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LES MISERABLES

The Perfect Storm of Actors

The filmmakers set out to find what Hooper often refers to as "the perfect storm of actors." Elaborates Fellner: "We needed three things from our cast: star power, gifted actors and accomplished singers, and we were blessed to hit a moment in time where that group of actors exists. The cast that we see in the film is pretty much everyone we originally went after."

Central to the story is the relationship between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, which is more complex than the typical hero versus villain scenario. Released on parole after serving a 19-year sentence for a petty crime, Valjean is branded an outcast and shunned wherever he goes. Two decades of hard labor have turned him into a man who hates the world, and most significantly, hates himself. An act of mercy from a bishop, whom he meets when he is first released from prison, sets him on the path to redemption. Still, Valjean will spend his life running from Javert, a dedicated and righteous police inspector who relentlessly pursues him. "It's a particularly muscular story," reflects Hayward. "The clash between these two men through time is the engine that drives the whole film." Accurately casting these two central characters was vital to the success of the endeavor.

Both Mackintosh and Hooper required the entire cast to audition, and the director sat with Hugh Jackman approximately nine months before the film was to start principal photography. Of the meeting, Hooper exclaims: "It was the most thrilling audition I've ever done. Hugh's command of acting through the medium of song is completely extraordinary. He can access an emotional life in himself through song almost more profoundly than through conventional dialogue. He is so fluent and so comfortable when he sings that one completely believes it's his first choice of communication. He was the holy grail for me, a genius at both acting and singing."

An incredibly charismatic performer of stage and screen, the Tony Award- and Emmy Award-winning Jackman had wanted to do a movie musical for some time. The Australian actor shares Hooper's memory of his audition: "It lasted three hours. It was Tom's first working session with the material, and it turned into a workshop. It was undoubtedly the most exhilarating audition of my life, but I eventually had to tell Tom I needed to go home and put my kids to bed."

Already a fan of the show, Jackman had seen LES MISERABLES three times and had in fact sung "Stars" during one of his first auditions just out of drama school. "Valjean is one of the greatest literary characters of all time," he notes. "You follow him for a 20-year span, having been released on parole as an ex-convict, to becoming mayor of a town, to becoming an outcast again. Throughout that time, you see all the ups and downs, the pain and the ecstasy that life brings. He is incredibly human, remarkably stoic and powerful and, ultimately, completely inspiring. His life is truly epic."

Drawn as well to the universal themes of redemption that Hugo's story evokes, Jackman says: "Valjean is the recipient of one of the most beautiful and touching moments of grace from the bishop and, in the shame of that moment, he decides to mend his ways and dedicate his life and his soul to God and to being of service to the community. He is constantly striving to be a better person, to live up to what he thinks God wants from him."

Known as an action star, Jackman has endured grueling training regimens to play James Howlett, better known to legions of fans as Logan/Wolverine. Still, discussing the physicality of the part of Valjean, he says: "I've never had a role require more of me or take as much of a physical and emotional commitment. Valjean required everything I've done. All the things I've done leading up to this, whether it be on the stage or in film, I feel came together in this role. It's the role of a lifetime."

Jackman embraced the physical challenges and the changes required of the character as he goes from convict to outcast to mayor over several years. It was decided to shoot the scenes of the convict Valjean at the start of principal photography to allow Jackman to not only lose weight, but also to grow his own beard. "It was important to tell the story that he had been in prison for 19 years," notes Jackman. "I was surviving on very limited food, but Valjean was also known for his strength, so I was spending three hours in the gym. It was a tough beginning." So committed was Jackman to the part, for 36 hours before he shot the opening sequences of the film, the performer also decided to go without water. This gave him the hollowness and gauntness befitting a convict of the era.

