Twenty-six years after the Broadway production of Les Misérables collected eight Tony Awards, Tom Hooper's film version seems to be keeping apace with the success of its predecessor. Nominated for eight Oscars and winning three Golden Globes (including one of the biggies -- Best Picture, Comedy or Musical), the film owes much of its success to Hooper's impeccable sense of detail, his unique directing choices (like having all of the actors sing live) and of course his thoughtful casting. While Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried might be getting a lot of the buzz, one of the best performances in the film comes from Eddie Redmayne (who many may remember as Marilyn Monroe's favorite ginger in My Week With Marilyn). Eddie and Tom both took a break from awards season, to chat with us about the making of Les Mis.
Who is your favorite character in Les Mis?
I first saw the play when I was 7 and I just thought Gavroche was a total rock star. I actually wanted to be him and then when I the read the script, performed Marius, and watched the film, I still wanted to be him.
You've worked with Tom before on the Elizabeth I miniseries. Were there any similarities between working together on that project and this one?
After reading for Elizabeth I, I was stopped at the door and Tom asked if I could ride a horse and I said "yes." Next thing you know, I was in Lithuania with 40+ men galloping on horses. I'm in spurs on a huge stallion behind Helen Mirren, who's in a rather large, opulent dress. I thought to myself, "At what point do I admit I wasn't totally telling the truth?" Within a few moments, Tom picked up a big speaker and shouted, "Redmayne you're a bloody liar!" And so then during Les Misérables, he asked, "Can you actually sing?" And of course, somehow I ended up on a giant horse waving a huge flag [in Les Misérables]. [I'm] only assuming it was payback.
Ninety-eight percent of the singing was live -- did that make you nervous?
A little. Brilliant lip-syncing still seems artificial and great acting is about total control. An earpiece pumped in a live piano accompaniment that slowed down or sped up as we sung. That allowed me to control the song instead of it controlling me. If I had recorded it two months prior to shooting, there would be no freedom, which would take away the acting. The whole thing was a very liberating experience.
What was one of the most intimate moments on set?
During "A Little Fall of Rain," there were 100 dead people all around, Eponine was in my arms dying and a single drop of rain fell on her forehead. Singing at that level with no cameras in my face and no loud projecting -- just singing in a whispe -- felt odd but entirely raw.
What's one major difference between yourself and Marius?
I've always found Eponine to be very sexy.
Are there any parts in the film that made you cry?
I truly connected in the end, when Jean Valjean dies. Usually, death isn't taken serious, it's either part of the plot or it plays out like a scene from a video game. In the film I wanted to make sure it stares you in the face.
Was Hugh Jackman a shoo-in for the part?
I auditioned everyone properly and spent an extraordinary three hours with him. When Hugh sings, it is so powerful. You don't want him to speak -- you yearn for that other communication. I saw this emotional side of him I've never seen and I wanted to bring it to the world.
Samantha Bark killed it in her first screen performance.
She did. I first saw her and the play 2 ½ years ago, when I watched the 25th anniversary performance and when I saw it, she totally struck me. That part had such high competition and she did all the rigorous auditions, eventually beating everyone out.
Even though the songs are classics, each actor seemed to give their own unique rendition. Anne Hathaway's version of "I Dreamed a Dream" was breathtaking. How did you direct her?
I told her to forget that it was an iconic song and that it had ever been sung and to just react. To sell an illusion, there has to be little moments of hesitation. During "I Dreamed a Dream," Anne gave that 10-second pause before "then it all went wrong" and she earned that moment. She told me that she opened a dark box, looked in, closed it, and hoped to never go back. Some have an indulgent pleasure of being in pain -- she was just in pain... so much so that I was worried for her. I'm almost embarrassed to say but I felt like this was one of those moments that will be talked about for years.
Photo by J. Everette Perry