When Samantha Barks sings “On My Own” in the new film Les Misérables, it will be hard for anyone to ask why this virtual unknown was chosen to play the key role.
Barks originally starred as Éponine in the London production, and was handpicked by producer Cameron Mackintosh to play the same role in the 25thanniversary concert of Les Misérables at the O2 arena after he saw her perform in her opening night in London.
Currently starring in the UK tour of Oliver!, she has been given a leave of absence for the film's press tour. On playing Éponine, she says that her connection to the classic figure is powerful: “I only have to hear the opening two bars of ‘On My Own,’ and it breaks my heart. I feel so close to Éponine. I’ve traveled so far with her. It makes me so proud to be playing her because she’s such a beautifully written character.”
Director Tom Hooper and Mackintosh’s fellow producers knew they had discovered a very special talent. Producer Eric Fellner talked about this newcomer did on the set: “Samantha is a wonderfully trained theatrical singer, and you could just sit on the stage and listen to her singing ‘On My Own’ all day.”
What’s even more impressive than her voice – or just as impressive – is Barks’ ability to sing the song in the rain. The filmmakers chose to use real rain crashing down on her face to film her star turning scene which could not have been easy. But Barks is not one to complain. She believes the rain adds to the film’s emotional realism:
I think for me when there's rain pouring on your face and you're crying and you're sniffly, you kind of have to leave a bit of vocal vanity at the door a bit, because first, you're thinking of the sound–is it sounding nice? Is it sounding right? But, I think that kind of realism in your voice adds to the emotion of the live singing. And especially in moments like ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ with me and Eddie, (Redmayne), it allows you to be so intimate. And we were crying, but kind of trying to add that to your voice. Because when you speak and you cry, you can hear it in someone's voice. And to be able to hear that when somebody's singing, I think that only adds to the emotion of it.
Barks’ emotions take you deep inside the film’s message and she’s full of thoughts about how the lyrics reflect her character:
It's like that theme of redemption and hope. And so, for a character like Éponine, who's never really experienced good people, when she meets somebody like Marius. He's a good man. And that kind of love actually redeemed her. In the end, she does do the right thing. Although her ending is tragic, she does do the right thing. So, I think love redeems her.
Barka looks to have a long career on stage and hopefully on film.
Les Misérables premieres nationwide on Christmas Day.
Holly Rosen Fink is a writer and marketer living in Westchester, NY.