Behind The Scenes On Les Miserables

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

When producers Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan of Working Title Films became guardians of the longest-running musical in history, they knew they were dealing with precious—and risky—material. Les Misérables, after all, has played in more than 40 countries and has been seen by more than 60 million theatergoers. But Fellner and Bevan were well aware that musicals adapted for the screen are tough sells at the boxoffice.

Anne Hathaway is the doomed Fantine in Les Misérables.
Anne Hathaway is the doomed Fantine in Les Misérables.

Over the decades, there had been numerous failed attempts at a Les Mis film adaptation, with Oscar-nominated director Alan Parker (Fame) coming close in the 1980s (he went on to direct the film adaptation Evita in 1996). “No one could unlock the key of how to do it,” explains lyricist Alain Boublil, who cowrote Les Misérables the musical with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg. But it was a series of fortuitous events that caused Working Title to think now might be the right time to make a film work: On Britain’s Got Talent, Susan Boyle breathed new life into the Les Mis song “I Dreamed a Dream,” not only creating a chart-topping hit from the musical for the first time, but also sparking a resurgence at the theater boxoffice. Plus, the original producer and musical-theater legend Cameron Mackintosh was planning Les Mis’ 25th anniversary concert at London’s 02 Arena, casting Nick Jonas as Marius, which would broaden the appeal to a whole new generation. “The collision of these events reopened the possibility of, yes, we could do the film,” Mackintosh says.
The Hollywood Foreign Press and Screen Actors Guild wholeheartedly agreed that the gamble paid off, bestowing four Golden Globe nominations (including best comedy or musical, Hugh Jackman for best actor, Anne Hathaway for supporting actress, and best original song), and four SAG Award nominations (including the coveted ensemble award, Hugh Jackman for best actor, Anne Hathaway for supporting actress, and stunt ensemble).

The original composers of Les Misérables wrote a new original song, "Suddenly," for Hugh Jackman to perform in the film.
Jean Valjean reinvents himself as a businessman, but still is pursued relentlessly.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon of Les Mis began humbly in 1978 when Boublil and Schönberg, two pop-song writers living in France, decided to collaborate on a story based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 tome. “We were caught by the virus of musicals, and in France there were no musicals, so we invented how one should be,” explains Schönberg. “I wanted to write a proper operatic score with a big subject and not songs that were linked.” Their stage production wasn’t long-lived, but a concept album made its way to Mackintosh, who was then producing Cats, and who immediately recognized the potential. With English translation by James Fenton and completed by Herbert Kretzmer, Mackintosh premiered Les Mis on the London stage in 1985, where it’s continuously run ever since.
When Working Title Films (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Big Lebowski, Elizabeth: The Golden Age), which has a production deal with Universal, approached Mackintosh, everyone hoped this collaboration would stick. Working Title agreed that the original team of Schönberg, Boublil, and Kretzmer would remain intact, but screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) was brought in to do an adaptation.
It was Nicholson who happened to mention the topic to director Tom Hooper while they were working together on another project, and Hooper rallied for a meeting with Mackintosh. Hooper at the helm didn’t seem the most logical choice—The King’s Speech hadn’t yet been released, and Hooper admits lacking musical credits. “I had not even directed a pop video,” he says. Although, he maintains he did have some musical experience. “At 10 years old, I was cast in two musicals, and through that, I discovered a love of musicals. I also learned I wasn’t a good actor, so I was glad to get that out of way.”
Just as Hooper had no musical experience, Mackintosh had no film experience, but they soon discovered they were on the same page. “When Tom and I first met, he spoke passionately about how he would do a film, and he felt it should be recorded live,” says Mackintosh. “I felt passionately about that, too. This was the clincher because Tom wanted to take what was a big leap in the dark.” In his musicals, Mackintosh had a penchant for bringing in directors with limited musical experience, such as Sam Mendes and Trevor Nunn. Moreover, Hooper had directed the HBO miniseries John Adams, which Mackintosh had admired for its large scale and gritty realism. “I’d been looking for directors over the years, and Tom came to me with a point of view, and I thought, This is the man to do it.” Working Title agreed and didn’t bother showing the script to any other director.

