Samantha Barks, a 22-year-old Brit who was discovered less than five years ago on a British reality singing competition, landed the role of a lifetime in the big-screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” available now on Blu-ray/DVD and with XFINITY On Demand.
Despite her lack of movie experience, the newcomer held her own as Éponine alongside movie veterans such as Hugh Jackman, who she describes as “the nicest guy I’ve ever had the joy of working with.”
Barks previously played Éponine onstage in London’s West End and was tapped to perform the role in 2010 for the 25th Anniversary Concert at the famous O2 Arena. It was here that she met producer Cameron Mackintosh, who would eventually deliver the biggest news of Barks’ life.
“When I heard there was a film coming up, I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to even be seen for the role,” Barks told me during a recent interview. “When I was actually called into audition, I just couldn’t believe it. I was so excited for the opportunity.”
Barks embarked on rigorous 15-week casting process that included singing with experienced actors such as Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway.
The actress was busy touring with the London revival of “Oliver” when she found out she got the part.
“I was onstage playing Nancy in ‘Oliver’ and Cameron Mackintosh, the producer, walked onstage and, live in front of the audience, said I was going to be playing Éponine [in the movie],” the actress said. “It was the most surreal way to find out you’ve got a role. I’ll remember that moment forever, it was definitely life-changing.”
The first reaction of this small-town girl, who grew up in Laxey on the Isle of Man, was to call her parents with the good news.
“I remember I couldn’t think clearly. I was like, ‘This is the most life-changing news I’ve ever heard,’ and then in my mind I thought, ‘I’ve got to call my mum and dad!’ They were so happy, they reacted like speechless,” she revealed. “It was fantastic, it was the exact reaction I had. I’m not someone who screams and goes crazy. I process news more internally. It was a life-changing moment for me, and they were just so wonderful, proud and supportive.”
Despite her experience playing Éponine, Barks’ first day on set was completely nerve-wracking.
“I was thinking ‘I don’t belong here; I’m not a film star.’ But I got on set and saw how equally nervous everyone else was and then I was thinking, ‘Why are you guys nervous? You’re all amazing and experienced,'” she said. “Eddie Redmayne had never done a musical before and I’d never done a film before, so we were all on a level playing field, though it certainly didn’t feel that way.”
Barks quickly realized that even the film’s most talented actors were scared to bring the beloved musical to the big screen.
“Everyone has their own insecurities and that’s what you learn with these things,” she said. “They were just the nicest bunch of people and we were all there for each other. There were no divas, no tantrums, no nasty people.”
She was surprised by the massive amount of Oscar buzz surrounding the film, but didn’t let it go to her head.
“For me, while everyone was talking about the Oscars, I couldn’t get over the excitement of actually being in the film,” she said. “By the time we got asked to do the Oscars, I was like, ‘Ahhh! What?’ I never thought I would ever actually be there.”
To boot, the young star was ecstatic when her co-star Anne Hathaway won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
“I was so happy for her and I absolutely had my fingers and toes crossed for her, not that she needed it,” Barks said. “She was fantastic in the role, her performance was so beautiful.”
As for her favorite co-star? That would have to be Hugh Jackman.
“It’s incredible. The man is not only one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the joy of seeing up close, but he’s one of the nicest guys with this calm, gentle spirit. This character burst out of him and it was fascinating to watch,” she said. “He’s the hardest working person and he’s this lovely, level-headed human being. He’s so nice to everybody. There should be a life award for Hugh Jackman for just being an awesome human being.”
Check Out a Clip of Samantha Barks Singing “On My Own” Below
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.