Q&A: Hugh Jackman On Les Miserables

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Hugh Jackman has carved out an image as a major movie star who can easily switch gears from action to drama to comedy and all things in between. But until now the man who made Wolverine a household name has never done a movie musical. That’s a bit surprising since Jackman also happens to be a classically trained musical star outside of movies. He’s starred in stage classics like Oklahoma!, won a Tony on Broadway as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz, an Emmy for hosting the Tonys, and worldwide recognition for his singing and dancing as host of the Oscars. He recently did a one-man musical show on Broadway, and that’s one of the reasons he says he is even in Les Misérables and making his long-overdue debut as star of a musical on the big screen.

AWARDSLINE: Would you consider this to be one of the toughest screen roles you’ve done?

JACKMAN: For sure. There is not an element that really wasn’t the toughest. One of the reasons I did the Broadway show was to make sure I was vocally fit to not only sing it, but sing it all day long, wake up the next day, and have another 12 hours of it. I put on 29 pounds from beginning to end. Tom (Hooper) told me, “I want people to worry, I want your friends to think you’re sick.” The physicality, the emotional (aspect) acting-wise, was tough.

AWARDSLINE: You rarely see musicals of this size anymore.

JACKMAN: That’s true. It’s a big risk. I’m not surprised it’s taken 27 years to get there.

AWARDSLINE:Despite the fact that the actors in the film are very well-known and talented, I understand everybody auditioned for it.

JACKMAN: Everybody, and by the way, when I auditioned Tom wasn’t signed to the movie, but there looked like there was going to be a clash between The Wolverine and this. I rang up Tom and told him I really wanted to do this part. He said I’d be a perfect shot, but (that) he wasn’t even signed on to it but was thinking about it. I asked him if I could audition for him anyway, in case he would sign on to the film. I sang him three songs, and he just sat there for a few minutes and gave me feedback. I could see the director in him. Three hours passed, and I had to put my hand up and tell him, “Tom, I have to put my kids to sleep.” So I auditioned very early on, and everyone auditioned. 99% of what is shot is live, just the beginning with the water (was not) because you couldn’t put microphones in that much water.

AWARDSLINE:I can’t remember another movie musical that did it on this scale—is it helpful to you as an actor to be able to do that?

JACKMAN: Especially for Les Mis. It’s so emotional, and as an actor you have some freedom to go with how you are feeling at the time—to have that restrained by a performance you did three months ago would have been hell. I think it made a huge impact. If Simon Hayes doesn’t win an Oscar for the sound design, I don’t know who will. What he pulled off is phenomenal. It feels like thought; it doesn’t feel like song.

AWARDSLINE:There is one new song in the film that you sing called “Suddenly.” How did they decide to that?

JACKMAN: That was Tom’s idea. Victor Hugo writes about two lightning bolts of realization: First is the virtue and the second is the lightning bolt of love. Tom was like, “This is one of the greatest moments I have ever seen on film, and we don’t have a song for it. This is ridiculous.” They (songwriters Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg) knew my abilities with my voice, and they wrote the song for me. It was a pinch-yourself moment.

AWARDSLINE: Les Mis has been so phenomenally successful for the last three decades—what is it about this show and movie that connects with audiences?

JACKMAN: It’s a really spiritual book, in a nonreligious way: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” We can live tough lives, but the human spirit is stronger, seemingly, than anything. There is redemption, hope, and love. This book brings this out. All different forms of heartbreak, but beyond all that there is hope, there is love. There is beauty and bliss. Even though the title doesn’t make it sound like a romantic comedy, in the end it is. There is something for everybody in it.

AWARDSLINE: When you watch yourself for the first time, are you nervous going in?