"Suddenly" was written specifically for the big-screen adaptation of Les Misérables.
“Suddenly” was written specifically for the big-screen adaptation of Les Misérables.

Over a year passed since the first meeting, and by this time, Hooper had won the Oscar for The King’s Speech. “I felt mightily relieved when Tom still wanted to do Les Misérables,” says Mackintosh. “We all met in New York, and Tom saw the chemistry between Alain, Claude-Michel, and myself—we go back 30 years.” This meeting inspired Hooper to pull the dialogue from the film, even though Nicholson’s adaptation had moved him to tears, and instead, do a complete version of the musical.
“Everyone was quite excited to go the braver route of honoring the way the musical was created,” says Hooper. “Musicals are a great game of consequence, of cause and effect, and so much would have to be thrown away to do it in a split form—you might risk losing the very thing that made it a success.”
Hooper put the original team to work modifying the score and composing a new song, “Suddenly.” “I don’t think Claude-Michel and Alain expected to be so involved,” says Hooper. “It was so exciting to realize I was literally re-creating the conditions under which the original creators are reunited. Fans would see that any changes had been done with the original creators’ input.”
The entire team was involved in all casting decisions as well, which included rigorous auditions for every actor. “Almost everyone cast was from the theater,” explains Mackintosh. “I had seen Sacha (Baron Cohen) and Helena (Bonham Carter) in Sweeney Todd, Hugh (Jackman) and I did Oklahoma!, and Russell (Crowe) I knew from when he left grammar school, and I saw him in musicals in Australia. I’d known Anne (Hathaway) personally for many years, and knew she was born into Les Mis [Ed. note: Her mother had performed the role of Fantine]. What Tom needed were people who were so comfortable in singing that they could reinterpret the songs with acting. This wouldn’t have worked with just straight actors.”

A sketch of the factory where Fantine (Anne Hathaway) works for Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in Les Misérables.
A sketch of the factory where Fantine (Anne Hathaway) works for Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in Les Misérables.

For Mackintosh, the most challenging aspect was finding the balance between heightened drama, while still preserving authenticity. “It needed to seem real but with an element of style,” he says. “The style had to be similar to that of the musical, where we’re gliding in and out of spoken word and singing so seamlessly that you don’t realize they’re singing most of the time. Cinema is a medium of realism, and we had to find our brand of realism.” At one point, it was suggested to do the film in 3D, but Mackintosh vetoed that. “I felt it was already in 3D—we didn’t have to impose it.”
The live singing posed significant technical challenges, and each department had to work carefully together, creating, for example, costumes that didn’t rustle and floorboards that didn’t make any sound. “Nobody had done this before,” explains Schönberg, “and each department had to have the best people to make it work: The best musicians, the best conductor, to put music on the voices, it must be perfectly in sync.”
After several weeks of rehearsals, the 12-week shoot commenced, filming in historical locations throughout France and England and at Pinewood Studios outside of London.
The entire cast went through the ringer—almost literally in some scenes, with water from the cold Portsmouth channel pouring in over them. “The actors I chose were the kind who come unbelievably prepared,” says Hooper. “By the time we got to the shoot, they had already done more than I’d asked them to. They were conscientious, incredibly sensible, and lived like monks, or at least like opera singers. I promise you, it’s not anywhere near easy what they’ve done.”
The cast also benefitted by having the original team on set. “It was such a treat for us because Alain and Claude-Michel were there every day,” says Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius, “and you got to ask them where something came from, or, if you did a reinterpretation of something, ‘Do you think that holds?’ ” Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Valjean both in London and on Broadway, had a cameo playing the kindly bishop, and many of the smaller roles went to actors from various companies of the musical.
“It was an amazing amalgam of brilliant people I was exposed to on Tom’s team, and my rehearsal team from the theater was there, and we worked in tandem,” says Mackintosh, who had joint final cut with Hooper and Fellner on the $61 million film. “It was a collaboration and couldn’t have been any other way. It was the best way.”

