Celebrate the December 25th release of Universal’s movie musical epic “Les Misérables” with 12 days of interviews and inside peeks at the film’s production with director Tom Hooper, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and more of the cast.
In 2011, director Tom Hooper was faced with a potentially career-changing question: Should I helm a film adaptation of “Les Misérables”?
“I thought it was hugely daunting,” Hooper recalled during a recent interview. “When I made ‘The King’s Speech,’ no one had heard of ‘The King’s Speech.’ Even historically, no one really knew who Lionel Logue was. The play on which it was based had never been produced, so I was making it in complete privacy without any expectation that it would go on the journey it went on.”
He continued, “This couldn’t be more different. I felt very aware of the fact that so many millions of people hold this close to their heart and would probably sit in the cinema in complete fear that we would [expletive] it up or harm this experience.”
Close to giving a final “yes” to the project, Hooper was sitting in the audience at the 83rd Academy Awards – the same ceremony at which he won his Oscar for directing “The King’s Speech” – when something remarkable happened.
“As you remember, Anne Hathaway was hosting,” he recalled. “And at a certain point, Anne Hathaway comes to the front of the stage and sings “On My Own” to Hugh Jackman. And I’m sitting there going, ‘There’s something very strange happening. My shortlist for Fantine starts with Anne Hathaway. My shortlist for Valjean starts with Hugh Jackman. And she’s serenading Hugh Jackman.’ And I thought, ‘Either they’re brilliantly using the Oscars instead of auditioning …’ But whatever happened, it certainly worked. That was where I first got to see Annie singing live.”
Hooper explained that it was Anne’s “naturalness” that convinced him she had the potential to take on the vocally daunting role of Fantine. As for Jackman, the 40-year-old director said he was impressed by the ease and charisma he witnessed during Hugh’s one-man stage show, “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway.”
“He has since said to me – or claims to me – that the reason he did his one-man show was to get himself vocally fit for ‘Les Misérables,’” Hooper quipped. “So, I’ve since said to the other actors, ‘Why the hell did you not do a one-man show?’”
Despite his affinity for Hathaway and Jackman – as well as the rest of his cast – Hooper still insisted that each actor audition for the movie, which would require the stars to sing the musical’s famous numbers live on the set as it was filmed, rather than in a studio months beforehand.
“I did a very careful auditioning process. Everyone had to go through auditions and they were quite extensive – at least three hours,” he explained. “With actors like Russell Crowe, you usually have to offer a role, they don’t have to audition. But I felt like – because I was determined to do it live, I needed them to prove to me that they could handle it. I wasn’t just looking for great singing and great acting, but I was looking for people who could act through song and instinctively understand the necessary shift of when you’re singing to a big room compared to when you’re singing to a camera in close-up. There’s a sort of necessary minimalism which they needed to combine with the requirements of serving a song musically. All of those actors proved in the audition that they essentially could do that process.”
Additionally, Hooper cast a man who had more or less auditioned for a role in “Les Mis” hundreds of times over – Broadway and London’s original Jean Valjean, actor Colm Wilkinson. The 68-year-old stage veteran appears in the movie as the Bishop of Digne.
“I thought it would be nice if there was a way of honoring the legacy of the show and it being the right choice for the film,” Hooper said. “And there was something great about Colm, because the first thing Hugh shot was that journey through the wilderness in France, and the next thing we shot was his scenes with the Bishop. And, so, the start of Hugh’s journey and shooting the film was a journey with Colm.”
Wilkinson also encouraged Jackman to be his own Jean Valjean, rather than trying to emulate the actors who have played him in the past. The veteran also passed on another very important ritual.
“Colm was a massive expert on [Victor Hugo’s] book,” Hooper said. “He knew the book literally backwards. That inspired Hugh to treat the book as his bible, too, and he’d carry it around on set and read it every night before he went to sleep. And he got that from Colm. I just love the idea that the man who inspired the new Valjean is the original Valjean.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.