JACKMAN: I’m more nervous than I have ever been in my life. It’s tough to watch a movie (you’re in)—you put everything into it, you want everything to work, and you never know until you see it all together. In a musical, those feelings are tripled because you have a lot of elements that have to come together. Watching myself on screen for the first time is a little bit difficult, but watching myself sing on the screen is double the anxiety. In the end, I rationalize it because the nerves are the care and passion I had for the project. It becomes a bit like a baby. I would love to do more movie musicals. Maybe next time I’ll do a little more dancing.

Q&A: Sacha Baron Cohen On Les Mis

While awards voters traditionally underestimate the merits of comedians, Sacha Baron Cohen is the best possible proof that a comedic actor can possess a wider range than his dramatic counterparts. Like his idol Peter Sellers, Cohen arrests stereotypes and authority figures through his iconic personalities (flamboyant Austrian fashionista Bruno Gehard; the blunt Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev, and the fierce Middle Eastern totalitarian Admiral General Aladeen as featured in last summer’s comedy The Dictator). However, Cohen has a leg up on Sellers in that his alter-egos brilliantly cross the line, as he throws them into real-life clashes with celebrities and politicians, often exposing their prejudices and shortcomings. Equally balancing Cohen’s outrageous laugh facets is his ability to escape into serious roles, (read his turns as Signor Adolfo Pirelli the Barber in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the station inspector in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo). This holiday season, Cohen continues to generate buzz in his second musical role following Sweeney Todd as the duplicitous innkeeper-cum-master of the house, Thenardier, in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables—a part Cohen takes to another level with his own sense of humor. In 2007, Cohen received a best screenplay Oscar nomination for cowriting Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This year, he shares an ensemble award SAG nomination for Les Misérables as well as a National Board of Review ensemble win.

AWARDSLINE: How did the role of Thenardier come to you? Was this a project you always wanted to be a part of?

SACHA BARON COHEN: Actually, I only have a history with Les Mis in that when I came out of university at age 20 or 21, I went through an open audition for the chorus in Les Mis—not even one of the named roles. And there were about 300 people who were lining up outside the Palace Theater in the West End, and I passed the first audition, which was singing, and then they had a group audition for dancing, and they taught a little routine. I had no idea how to learn choreographed steps, and so I just decided to freestyle and came to the actual audition. There were seven people doing perfectly choreographed steps and then me just doing some very bad breakdancing in the corner. I did not get the role. So, there is a history.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve also done some musical theater previous to this. You were in Fiddler on the Roof.

COHEN:At the University of Cambridge, I did Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady, and obviously was in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. I played Tevye in Fiddler and grew my first beard for that. And in My Fair Lady, I played Alfred Doolittle, which is not a million miles away from Les Mis in that you come on for a little bit, have a couple of nice songs, and then spend the rest of your time in the dressing room.

AWARDSLINE: Was there really this rigorous audition process for Les Mis where the actors had to go in for six weeks?

COHEN: Truth be told, it was slightly brief with me. I heard that Tom Hooper was interested in me for the part, and then I did actually audition. I had to sing—he made me sing a number of songs from Fiddler on the Roof. Even though he actually kind of sprang the audition on me; he came to my house and there’s a guy with him. I asked, “Who’s this guy?” And he basically was a pianist, and then the electric piano arrived, and then Tom made me sing “Master of the House” for him, which I thought terribly unfair because I hadn’t prepared for it at all and hadn’t really sung it since the age of 15 when I first saw it in the West End. It was the humiliation of having to sing a bunch of songs for Tom Hooper in my kitchen.

AWARDSLINE: What were some of the Fiddler songs you sang for him?

COHEN: He made me sing “If I Were a Rich Man,” which, funny enough, I auditioned with for Tim Burton, as well, because when I auditioned with Tim Burton, Stephen Sondheim had to approve all of the actors. Then Tom made me sing all of Thenardier’s songs from Les Mis. I did offer to sing Hugh Jackman’s songs, but he wasn’t interested.

AWARDSLINE: And what’s wonderful is that Tom really gave you room to be you in the role Thenardier.