Live Singing Challenged Les Mis Production Designers

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

It’s not likely that any of the 60 million theatergoers who saw the musical Les Misérables would have thought the stage production limiting, but they weren’t charged with taking the longest-running musical, set in 1800s France, and blowing it out to larger-than-life size. In what was described by Working Title producers as a “deceptively difficult” adaptation, director Tom Hooper assembled a team that included his longtime production designer Eve Stewart and veteran costume designer Paco Delgado to create a factually accurate world, sprinkled with the magic and fantasy of the beloved musical.

Fantine was dressed in pink to contrast the other factory workers in drab blue.
Fantine was dressed in pink to contrast the other factory workers in drab blue.

But what no one on the team knew going in was that all singing (and the film is 99% singing) would be shot live. This posed interesting challenges for determining locations, given sound considerations and the desire to use very little CGI. “But,” says Stewart, who was nominated for an Oscar for Hooper’s The King’s Speech, as well as 1999’s Topsy-Turvy, “new ideas are usually the best ones,” so the constraints didn’t narrow her scope as she scouted locations for 20 weeks. She eventually settled on a pristine mountain range in the south of France; the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in England (where the HMS Victory is moored); an 18th-century rope factory in Kent (the timbers of which were so old that the crew was barred from lighting candles, so imitation flickering lights had to be used); the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich; the River Avon in Bath; as well as a set crafted at Pinewood Studios in London. In each location, Stewart’s crew had to eliminate squeaky floorboards and door hinges, and horses had to be fitted with rubberized hooves. The only location Stewart didn’t have to adapt was Boughton House in Northamptonshire, which dates back to the 17th century and is dubbed the “English Versailles,” where the wedding scene was filmed.

As their inspiration, both Stewart and Delgado went “by the book”—as in, Victor Hugo’s 1862 tome, Les Misérables. “The novel is a recording of how people lived,” Delgado says, “what they ate, what kind of china they ate the food on, what kind of clothes they wore, what color the clothes were.” Both he and Stewart scoured flea markets and secondhand stores in France and Spain to purchase authentic clothing and furnishings.

While both studied the artwork of the period—Stewart cites the French artist Gustave Doré, while Delgado drew from Delcroix, Goya, and Ingres—the goal was far from creating a rose-colored world. “Tom has an amazing level of detail, and he wanted to show the levels of poverty and degradation in Paris at that time,” Delgado explains.

Cold water and an epic scale made shooting the shipyard scene difficult.
Cold water and an epic scale made shooting the shipyard scene difficult.

For the set, Stewart incorporated elements of a shipyard, bringing in nine tons of seaweed along with sacks of mackerel and hake that arrived straight from the wharf at 2 a.m. every day so that even the smell was authentic. “Everything with Tom is factual realism,” Stewart says, “and then, after that’s established, we can amplify and tweak upward.”

While the team tried to use as many authentic pieces and landmarks as possible, Stewart spent nearly a month re-creating the 40-foot-tall Elephant of the Bastille (Napoleon’s monument that no longer stands but was immortalized in Hugo’s book), carved from polystyrene.

Because a portion of the team came from a theater background, the set was initially outlined by building theatrical models, which is not commonly done on film. “You never know where Tom is going to film,” Stewart says, “so the buildings had to be (functional) with 360-degree stairs so the cast could run around.” Stewart also took care to craft the buildings with crooked, warped lines, evoking the age and an element of destruction.

Delgado—who had previously worked with Tom Hooper on a Captain Morgan TV ad, and was the costume designer for the Oscar-nominated Biutiful and Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education and The Skin I Live In—had to “mar” his designs, creating 1,500 new costumes (out of a total of more than 2,000), which he then set about destroying with mud, grease, and blowtorches. “Paris was so poverty-stricken at that time,” Delgado explains, “and there was an amazing secondhand market where clothes were sold and resold and resold again until they were rags. It shocked me to learn that most poor people didn’t have any shoes.”

Delgado also wanted to tap into what he calls “the psychological atmosphere” of the time. “This is about the history of France, but also about the history of the Western world, and it was a big responsibility to create this world, but I also had to remember I was doing a musical with drama, and I needed to have color and fantasy.” One of the most poignant examples was the factory scene, where Delgado dressed Fantine (Anne Hathaway) in pink to contrast against all the other workers in drab blue. “In the book, Fantine is coquettish and beautiful and had some views of the petty-minded society, so I wanted this dress to belong to her lost past. It was all embroidered and had a level of craftsmanship that would make Fantine appear as an outsider among the rest of the women.”

