music.”
Redmayne, who has experience both on stage and screen, confirmed that making Les Misérables was very different from anything any of them had done before.
“The process felt so new that the extraordinary thing about this project is that none of us really knew what we were doing. It was this wonderful mixture of the theater world and the film world meeting together on a process that felt unique and original to all of us. None of us knew the right answer, so what was the most leveling and bonding thing I felt was on Day 1, we had all gone through an incredibly rigorous audition process to get the parts, and we arrived there going, ‘Annie, how are you going to do that?’ Literally asking each other for advice and never feeling like we found the answer either, constantly aspiring to do as best as we can because we were fans ourselves.”
“I also think it can’t be understated,” Hathaway agreed. “We are all massive ‘Les Mis’ geeks, like from before, and we’re all slightly worried this isn’t really happening. That we’re all in some strange mutual trip and we’re hallucinating. But we’re all such fans of it that we all showed up on the first day with enormous gratitude, as you said, that the responsibility of telling this story was entrusted to us. It was great to share stories, ‘When was the first time you saw it? Who did you want to be at first?’ I think Eddie’s still envious of Daniel for getting to play Gavroche.”
“I literally watched the film and he was so brilliant, as was Isabel (who plays the young Cosette), they were so effortless and wonderful and my inner 7-year-old was so happy, whilst being deeply jealous,” Redmayne confirmed to end that thought.