As the film's lead, Jackman would go through war with Hooper and his fellow cast and crew, and the actor admits he can't think of another director with whom he would do so: "Tom's a perfect match for the material. He's a slave to detail and history, as was Hugo. He's incredibly smart, has a complete grasp of the material and total confidence with the musical form. I think he's a great filmmaker, and he decided to take on the Mount Everest of filmmaking. He's our fearless leader."

Once they had their Valjean, the filmmakers were determined to find a performer powerful enough to act opposite Jackman in the role of Javert. Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe immediately came to mind. Hooper recalls: "I didn't know Russell was such a commanding singer, or that he had started his career in musical theater. He had this burning passion to do a musical. We could not believe our luck that one of the biggest movie stars on the planet and one of the world's great actors was a passionate musical man with a background in music."

Unlike the majority of his co-stars, Crowe did not see the show until after the filmmakers had approached him, but he understood its longevity right away. "There were so many powerful songs and themes with universal appeal," he says. Very quickly, Crowe became excited about the challenge. "It was something I wanted to do. I wanted to spend that time with music in my life, surrounded by it, which so much of my life has been."

Crowe, like Jackman, had no problem auditioning for Hooper and the producers, and the call was set two months after his initial meeting with the director. Explains Fellner: "The actors understood auditioning was for their sake as much as ours. We wanted to make sure that they were comfortable singing and acting, and confident they could deliver over a 12-week shoot."

The actor admits he took an unusual approach to the follow-up. Recalls Crowe: "I had this idea on the day of the audition that I should walk there, something I would have done when I was starting out, when the audition was basically the difference between eating and not eating or being able to pay the rent or not. It was 28 blocks from where I was staying and pouring rain. I had the opportunity to jump in a cab, but I knew if I did the audition wouldn't go right." To the astonishment of the producers, Crowe arrived at the audition soaked to the skin. "I don't think I'd been more excited about playing a character since John Nash in A BEAUTIFUL MIND."

Key to Crowe's portrayal of the legendary antagonist was fleshing out Javert's motivation for why he doggedly tracks Valjean over the decades...and why he makes the ultimate sacrifice for law and order. Reflects Hayward: "It needed an actor of immense skills to plumb the depths of the character, as Russell has done, to understand why ultimately this man would take his own life."

Crowe offers some insight into the crucial dilemma Hayward mentions: "Javert is a man with a very specific morality and a specific understanding of the way the world works: what is good and what is evil. When he is proved wrong, when a man he believes to be bad turns out to be good, Javert is broken."

As was true of his Valjean, Hooper's Javert was fully committed to bringing the character to life. "Russell's preparation for this role has been extraordinary, and he has been such an amazing person to work with," compliments Hooper. "He has such fine intellect and such an extraordinary amount to bring to storytelling, which I have so enjoyed and benefitted from."

Echoing Jackman, Crowe recognizes the Herculean challenge Hooper gave himself: "Tom's put every ounce of his being into this. He worked seven days a week and still managed to keep himself balanced. He's a tough guy; when he wants something, he wants it and he's going to have it, but that's the kind of director you want to work with."

Anne Hathaway's connection with the project began long before the filmmakers approached her to try out for the role of Fantine. When Hathaway was seven years old, Mackintosh had cast her mother in the U.S. national tour of LES MISERABLES as a factory girl; she also played Fantine a number of times during her time with the company. Truly, Hathaway had grown up with the music and loved it. Supplies Hooper: "Annie is the female equivalent of Hugh in terms of having that extraordinary facility at knowing how to act through song. And it's not just acting through song. It's acting in close-up through song, the demands of which make it quite different from performing on stage."

The actress was in good company with Jackman. Hathaway also spent a three-hour audition with Hooper and waited a month before she learned she had the part of perhaps the most tragic of characters in Hugo's story. Forced into prostitution after she is thrown out of the factory, her dissent into utter degradation is heartbreaking. "She just wants love and to be free to love," explains Hathaway, "but the heart she wants to share becomes damaged and disregarded. The depth of Fantine's suffering gives life to the love you experience in the rest of the film."