COHEN: That’s one of his great strengths. I think he’s a fantastic director, but what you get with directors of that stature is there’s a lack of ego, which I also noticed with (Martin) Scorsese when I was doing Hugo. Tom and Scorsese are so confident in their own craft that they’re happy to sometimes give over the reins when it’s a comic number or when there’s a comic side to the piece. So Tom was very happy to listen to every idea and to try and work out something that was different to the stage show and would be unique but also something that could remain authentic to the whole character of the film. I mean what he was worried about was that the piece or two would stand out and would not blend in with the whole genre. So that’s not really worth the challenge. I’ve got to say (singing live during Les Mis) was one of the reasons that I got excited about the project because when I was in Sweeney Todd… when it came to singing my number Tim Burton wanted me to mime along to the track that I recorded a month beforehand. At that point (when I recorded it), I didn’t have a costume; I didn’t really have a fully-formed character, and I didn’t have an incredible set around me with 200 extras. So I pleaded with him to let me sing live because as an actor I need to respond to stuff that’s going on in the moment whether it’s the audience or the actor I’m playing opposite. Particularly jumping off Borat, I wanted to have the song feel authentic. It was a challenge because it was a traditional musical. So I finally convinced Burton to let me sing a couple of takes live and actually they were used. When I first read for the part of Thenardier, Hooper and I talked about (singing live). It’s an exciting idea—singing a musical live—because you can react to things in the moment, and it allows me in the movie to have little asides and throw a little bit of dialogue in between.

AWARDSLINE: I understand Tom Hooper would shoot a song as one long entire take.

COHEN: Yes. This is really challenging, particularly when it’s “Master of the House,” which has a lot of business in it. I mean the problem with these very long takes was that eventually it gets grating on the voice. After a month, I actually lost my voice. And I said to Hooper, and this is actually a testament to him, “Fine, I’ll just mime it. I’ve got the track of me singing, and I’ll just mime it.” And he said, “Absolutely not. It has to be sung live.” And so they shut down the movie. They shut it down for a week during which time I was forbidden from speaking. I was on voice rest. And they brought in Chris Martin’s vocal teacher,who’s the head of voice at the Royal Academy of Music, to train me up again in three days for the “Master of the House.” But when you see the first take of “Master of the House,” it sounds like I’m a drunk guy who’s got a croaky voice but that actually was me with a very croaky voice. Tom Hooper found himself with Helena Bonham Carter and a soft-voiced, stumbling English actor; it was like The King’s Speech all over again.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve mastered the docucomedy whereby you can be a character, interact with real people and elicit a reaction from them. As you became more popular with Borat and Bruno, are these types of films harder to pull off now? Are there places in the world you can still go where people don’t know who you are and pull a stunt off?

COHEN: I mean there probably are places, but the reality is you want to have—when you make a movie like that, you want to make sure that the people you’re interviewing are deserving targets. So you don’t just want to interview some doorman at a hotel; you want to interview the incredibly wealthy guests at the penthouse, high-ranking politicians or people who are threatening. The problem is it is definitely challenging, especially now with Twitter and Facebook. It’s very, very hard to get away with.

AWARDSLINE: Is this one of the reasons why you shifted gears with The Dictator, which was more fictional; still a character but placed in a fictional setting?

COHEN: I wanted the challenge of trying to make a really funny movie that was scripted, but also satirical. I did consider for a while having a Middle Eastern dictator character in the real world, which could have arguably been more satirical to see how people would have done anything for money, you know, which essentially they did with all of these Middle Eastern dictators. There’s a huge hotel in London all the studios use which was built by Colonel Gaddafi, and it’s down the road from the London School of Economics where he was given an honorary doctorate. So essentially these dictators were given carte blanche in any of the western countries that needed their money. It was tempting to take that character into the real world, but I wanted the challenge of creating a comedy script that had improvisation in it as well.

