Les Miserables - trailer
Les Misérables is an adaptation of the successful stage musical based on Victor Hugo's classic novel set in 19th-century France, in which a paroled prisoner named Jean Valjean seeks redemption. Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.PT2M32S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2bbrg 620 349 December 13, 2012
HUGH Jackman recalls the first time he sung live on the set of Les Miserables - and it was anywhere but the comfortable Pinewood Studios soundstage in London where he's sitting today.
"We started in the French Alps and when they scouted the location, it was covered in snow and looked perfect," Jackman reminisces. The 44-year-old Australian actor is sipping hot water with lemon, a necessity to protect his voice during the gruelling 12-week shoot and he's dressed in period character with grey hair, flowing white peasant-style shirt under a black vest and wearing a straw hat.
"But when we returned to shoot, there was no snow," he adds, "so everybody had to carry their gear all the way up the mountain and the beauty of it was there was literally no acting required because you can see the steam and hear the cold in my voice as I'm singing!"
Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Photo: AP
Based on Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel, Les Miserables is set against the unjust and turbulent backdrop of 19th-century France and stars Jackman as former prisoner Jean Valjean, a man seeking redemption despite being hunted for decades by the ruthless and obsessive policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), an ailing factory worker forced into prostitution, he finds himself a protective father to Cosette (played as an adult by Amanda Seyfried) even as revolutionary tensions rise in Paris.
The musical stage version, with music written by French composer Claude-Michel Schoenberg and original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (subsequently adapted into English by Herbert Kretzmer), was produced by English theatrical impresario Cameron Mackintosh on London's West End in 1985, and has since been seen globally by more than 60 million people.
On the movie's set, the actors are wearing earpieces and a live pianist is playing into their ears. Only the voices are recorded and later they will be scored with a 70-piece orchestra. Oscar-winning English director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) looks enraptured as he listens to Jackman's voice through a headset.
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. Photo: AP
"From the very beginning I was obsessed by the idea of doing it live," the 40-year-old filmmaker acknowledges. "I did some early tests with Hugh Jackman singing three of his numbers live here at Pinewood and it was a thrilling discovery when we screened it to test audiences and saw there was no barrier between the audience and the performances."
Hooper's film is more like an opera than a musical: virtually every line is sung to the score, with what would be dialogue scenes playing as either dramatic duets or hushed ballads. The performances are impassioned, sometimes closer to silent film than contemporary cinema, and Hooper holds his stars in extended close-ups to wring every drop of emotion from a scene.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh says his own relationship with some of the cast goes way back. He cast Anne Hathaway's mother in the first national US tour of Les Miserables in 1989 as understudy for Fantine and he produced Hugh Jackman's West End musical debut, Oklahoma!.
Russell Crowe as Javert. Photo: AP
"I used to have an office 15 years ago in Sydney, because I had produced so many shows in Australia, so I had seen Russell do The Blues Brothers and Rocky Horror Picture Show," Mackintosh says of his connection to Crowe. "When we first chatted about this film, he reminded me, 'the first musical I had auditioned for was Miss Saigon and it was for you, you bastard, and you didn't give me the role!'"
Crowe had just seen the film days before talking to Fairfax and already had tweeted words of praise for Jackman's performance. "Wasn't he amazing?" Crowe says. "Hugh and I have been friends for quite a while but you never know what that's going to be like on a set. But being witness to Hugh's performance and his leadership and artistry, I was incredibly impressed."
Hathaway gets emotional when talking about her family connection to the role, for which she lost 11 kilograms. "I was seven when my mother understudied that role," she recalls, "and when I saw her play Fantine, all of a sudden the show resonated on a personal level."
Jackman doesn't want to hear Academy Award talk, unless it's intended for his director. "After seeing the film, I was struck by what was Tom Hooper thinking, two months after he won an Oscar?" he muses, believing the filmmaker chose a difficult project when he could have undertaken something safe in the wake of The King's Speech. "There were so many risks and things that could go horribly wrong but he pulls it off - and that makes it the Holy Grail."
Les Miserables opens on December 26.