Hathaway's dedication to the role was by all accounts extraordinary, and her physical journey, as well as the emotional one, was just as intense as Jackman's. Not only did she choose to have her own hair cut in the scene where Fantine sells her tresses, the already slim actress lost a great deal of weight to make completely believable Fantine's physical decline from, and ultimately her death because of, consumption.

"Over the course of five weeks, I lost 25 pounds," relays Hathaway. "It was very intense and very extreme and to be honest, if I had stopped and really thought about what I was doing, it probably would have felt too hard. I knew that I had an end moment, and all I needed to do was keep my spirits up and keep my focus on that point. I'm not method, but I was playing a martyr. So any kind of suffering that I was going through I wouldn't feel it as suffering. I would have felt as she would, which was instant transformation."

While many musicals have good portions of dialogue, LES MISERABLES is almost completely through-sung. That would prove an enormous challenge to the cast and crew as production was underway. Hathaway and Hooper discussed that she would be singing live, and she was prepared for the task. "I was supportive of the idea of singing it live," says the performer. "There are musicals that have a certain sensibility to them, where doing it live wouldn't make much of a difference. It's probably easier to have a track and do it that way. But when you have a story this dramatic, where there's no dialogue to see you through-and where everything is so in the moment-it's a lot of pressure to have to sing all the time, but it's still so spontaneous. You're able to keep that and honor that and explore that. It's a risk, but the benefits outweigh the potential cost."

The filmmakers had specific ideas about the talent who should play Cosette and Marius, and in Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, the team found their embodiment of the young lovers. "I searched long and hard for my Cosette," sums Hooper. Known to audiences for her portrayal of Sophie, the young bride-to-be trying to find her real father in the global smash hit MAMMA MIA!, and more recently for her starring roles in Dear John and LETTERS TO JULIET, Seyfried delivered astonishing vocals that distinguished her from all others. On Hooper: "Amanda has that amazing ability to command both disciplines, and on top of that she is mesmerizing on screen."

Seyfried's exposure to LES MISERABLES first happened when she encountered the regional tour at age 11 in Philadelphia. Then at 15, she played Cosette at a school recital. "Cosette is the main source of light, hope and love in the story," says the actress. "There's a responsibility to bring this positivity to the role because it is so tragic in so many ways. It's a wonderful character to play. She's so full of life and possibility."

Eddie Redmayne has been a colleague of Hooper's since Hooper directed him in the television series ELIZABETH I. Encouraged by Schonberg, who knew Redmayne socially, the actor decided to submit himself on tape to the filmmakers. For his audition, he sang Marius' signature number, "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables." Redmayne elaborates: "I'd heard Tom was doing this. I was in a trailer in North Carolina playing a cowboy, and I recorded the song on my iPhone. That was the start of the most intensely rigorous audition process. It was completely terrifying."

Hooper admits that he was thrilled to hear from his former actor: "That first taped audition got me incredibly excited. Eddie was my dream casting, and to learn he could sing at that level was the most fantastic discovery."

Like Seyfried, Redmayne had discovered LES MISERABLES long before Hooper's film was on his radar. "I saw the show as a child, and I obsessed about being Gavroche," he laughs. "As a nine-year-old, I wanted to be the street urchin jumping in and out of barricades." He was beyond thrilled when he landed the part of Marius, the politically engaged student who is passionate about the inequality in France and ready to fight for his cause when he falls in love with Cosette. Redmayne describes the event as "a Romeo and Juliet moment, which sends him spinning. It feels incredibly special to be part of this."

The beautifully tragic Eponine is played by British actress Samantha Barks, making her feature-film debut in this production. Barks starred as Eponine in the London production of LES MISERABLES (from June 2010 to June 2011), and was handpicked by Mackintosh to play the role in the 25th anniversary concert of LES MISERABLES at the O2 arena. After he saw her play the role in her opening night at the Queens Theatre in London's West End, the producer knew she was perfect to immortalize Éponine at the event. But, in fact, she was on Mackintosh's radar since she had competed in a reality television series called I'D DO ANYTHING. In the show, she was one of the finalists in the search for an unknown lead to play Nancy in Mackintosh's OLIVER!