AWARDSLINE: This reminds me of diplomatic immunity whereby foreign ambassadors and their wives, particularly those at the United Nations, have this kind of untouchable privilege here in the states: If they ever shoplift in a store, they can never be prosecuted to the fullest extent of our laws.

COHEN:Yes, dictators certainly have that now. Look around London, and it’s seen as a haven for dictators. With this particular hotel I’m referring to, there are private rooms in the spa for Gaddafi’s children to enjoy themselves in any matter they see fit. What was interesting while making The Dictator were all these organizations that have to show respect to dictatorships, for example, the United Nations. We wanted to shoot a scene there, and they eventually refused us. We asked why, and they said, “Well, we represent many, many dictatorships, and we don’t want to upset them.” So, in the end, we had to re-create our own version of the United Nations. It was ridiculous, really. You know, they said the problem with our movie is that it’s antidictatorship.

AWARDSLINE: In terms of your future projects, you are preparing The Lesbian at Paramount Pictures about the Hong Kong billionaire who offered $65 million to any man who would marry his daughter.

COHEN: Yes, the project about Cecil Chao. I’m working on that at the moment. I’m actually writing a couple of things at the moment and deciding which one to get very excited about.

AWARDSLINE: I have to bring up what happened at the Oscars last year.

COHEN: I can already probably give you my answer before you finish your question.

AWARDSLINE: Was it a publicity stunt, or was it not a publicity stunt?

COHEN: In regards to…?

AWARDSLINE: Admiral General Aladeen appearing on the Oscar red carpet.

COHEN:Well, I mean, Ryan Seacrest was not in on it at all. He was told about an hour beforehand that he would get an interview with me, but he had no idea what was going to happen. He was very excited at the time. In regards to the rest of them, no, it was very real. The Academy did ban me from the awards, and I was. In fact the head of the Academy called up my agents and said if I was to turn up within a half a mile of the Academy he would have me arrested by 200 FBI agents. And then when I turned up as Aladeen, and finally they gave in, the police actually stopped me, surrounded the car, and decided that it was imperative that they search the car. I asked, “For what reason?” and they said, “Well, we’ve been told that you’re bringing in live ammunition into the Oscars.” And so, obviously inside the limo I had a few virgin guards and the urn. I was scared that he was going to go inside and find the urn and ask, “Why have you got Kim Jong-Il’s ashes in your car?” And then I luckily managed to slightly embarrass the cop because I said, “Listen, if you want to search the car, fine. You can strip-search me, and you can strip-search the girls.” And he looked at the girls, got embarrassed, and said, “No, you guys are fine.” You know, the whole thing was very real. With the urn, we asked ourselves, “How are we going to smuggle it into the Academy Awards?” So I decided to camouflage it as a vase. If you actually have a look in the back of one of the video shots, you can see the guy taking off the camouflage and taking away the flowers and turning the flowers into an urn.

AWARDSLINE: Heck, this is show business. It’s a new year, the Academy has a new president, ill will certainly has to have withered since last year’s scenario, no?

COHEN: Listen, I mean I’m a member of the Academy so, I think it’s an important institution. I think it encourages studios and individuals and filmmakers to make great films. Now if it wasn’t for the Academy and the Oscars, there would be less of an incentive to make movies that are not purely boxoffice hits. And in terms of ill will, I’m sure there are Academy members that would not want me back. But, no, I haven’t received anything negative at this time. At the time, they actually threatened Marty (Scorsese) and said that if he didn’t convince me to not turn up, that it would jeopardize the chances of Hugo winning, which is absurd. And by the way Marty responded, “Sacha does what he wants, and if you think I can control him, you’re wrong.”

AWARDSLINE: The sharp comedic and dramatic turns you’ve made between political/social comedies and auteur fare brings to mind Peter Sellers’ career. Is this a career path that you’ve planned?

