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
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
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 Ă‰ponine
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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