Hooper and Delgado discussed a leitmotif, so Delgado evoked the colors of the French flag throughout, using blue costumes in the early factory scene, then red for the revolution, and then moving to white for the wedding and nunnery scenes. Delgado also altered the clothes to reflect the characters’ states, airbrushing shadows onto Fantine’s dress to enhance her wasted frame as she grew close to death, and then moving to the opposite extreme of padding Jean Valjean’s (Hugh Jackman) suits as his wealth and standing grew.

“This is our job,” says Delgado, “to try to interpret personalities and characters.”

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.

Past Oscar Winners Vie For Director Noms

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

If you are getting a sense of déjà vu from this year’s director race, you aren’t far off. Several past Oscar winners in the category are back competing for another go at the gold. Even one of the frontrunner-newcomers, Argo’s Ben Affleck,is a past winner in the original screenplay category (Good Will Hunting),as is two-time directing nominee Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) going for a third try with Django Unchained. Two of the best director winners in the past three years, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and Tom Hooper (The

Director Tom Hooper, left, and Hugh Jackman on the set of Les Misérables.
Director Tom Hooper, left, and Hugh Jackman on the set of Les Misérables.

King’s Speech), are already back in the thick of the race trying for a matching Oscar for their followup film, a rare feat if either one can pull it off. Then there are the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis, and Sam Mendes—all past winners attempting to make room for another Oscar on their mantel. Some prominent past nominees are also back trying for a first win including Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, and Gus Van Sant. And could this be the year Christopher Nolan finally gets some love from his peers in the small Academy directing branch with his final Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises? Here’s a rundown of the top contenders for best director.


Early in his career, Affleck took home an Oscar with cowriter and star Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting in the original screenplay category. But after an up-and-down career as a leading man, he found new respect behind the camera with his first two directorial efforts—Gone Baby Gone and The Town—winning critical acclaim and comparisions to Clint Eastwood. With Argo, in which he also plays the lead role, he has cemented his reputation as a directing force and has been a frontrunner in the category since the film’s debut at the Telluride Film Festival. But can he keep up the momentum all the way to February?

Director Steven Spielberg, left, and producer Kathleen Kennedy on the set of Lincoln.
Director Steven Spielberg, left, and producer Kathleen Kennedy on the set of Lincoln.


A two-time winner (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) and six-time nominee in this category, Spielberg has an Oscar track record that seems almost modest considering his remarkable career. Many think he is still deserving of more. His long-gestating and critically acclaimed Lincoln, a film that almost didn’t happen and one he told me recently he felt “might not have been in the stars for me,” has come triumphantly to the screen and made him another formidable contender for the big prize.


Although he already had an Emmy win for Elizabeth I and another nomination for John Adams, British director Hooper was not well-known outside of England when it came to feature films. After a little success with The Damned United, he hit paydirt and won the director Oscar on his first nomination for The King’s Speech just two years ago. With numerous projects to choose from, he has now followed it up with the movie version of the smash musical Les Misérables and instantly stakes a claim for another nomination and possible second win in just two years. But will voters think it is too much, too fast?

Director Ang Lee tackled both 3D and digital effects for the first time in his career with Life of Pi.
Director Ang Lee tackled both 3D and digital effects for the first time in his career with Life of Pi.


A previous winner in this category for Brokeback Mountain (2005),Lee has another statuette for his foreign-language film winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The virtually unfilmable bestselling book Life of Pi took its toll on a number of directors who attempted to bring it to screen until Lee finally cracked a way to do it and moved the art and science of film one step forward with his dazzling visuals. Fellow directors seem to be awestruck by what he has accomplished, and that should assure him yet another nomination if the movie gods are smiling on him this season.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, right, and Jennifer Ehle on the set of Zero Dark Thirty.
Director Kathryn Bigelow, right, and Jennifer Ehle on the set of Zero Dark Thirty.