COHEN: The reality is there’s no plan. I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with these directors. I remember, I was shocked when I first met Scorsese that he was even speaking to me, let alone I was in the same room with him. I remember we ended up having a meeting, and I thought it was going to be 15 minutes. We ended up spending three hours together, talking about the filmmaking process and just details of editing and writing. So I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to work with these directors, and for me it’s not really a plan each time I’m on a set with one of them. I think about what I can learn from them because I’m very aware that my filmmaking skills are very modest. And so with Marty, for example, I asked him very early on, “Is there any chance I could sit in the tent with you?” He has a little director tent where he watches his work. And he let me in, and for a few months I actually sat by his side and saw the master at work. If you’d told me when I was 20 that at one point I’d be sitting next to Scorsese for a few months and watch him direct I wouldn’t have believed it. Yes, these are incredible moments and there’s no plan. But if there’s an offer I can’t refuse, then I take it. I’ve only done four movies outside of my own: Les Mis, Sweeney, Hugo, and actually Talladega Nights.

AWARDSLINE: I read that you were originally cast in Django Unchained. I’ve got to imagine it was about scheduling in terms of not committing to it as a number of other actors were unable to for that very reason.

COHEN: It was. I was editing The Dictator, and we were very close to release, and Paramount wouldn’t push the date. I knew I’d have to jump straight from there into Les Mis, and it basically became a choice of either pulling out of Les Mis or pulling out of Django. I’m sure Django is an incredible movie, but it was essentially one scene.

AWARDSLINE: What was the role?

COHEN: It was a character by the name of Scotty who Leonardo DiCaprio’s character plays a poker game with. The stakes become Scotty’s slave girl, Broomhilda. [Ed. note: The final cut of Django Unchained doesn’t include the character Scotty, nor a poker game wagering Broomhilda.]

AWARDSLINE: You’re also getting ready to play Freddie Mercury.

COHEN: I am. We’re still working on the script actually. We want to get it right. There’s quite a lot of work on the script.

AWARDSLINE: Aside from what we already know about Freddie, was there anything you learned about him that many people don’t know?

COHEN: Was there anything? I mean, he was a series of contradictions. He was one of the most famous gay men, but he was also essentially married to a woman. He was one of the early celebrities, but he was also deeply private and protective of his privacy. And he was also one of the finest performers and extroverts that ever lived, but also deeply shy. So he’s a great guy to portray. For an actor, you want those contradictions, and they’re kind of a gift for any actor. I hope I’ll be able to do him justice.

Q&A: Tom Hooper on Les Misérables

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Tom Hooper has had a distinguished career in television for more than a decade, earning an Emmy in 2006 for Elizabeth I and nominations for Prime Suspect 6 (2003) and John Adams (2008). But his feature-film career consisted of only two small films—Red Dust (2004)and the critically acclaimed but little-seen The Damned United (2009)—before he hit the mother lode with The King’s Speech in 2010, winning both the DGA Award and the Academy Award for best director on his very first time out. Now, defying the odds again, Hooper is back with the movie version of the worldwide musical smash, Les Misérables. This overnight film-business success at age 40 is among those top-tier contenders who could take it all again for finding a way—after producers have spent a quarter-century trying—to make Les Mis sing on screen as powerfully as it did on the stage.

AWARDSLINE: I was talking to Hugh Jackman about the audition process, and he said at that point you weren’t even involved. When did you get involved?

TOM HOOPER: I was involved. I didn’t want everyone to think the film was going to happen until I worked out how I was going to cast it. People always wanted to make the film regardless, but I needed to have the right cast. We needed actors that could sing at this level. The audition back in May of last year was huge—it was an extraordinary moment. That’s when I knew I had a movie. I’d go so far to say, the movie wouldn’t exist without Hugh Jackman. There was no second choice; I still don’t have a second choice. (He’s) an extraordinary actor and singer, with extraordinary musical-theater training. He had a great moral compass, very fitting for this very spiritual man. When he sang, he accessed an acting I had never seen in film. The singing really opens up new possibilities for these actors—possibilities you can’t do with normal dialogue. The sheer power of singing

AWARDSLINE: I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a musical film with the singing done live, which Jackman said is 99.9% live. It gives it so much more power. I imagine that was still a risk on your part.