Barks came in third, but eventually played Nancy in the U.K. tour of the show that opened in December 2010, and she is currently starring in the U.K. tour of Oliver!, having been given a leave of absence to appear in LES MISERABLES. It was on stage at the end of a performance in Manchester that Mackintosh announced she'd won the role of Eponine in the filmic version of LES MISERABLES. She tweeted that it was "the most incredible moment of my life." Barks shares her connection to the classic figure: "I only have to hear the opening two bars of 'On My Own,' and it breaks my heart. I feel so close to Eponine. I've traveled so far with her. It makes me so proud to be playing her because she's such a beautifully written character."

Hooper and Mackintosh's fellow producers knew Mackintosh had discovered a very special talent. Sums Fellner about Barks' time on the set of the film: "Samantha is a wonderfully trained theatrical singer, and you could just sit on the stage and listen to her singing 'On My Own' all day."

Bringing their fascinating choices and respective comedic geniuses to the roles of the bawdy innkeepers- cum-professional thieves, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, are Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. The film reunites Hooper with Bonham Carter, who was nominated for her second Oscar for her role as Queen Elizabeth in THE KING'S SPEECH. As well, she shared screen time with Baron Cohen as Pirelli in director Tim Burton's movie musical SWEENEY TODD.

Hayward offers the impact of these characters upon the production: "Monsieur and Madame Thenardier provide much needed comic relief. With such demanding material, you have to have moments of levity, and Cameron and the creators of the original stage show knew this. 'Master of the House' is one of the best-loved numbers in the musical. We did not have to look further than Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen to find that perfect comic pairing. The fact that they have both got great voices was the icing on the cake."

The principal cast of LES MISERABLES is rounded out by American actor and rising Broadway star Aaron Tveit, who plays the impassioned student revolutionary Enjolras. He is joined by youngsters Daniel Huttlestone (who played Gavroche in the West End and is currently starring as the Artful Dodger, opposite Barks, in OLIVER! on tour) as Gavroche, Isabelle Allen (who is also playing the part in the London stage production) as Young Cosette and Natalya Wallace as Young Eponine.

Coming aboard in supporting roles are multiple stars of the London stage. They include Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean in the 1985 London and 1987 Broadway productions of LES MISERABLES, in the pivotal role of the Bishop of Digne; Frances Ruffelle, who originated the role as Eponine, for which she won a Tony Award, as one of the Lovely Ladies; Bertie Carvel, winner of the 2012 Olivier Award for his turn as Miss Trunchbull in MATILDA: THE MUSICAL (which is about to repeat on Broadway), as Bamatabois; well- known star of stage and screen Michael Jibson as the factory foreman; Daniel Evans, a two-time Olivier Award winner for Best Actor, most recently for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, as the pimp; Katy Secombe, who has played Mme. Thenardier at the Queen's Theatre several times, as Mme. Hucheloup; Killian Donnelly, who played Enjolras at the Queen's Theatre, as the student Combeferre; Fra Fee, who recently starred in LES MISERABLES at the Queen's Theatre, as the student Courfeyrac; Caroline Sheen -- who recently played Fantine at the Queen's Theatre -- leading actress Kate Fleetwood -- who played Lady Macbeth at the National Theatre -- and Hannah Waddingham -- star of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and KISS ME KATE -- as factory women; and Olivier Award-winning actor Adrian Scarborough as the Toothman.

With an amazing cast in place, an accomplished crew embracing Hooper's vision and bringing enthusiasm and passion to the project, it was time to begin principal photography at Pinewood Studios and at historical and landmark locales in the U.K. and France.

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