Just three years after becoming the first woman ever to win the best director Oscar for her Iraq war film, The Hurt Locker, Bigelow, an action-movie veteran, proved she still had the stuff to make provocative, controversial cinema with this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal started working on the film when bin Laden was still alive and eluding capture, reversing course and turning it into a look at how the world’s number-one fugitive was captured when the news broke. It’s a towering achievement, but considering it took 80 years for Bigelow to become the first woman to win the director Oscar, could it only take three for her to become the second?

Director David O. Russell, center, with stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of Silver Linings Playbook,
Director David O. Russell, center, with stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of Silver Linings Playbook,


A director who always seems more comfortable working in the indie world, David O. Russell encountered some tough times in recent years before finding The Fighter and scoring a knockout punch that landed him in this category for the first time in 2010. Now, just two years later, he is in a strong position to go for the win with this quirky, touching comedy-drama that was the sensation of the Toronto Film Festival and winner of the audience award over Argo. But against epic competition, can Russell be driving the little engine that could or is the Oscar just not in his own playbook this time around?


After 12 years of trying to convince the industry that motion-capture animation was the future, Zemeckis, a past winner for Forrest Gump (1994), returned to his roots and delivers a winning human drama about a pilot battling his own demons even as he accomplished a heroic act in crash-landing a plane and saving most of the passengers. Deferring his own salary and bringing this ambitious adult drama in for just $30 million, Zemeckis could find himself back in the race.


Although Haneke is likely to be a frontrunner in the foreign-language race for his Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, the film itself is eliciting such powerful response that he could also find himself with nominations for his original screenplay and directing. Certainly nominations for directors of foreign-language films are not unprecedented, and Haneke could be the latest if the film’s subject matter about the problems of an aging couple isn’t just too hard for voters to watch.


In only his second film, this Spanish director skillfully navigates the big-scale effects of re-creating the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami along with the powerful human drama of a family separated by tragedy and trying to survive in almost unthinkable circumstances. It’s an impressive balancing act, marking the arrival of a major new talent. But will this smaller release get swamped by higher-profile titles?


Although opinion on the film is wildly mixed, with filmgoers in and out of the industry either loving it or hating it, this is a category where the ambitious film, shot in 65mm at a time when no one is using the classic format, could impress Anderson’s colleagues for sheer audacity and filmmaking skill alone. And with only a single previous nomination in this category (2007’s There Will Be Blood) Anderson seems underappreciated.


Tarantino is a directorial maverick who always seems to deliver the goods, but will the ultraviolent western throwback just be too much of a good thing at nearly three hours? Early word is he knocks it out of the park again.


The Academy honored Jackson for his triumphant Lord of the Rings trilogy with Return of the King in 2003, so it’s unlikely they will go there again so soon, and especially for what is the first of another three films.


The Aurora tragedy seemed to unfairly taint this film’s awards chances from the beginning, and the directors’ branch has never embraced the great Nolan, so should we expect them to start now?


This Cannes Film Festival opener became Anderson’s second biggest hit and an indie breakout, but Oscar recognition seems more likely for Anderson in original screenplay.


This Oscar winner (American Beauty)is the most important director ever to take on the 50-year-old James Bond franchise, and the critics and audiences loved it. It’s the most successful and acclaimed Bond film of all and long overdue for a win, but Oscar voters just don’t seem to get it, do they?


Using a bold theatrical framing device, Wright took a big chance in making this Leo Tolstoy classic seem fresh again, but opinion on whether he succeeded was divided and likely will hurt his chances to gain his first director nomination.


The darling of the Sundance Film Festival, this daringly original indie sensation has plenty of admirers, but competition is just as fierce as those beasts.


Directors love Van Sant, who has been nominated twice before (Good Will Hunting, Milk), but his film is the last to be released in 2012 and might not be seen widely enough to break through.


Can a two-time Oscar-winning actor break through as a director with a behind-the-camera debut at the young age of 75? The film is right up Oscar’s alley, but unlikely to be a contender here even though Hoffman did a terrific job.


The great Hitchcock himself had trouble in this category and never won despite five nominations—including a final one for Psycho, the subject of this film within a film—so wouldn’t it be ironic if Gervasi were able to pull off a win? Despite Gervasi doing a fine job in his narrative directorial debut, don’t count on it.

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.