HOOPER: There were a lot of people telling me it wasn’t a good idea, that less of it should be done live. But I said the film wouldn’t have happened without Hugh Jackman, and I thought the film wouldn’t have happened if it were not done live. I love the movie musical, (but) there’s something slightly distancing about it. There’s a lack of fundamental realism or naturalism. It’s one thing for the musical to be light or comedic, but this is all about emotion. I thought if we did it live, it would make it much more real. Once you do it live, it becomes a completely different medium.

AWARDSLINE: You used the original book in helping you craft this.

HOOPER: It’s what I used for inspiration—it’s a truly brilliant work. One of the things I got from it was a great line: “It was the second white apparition which he had encountered.” The first taught him virtue, the second taught about love.

AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge of doing a film of this scale?

HOOPER: I think one of the challenges that’s less obvious is doing it with the live piano, not a pre-recorded track. Each scene was a one-off event. You couldn’t cut the scene because of the tempo of the piano or the singing of the actor. I had to preserve the integrity of each scene and make sure I had all the camera coverage I needed to cut shots from each scene. Each time I shot with at least three cameras, up to six cameras. Each scene was a unique event.

AWARDSLINE: I didn’t know Russell Crowe could sing.

HOOPER: He actually started in musical theater; that was his original passion. He’s so passionate about singing, he said, “Tom, the rest of my life, whenever I am starting on a movie, I’m going to be wishing I was starting Les Misérables all over again.” He trained for six months for the demands of live singing.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like having the original creators of the musical available?

HOOPER: So exciting! Every change I made was with them, like the new song (“Suddenly”) was with them. The fans will recognize the original DNA.

AWARDSLINE: I know you had the world offered to you after The King’s Speech won best picture. Was this the obvious followup for you?

HOOPER: The secret thing I was doing during The King’s Speech was reading the (Victor Hugo) book on the planes back and forth. I explored it very thoroughly. For me, to choose a movie, you have to fall in love with it. It’s not an easy musical to adapt, but I got very addicted to the music. The brilliant thing about The King’s Speech was how it made people feel; the best reward was how it touched people. I want to work in an emotional place, a story with song, music. I also thought I should use some of that success to take a little risk and take myself somewhere new.

Q&A: Samantha Barks On Les Misérables

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

If Samantha Barks is a name that’s new, that’s because Les Misérables is the first film for this Isle of Man native, who plays Éponine, the unlikely martyr who sings of unrequited love in one of the most well-known songs, “On My Own.” Barks, 22, got her start at 17 years old, on the U.K. reality show, I’d Do Anything, where singers auditioned for a revival of the musical Oliver!. Fortuitously, one of the judges was Cameron Mackintosh, the original producer of Les Mis, who’d go on to coproduce the film.

AWARDSLINE: You’re the only member of the starring cast to have also played your role on stage. How did this all come about for you?

SAMANTHA BARKS: After I’d Do Anything, I was lucky to get some fantastic (stage) jobs, the first one being Sally Bowles in Cabaret. A few years later, I got a call that Cameron would like to see me for Éponine. As a musical-theater girl, who’d sing a one-woman show of Les Mis in front of my mirror, just to get to audition was exciting! And then, on my opening night of Les Mis (in the West End), Cameron announced that he’d selected me to sing as Éponine at the 25th anniversary at The 02. After (a year in Les Mis), I ended up playing Nancy in Oliver!, which is where it all began, and it was there that Cameron announced on stage, during curtain call, that I would be playing Éponine in the film. I’d been auditioning for about 15 weeks on the buildup to that, but it was the most unique way in the world you could find out you’ve got a role.

AWARDSLINE: Fifteen weeks seems like a long audition….

