Q&A: Anne Hathaway On Les Misérables

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

It’s not often that an actor guns for a character who promptly dies in a film, but Anne Hathaway fought for the heart-wrenching role of Fantine in this winter’s Les Misérables—and rightly so. Hathaway’s impassioned performance well makes up for the truncated role, and it’s her voice, singing “I Dreamed a Dream”—and shot live—that sets the scene for the trailer of this Christmas release. Hathaway is no stranger to the Oscar race, having been nominated for best actress in 2008 for Rachel Getting Married, but it’s this role that might well be her lock.

AWARDSLINE: Did you have to audition? And was it the role of Fantine that you always had your eye on?

ANNE HATHAWAY: I did have to audition. There was some resistance to the idea of me because of my age—I was in between the ideal ages of the main female characters and was told I was too old for Éponine and Cosette, but probably too young for Fantine. I agreed I was too old for Éponine and Cosette, but I got fiery and determined and pushed my way into an audition for Fantine. I had a three-hour audition but then had to wait a month until I heard anything.

AWARDSLINE: Did you work with a vocal coach to approach this role?

HATHAWAY: My vocal coach is Joan Lader, and she’s Hugh’s (Jackman) vocal coach as well. Immediately after I was cast, Joan and I began twice a week working to improve my vocal stamina so that I could sing for 12 hours a day. When I got to England to begin rehearsals, I worked with additional coaches there. I had prepared for singing while crying, and I’d been practicing that because I didn’t want to get there and cry and sing for the first time on camera. We also worked on subtle things, such as voice placement since you can get congested when crying, and you have to still be able to stay on pitch.

AWARDSLINE: Was it challenging to sing live with such close-up, tight shots?

HATHAWAY: I found it liberating to sing on camera. On stage, you have to indicate having a thought, and the word you are singing must indicate it as well, but on camera, you can have ideas, you can take in all the stimuli that the character would be taking in, there’s a freedom you get, and you don’t have the obligation to transmit each idea to the back of the house. It felt so much closer to reality for me.

AWARDSLINE: For each take, did you shoot the entire song straight through?

HATHAWAY: Oh, yes. (Laughs.) I’m thinking back to the arrest scene or the factory scene. These are long scenes, and they were exhausting. Fantine is in such an emotionally tragic place, and it involved singing and crying for 12 hours a day.

AWARDSLINE: Do you know which take was used for your quintessential song, “I Dreamed a Dream”?

HATHAWAY: We used earpieces to sing to a live piano track, and I sang it through once, but then I was having trouble hearing the piano, so I put in both earpieces so that I couldn’t hear myself. The second and third take didn’t go straight through, but then it was the fourth take, which was only the second time I’d sung straight thorough, that Tom (Hooper) ended up using. I remember feeling this schism in me that maybe this was the one. But of course, I still had to make them shoot it another 13 times; I had to make it way more complicated.

AWARDSLINE: I’m assuming there was only one take for the hair-cuttingwell, more like choppingscene?

HATHAWAY: The take had to be divided into two sections. Fantine is led into the grotto by a wig maker, and she cut the first part of my hair, a 3- by 4-inch rectangle, and then they had to yell cut (for a costume change), and I had to sit there half-bald for about 20 minutes, which wasn’t easy. I try to be as stoic an actor as possible, and I’m blessed to have been given this role, but this (scene) completely undid me. I’ve never been so scared, and I was slightly manic about it. But when it was done I was fine, and I had a pixie cut. Although I did have a huge bald spot in front, which wasn’t planned—they were cutting my hair with a knife. But I think this might be a new phase in life for me. I now like having short hair for the manageability of it. But by the end of this shoot, I had no vanity left. I was horribly scrawny and bald.

AWARDSLINE: Were you asked to lose weight for the role or was that your own decision?

HATHAWAY: I was trying to merge the Fantine from the stage with Fantine from the novel, and I took my physical cues straight from Victor Hugo. You have to suspend disbelief on stage when Fantine dies, and she doesn’t look any different, but on film we had the opportunity to really get inside Fantine. Being the slightly masochistic actor that I am, I thought, when she says, “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living…” what if we were actually able to show her in hell? I wasn’t asked to lose weight, but I talked to Tom  about it, and he moved the schedule around so I could lose the weight. In the end, I thought it lent her an authentic vulnerability. You want to wrap a blanket around her and feed her soup. You want to save her. After all, it is called The Miserable, and Fantine is the most Les Misérables of them all, and I felt I couldn’t shirk that. I did a cleanse at first to prime me for the bare bones, no pun intended, that were to come. I lost 10 pounds initially, then lost 15 pounds in 14 days. I don’t recommend it.

AWARDSLINE: You have the amazing distinction of being a second-generation Fantine.

HATHAWAY: Yes, my mom was in the first national tour of Les Mis. She played a factory girl, but was an understudy for Fantine and did play Fantine many times. I was 7 years old, and this was the show that had focused my desire for acting, plus there were children in the production so it made it all seem obtainable. It’s amazing that this film came around when I was the right age to play the character my mom had played, the character that made me want to be an actress. To have it come full circle like this is truly amazing. To say it was the soundtrack of my life is no exaggeration.

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