Move over Santa, Jean Valjean is about to be Christmas Day's main man.
The film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Les Miserables hits movie theaters on December 25, with a star-studded cast led by Tony Award winner Hugh Jackman (The Boy From Oz) as ex-con-turned-hero Jean Valjean, Oscar winner Russell Crowe (Gladiator) as the relentless police inspector Javert, and Drama Desk and Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway (Twelfth Night) as the dying prostitute Fantine. The film— along with Jackman and Hathaway – has already garnered numerous awards and is considered a front-runner for this year's Academy Awards. TheaterMania spoke with Jackman and Hathway about their roles in the film, and the experience of adapting one of the most beloved musicals of all time.
"I don't think it can be understated -- we're all massive Les Miz Geeks," Hathaway told us. "We showed up on the first day with enormous gratitude that the responsibility of telling the story was entrusted to us."
In the 27 years since its London debut, the grand musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel about broken dreams, unrequited love, and parental sacrifice, has been seen by more than 60 million people, performed in 42 countries, and sung in 21 different languages. So it's no surprise that the film's leading actors were already devotees of the material.
Committing to the film, however, meant some serious physical changes for Hathaway and Jackman. To create the hollowed-out look of an authentic prisoner, the often Wolverine-muscular Jackman underwent a 30-pound weight loss. "The director, Tom Hooper, said he wanted to make me unrecognizable," Jackman recalled. "He said to me, ‘If people in your life don't think you're sick, then you haven't gone far enough.'"
Hathaway, who only appears in the film's first 30 minutes, not only lost 25 pounds in order to look emaciated, but had all of her hair cut off on-camera for one of the film's crucial scenes. "I thought doing it for real would raise the stakes for the character," Hathaway explained. "If it was a painful experience watching her hair get cut, then it would be even more painful to watch her life when she became a prostitute, and the audience would be feeling it along with her."
The actress, one of Hollywood's most popular young stars, admitted that it was a challenge to identify with the tragedy of her role. "There's no way I could relate to what my character was going through," Hathaway told us. "I've had a very successful and happy life, so…I did a lot of research about sexual slavery. Fantine is not someone who just lived in the past; She's living in New York City now. I thought, ‘This isn't me acting; It's me honoring this pain that still exists today.' "
In most movie musicals, the cast pre-records the songs in a studio. In Lez Miz, they performed them live on set. The cast had nine weeks of rehearsal before filming.
"I come from the theater where rehearsal is vital and a way of life, so I was grateful to the studio for giving us that," Jackman said. "By the time we got to the set it was not uncomfortable having the camera that close because everything had been tested."
The actor said he was thrilled to have been chosen to sing the only new song written for the movie: "Suddenly," which was written by the original composing team of Claude-Michelle Schönberg, Alain Boublil and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer.
"When Jean Valjean first meets Fantine's young daughter, Cosette, this 51-year-old man experiences love for the first time," Jackman said. "He's terrified and full of love and anxiety, like every parent. It's one of the most dramatic moments in the story and we didn't have a song for that. I think I'll count it as one of the great honors of my life to have these composers write a song with my voice in mind."