BARKS: It was a very exciting process actually, to be able to work with Tom Hooper. At first, it was trying out different ways of doing the songs, because I knew the role from a theatrical sense, but it was to see if I could translate it into the film world. I learned a lot just from those auditions. Then I started going in with Eddie Redmayne (who plays Marius) and Amanda Seyfried (who plays Cosette), and that was mind-blowing, wondering what they were going to be like, because I’d never really met people like that. But they were so nervous, that’s what struck me. Amanda was nervous, and I was like, “But you’re a big movie star.” But this was a world that was new to all of us—none of us have ever sang live on film. We were all there to support each other.

AWARDSLINE: What was the most challenging part of taking this role from stage to film?

BARKS: The biggest challenge was that it’s never been done like this before, so there was no right way to do it. We sang with these earpieces in—so when the audience is hearing this orchestrated version of “On My Own,” all I heard is a little, tinny piano in one ear. The piano is on set and following you, but you’re setting the tempos, and you had to picture how to create this. It was scary—but also a great leveler. You’ve got Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, and they’ve done so many films, but no one’s ever done this. And I’ve done many a theater show, but I’ve never done this. We all had something to learn off each other. But we sang each song through with each take, which is rare in film because it’s usually 10 seconds here, 10 seconds there, but what was nice is that you were really able to build in the way that you would be able to on stage. It had such an organic feeling of theater, and that’s why I think people are reacting to it the way they’ve reacted to it on stage, because what you’re getting is a throughline that is true and real.

AWARDSLINE: Did you do any special vocal training for the film?

BARKS: I’m used to singing the material day in, day out, but the difference in bringing it on to screen is that your intimate moments can be so much more intimate. You can talk in a whisper, whereas a stage whisper still has to be so exaggerated. The quieter you go, the more vocal control it takes, but it then allows you to have those payoffs, those bigger moments, it allows you to go on that journey. On stage, even when you’re dying, you’ve got to project, everyone’s got to hear your words crystal clear. But on film, you’re watching a young girl dying in the arms of the man she loves, and you’re right there with them.

AWARDSLINE: You sing more than one song in the rain. How do you maintain your voice live?

BARKS: I think we did about 15 takes of “On My Own.” There was a rain machine with freezing cold rain over my head. When you do a musical, eight shows a week for a year, you have to maintain a stamina and be so disciplined. It’s like being an athlete. Your voice is a muscle, so you have to make sure your diet is good—you can’t have anything that will make you, well, phlegmy. So no dairy before you sing, nothing spicy. You drink so much water, you steam. You’ve really got to look after yourself. We did vocal warmups all day long. Being in a (stage) show, you have to be warm for about three hours a day, but for this, you’d have to be warm and have your vocal pickup at five in the morning, even though you were still singing at 10 the last night. All day, every day, you have to be in your most perfect vocal condition, because that take of “On My Own” might be the one that is shown in cinemas all around the world. Yes, you’re in soaking rain and you’re crying and your nose is drippy and you’ve got so much to contend with—that was the big challenge. Hugh Jackman had waves crashing over him! It’s because of that that you can watch it, and it makes you even more proud because you know what you had to put yourself through to get this. All the things we did for our characters all seem worth it now.

Q&A: Eddie Redmayne on Les Misérables

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

From the first time Brit Eddie Redmayne saw the musical Les Misérables at 9 years old, he knew he wanted to be a part of it—only his sights were set on the role of the young street kid, Gavroche. Little did Redmayne know he’d grow up to be the leading love interest and French rebel, Marius Pontmercy. Although he’s a relative newcomer to musicals, Redmayne has an impressive lineup of stage, film, and TV credits both in the U.S. and England, including his lead role in last year’s My Week With Marilyn, and a 2010 supporting actor Tony for Red. But it’s his role in the highly-anticipated Les Mis that has critics buzzing about Oscar—not bad for someone who casually says he’s always enjoyed singing.

AWARDSLINE: You’d worked with director Tom Hooper before?

