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.
Among the most powerful scenes in the new film adaptation of “Les Misérables” is Anne Hathaway’s solo performance of Fantine’s famously heartbreaking ballad “I Dreamed a Dream.”
Like many of director Tom Hooper’s musical numbers, this scene was filmed in extreme close-up and focuses squarely on Hathaway’s face. Additionally, the camera never cuts away or changes angles, but remains on the actress’ expressions for the duration of her three-minute performance. The tight shots give fans of the stage show a chance to witness the raw emotions one might miss from the back of a packed Broadway theater.
“I thought a lot about how to shoot the songs and I felt that, most of the time, the physical environment of the actor is not important for the song,” Hooper explained to me. “‘Dreamed a Dream’ is an example – she’s talking about this lover who betrayed her and how it makes her feel. She’s talking about hope. These are all things that you can’t find physically in the room with her. If you went wide, you’d see the distressed hunk of this boat, but not something to do with the song. So, I felt like having the camera do a meditation on the human face was by far the best way to bring out the emotion of the songs.”
Hooper initially shot Hathaway’s solo with three cameras from three different angles – one of which can be seen in the movie trailer – but he ultimately decided to film the actors in close-up because they were simply too good to watch from afar.
“[Anne] so brilliantly told that narrative in the language of the close-up,” he said. “She took you on a journey from beginning to end. It was so complete as a work that I began to feel like the best way to honor these performances was to have that stillness and simplicity in the moment of the songs. I also felt it was a great way of serving the live-singing experience, because the one thing you could never do to playback is a three-minute shot without a cut, because it’d just be too hard.”
Anticipating the rigors of this filming process, Hooper not only insisted that every cast member audition, but that they attend rehearsals as well. Even for Jean Valjean actor Hugh Jackman, who is used to rehearsals on the Broadway stage, this came as a surprise.
“I don’t think any of us expected nine weeks of rehearsals,” Jackman said during a press day interview. “And I’ve never been on a film where an entire cast signs up for the entire time. We would rehearse full-out. It wasn’t, like, a half-hearted thing. And Tom would be sitting there – he would, in fact, move his chair often to a very uncomfortably close place.”
He continued, “Everything we ended up doing – it was brilliant. By the time we got to the set, it was not uncomfortable having the camera that close.”
As she often does, Hathaway took her preparation for the film one step further by working with legendary vocal coach Joan Lader, who taught her how to hold powerful notes while keeping her face relaxed for the benefit of close-up shots.
“She also admitted the other day that she actually practiced crying while singing,” Hooper revealed. “She knew she was going to cry when she did ‘Dreamed a Dream,’ but she also knew she wouldn’t want to experience how to hold on to pitch for the very first time on a film set with three cameras running.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.