Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks and Tom Hooper
Bringing a Broadway Classic to the Big Screen with Les Misérables
by Brad Balfour
Based on the legendary Victor Hugo novel – by way of the operatic stage musical created around it – the recently released cinematic version of Les Misérables spans 17 years and is set against the political turmoil of post Napoleonic France, which culminates in the June Rebellion of 1832. Within this context, ex-convict Jean Valjean who was jailed for stealing a loaf of bread (played by Hugh Jackman) becomes mayor of a French town after illegally changing his identity in order to seek respectability. Hard-nosed police Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is in pursuit of the missing parolee who now owns a factory where the unfortunate Fantine (Anne Hathaway) gets expelled by an unscrupulous manager for having an illegitimate daughter, Cosette. Once he admits to his original identity to save a man falsely accused of his crime, Valjean agrees to take care of Cosette as her mother is dying. Therefore he becomes a fugitive again to avoid capture.
Several year later, students Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne), Enjolras (Aaron Tveit), together with street kid Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) eventually foment revolution. In the course of this Marius sees and ultimately connects with the grown Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who he falls in love with. Meanwhile, Éponine (Broadway vet Samantha Barks, making her film debut), who knew Cosette when they were kids, realizes she will never have him so she also joins in the revolt. As this complicated story cyclonically whirls towards its romantic yet dramatic conclusion, they operatically act out the whole thing through song.
Directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and scripted by the auspicious team of William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, the film is packed with a star-studded ensemble cast who not only acts their way throughout a complicated plot but sings it as well.
In order to promote it as an award contender, Universal put the cast of Les Misérables through their paces offering them for Q&As at every turn. One took place at a screening in late last year when director Tom Hooper was joined cast members Hathaway, Seyfried, Redmayne and Barks in a conversation about its construction and the trials of transferring a hit Broadway musical to film. Obviously such interactions have paid off with the film in contention for everything from Best Picture to Supporting Actress and Best Actor.
How difficult was live singing? It’s tough as it is for a performer to sing and act, but how tough is it when you’ve got a single shot and you’re doing the entire song live?
Anne Hathaway: Well, the live singing… I kind of thought Tom was crazy when he said it – crazy as a fox. That’s not the saying is it? This is going very well. There’s tremendous freedom in it, to really be able to get inside the words and express your character. It was great not to have to match your performance to something that you would have done three months before. Getting another day with the scene can reveal new things. What you would learn about a character in three months can be insane. Obviously, there was a lot of discipline; you had to protect your voice. I never knew if we were doing anything in one take or not. It was always the goal to get it in one but Tom didn’t come over and say, “Okay, this is going to be a simple shot. Now think about that while you sing.” He’s kinder than that.
Eddie, Amanda and Samantha – what’s the hardest thing about singing and crying at the same time?
Amanda Seyfried: It actually takes pressure off of you.
Eddie Redmayne: You can be out of tune.
Amanda Seyfried: You can be out of tune and then it doesn’t matter as much.
Eddie Redmayne: Sam is the one had it difficult because she had to sing, cry and [do it] in the rain.
Samantha Barks: Yeah. When it’s really cold your teeth are chattering away. So, there’s a few things to contend with but it kind of all adds to it, I think.
To read the rest of the interview, click here.