EDDIE REDMAYNE: I first met Tom on an audition for the HBO miniseries Elizabeth I (which Hooper directed), and he asked, “Eddie, have you ever ridden a horse?” To which I said, “Yes.” Cut to two weeks later, Helen Mirren is playing Elizabeth and there are 47 stunt horsemen behind me and I have spurs attached to my feet, and I’m like, “At what point do I admit having never ridden a horse in my life?” They call action, and I almost kill myself! Tom shouts, “You’re a bloody liar, Redmayne!” And it’s taken about seven years for him to consider employing me again. There are moments in (Les Mis) where I’m on a horse, and that’s basically Tom getting me back!

AWARDSLINE: What was the audition process like for Les Mis?

REDMAYNE: I’d heard (Les Mis) was happening, and I was filming (2011’s Hick), playing this Texan, meth-addict cowboy with a limp, and we were doing a night shoot. So I was in a Winnebago in the middle of nowhere and had a couple of hours, so I recorded myself a capella on my iPhone and sent it to my agents to let them know that I also sing because I didn’t think they were particularly aware of that. From then, it became what I can only describe as American Idol. The last audition was with (among others) Tom Hooper, Cameron Mackintosh (the original Les Mis producer), Alain Boublil (original lyricist), Claude-Michel Schönberg (original composer). Everyone went through that—Hugh (Jackman), Russell (Crowe), Amanda (Seyfried); it meant that when we arrived on set, we were bound by the fact that we’d all really worked hard to get the part. No one had just coasted in.

AWARDSLINE: How did you prepare for this role?

REDMAYNE: I’ve always loved singing. What’s so wonderful about our job is that once I got that part, I got to work with this extraordinary singing teacher in London, Mark Meylan, who put me into a full-on, physical vocal workout for the next few months to get myself to a place where I could sing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” back to back 20 to 30 times.

AWARDSLINE: You’d sing the entire song for each take?

REDMAYNE: Yes, but I was very lucky because “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was just me in a room. It was a closed set. It was very quiet. It’s exactly the way I like to work on something so emotional, and this song is about extraordinary survivor’s guilt. I would ask Tom to keep the camera rolling, so we would do a take then go straight into another. We did about seven takes, and Tom said, “I think we got it,” but I was like, “No, no, no, we have to keep doing this until there’s blood coming out of my eyeballs.” I’m never particularly happy with my work when I see it, and I just knew that if I’d given it every ounce I had then I couldn’t flagellate myself too much later. So I ended up doing about 25 takes, and interestingly, Tom said the take he used was the last one.

AWARDSLINE: Is it true that, technically, you weren’t the only Marius on set?

REDMAYNE: A lot of the (men playing students in the barricade) had been in the London production of Les Mis, and you know they’ve witnessed the musical sung so many times, so there was an apprehension about that, and after a few days I’d realized that seven of them had played Marius. Obviously, that made me mildly terrified, but they were incredibly generous, and it was wonderful to be able to talk with them about how they interpreted things or about moments I was struggling with. It became a dialogue, and you felt a camaraderie.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve had a lot of stage and film experience, was this different than anything you’ve done before?

REDMAYNE: It felt like the accumulation of all of that, like I had to use all I’ve learned and try to accrue it into one specific scenario. And the idea you had to train your voice to sing loudly, but then there was the intimacy of a close-up—you could give it that belt, but you didn’t want the camera to be looking down your tonsils. Also, I learned how you could draw an audience in with stillness, and I realized there are parts of songs that could be stronger if done sort of half-spoken. What’s amazing is that it felt new to everyone. Hugh was obviously the extraordinary protagonist, but it felt more like an ensemble than anything I’ve ever done because we were all asking each other for advice and all helping each other. The musical is about riot and war, and it’s starring Wolverine and Gladiator, and yet we’re all walking around (doing odd-sounding vocal warmups and facial exercises). The poor production teams had to get lifetime supplies of honey and lemon and humidifiers.

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.