If the box office was anything to go by, if you saw any movie on Christmas Day with your family/friends/ON YOUR OWWWWN, it was “Les Misérables,” Tom Hooper‘s blockbuster adaptation of the long-running musical stage adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s epic novel. Complete with an all-star cast of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham-Carter and Eddie Redmayne, the film might have gotten some mixed responses, but it was overwhelmingly the favorite choice of audiences on the 25th, and looks likely to be a major force when Oscar nominations are announced in a couple of weeks.
If you were one of those who’ve caught the film in the last few days, or if you’re eagerly waiting your own showtimes, we’ve collected together a few key bits of info that Hooper, his cast and producer Cameron Mackintosh revealed at the film’s recent press conference in New York. You can read what Anne Hathaway wrote about her gruelling performance here, and head on below for more.
1. The new song ‘Suddenly” was written at Tom Hooper’s request to make the story clearer, and was penned with Hugh Jackman in mind.
To some, the addition of new song “Suddenly” smacks of awards opportunism — squeezing in an extra tune, just as “Chicago” and “Dreamgirls” did, in order to have a chance at picking up a Best Original Song Oscar. But according to director Tom Hooper, the song came from the desire to fill a hole in the story. “What I learned from the book,” Hooper says, “is that Jean Valjean experiences two epiphanies – when he meets the bishop, where he learns virtue and compassion and faith and starts a new life, and then when he meets Cosette, he discovers love for the first time. Here’s this guy in his late middle age who’s never loved or been loved, and experiences parental love for a child and re-commits his life to this child. In the musical the first epiphany is super clear but the second epiphany is less clear. So I asked the original composers to come up with a song that’s about what that is like.”
Hence the creation of “Suddenly,” about which Jackman adds, “It also propels the second half of the movie. He doesn’t just look after Cosette – he’s terrified, he’s full of love and anxiety. He asked the guys to write a song and I think I’ll count it as one of the great honors of my life to have these two incredible composers write a song with my voice in mind. The first time I sang it I felt like I had been singing it my whole life.”
2. Hooper’s shooting style is to serve the power of the songs.
Another divisive aspect of “Les Misérables” is the way that Tom Hooper‘s distinctive shooting style from “The King’s Speech” — close-ups, often shot on wide-angle lenses that warp the image — has been amped up for his follow-up. Some adore it, some find it distracting and claustrophobic, but for Hooper, it wasn’t so much a way of carrying across that style as finding the best way to serve the songs.
“I thought a lot about how to shoot the songs, and I felt that the physical environment of the actor is not important to the song,” he says. “I thought the camera should be a meditation on the human face as the best way of bringing out the emotion and meaning of the song. I felt like there were two languages of epic – the obvious physical landscape of epics, but there was also the kind of epic of the human face and the epic of the human heart. And that way of shooting was a reaction to how good the actors are. With Annie [Hathaway] I shot it with three cameras, I did have some options up my sleeve, but she so brilliantly told the story in the narrative of the close ups, it was so complete a piece of work, that I felt the best way to honor these performances. The first moment of stillness was right before it launches into song. But I also felt it was a great way of serving the live singing experience because one thing you could never do to play back was a three minute shot.”
3. Seeing Anne Hathaway sing at the Oscars helped convince Hooper to do the film.
When he was about to win the Best Director Oscar, Tom Hooper had the offer to make “Les Misérables,” but was still deciding whether to take the gig or not. But it seems that Anne Hathaway‘s cunning rendition of a song from “Les Misérables” as part of her hosting duties that year helped to swing it.
“It was funny because I was sitting in the Oscars two years ago and I was in the difficult decision of whether or not to do ‘Les Mis’ and at one point Anne Hathaway sings to Hugh Jackman. [It was like] they’re brilliantly using the Oscars as their auditioning tool and that was the first time I got to see Annie sing live. She has this utter feeling of naturalness about her that puts you at ease. I wanted people who were so comfortable expressing themselves through song that they didn’t have to break into dialogue,” the director explained. “Jackman, I never saw ‘Man from Oz‘ [the musical Jackman did on Broadway] but I did see his one-man show, and he has since said to me that the reason he did his one-man show was to get himself vocally fit for ‘Les Mis’.” Even so, however, Hooper made sure to put them through their paces. “None of this I felt could allow them to sidestep the audition process. It was very exciting.”
4. “Les Misérables” almost came to the screen a few years back with “Bugsy Malone” and “Evita” director Alan Parker.
Given that it’s one of the most successful stage musical shows in history, it’s surprising that no one has made “Les Misérables” into a movie before now. But according to Cameron Mackintosh, producer of both the stage and screen versions, there were other attempts, most notably from a man who, thanks to “Fame,” “Bugsy Malone” and, later, “Evita,” knows a thing or two about screen musicals.
“Alan Parker was going to do it 25 years ago. It had just opened on Broadway and I said, ‘I’m not interested in selling the rights.’ And Alan did want to do it. Alan said to me, ‘If I do it, you’ve got to produce it.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about how to produce it.’ But I made a rule that it couldn’t be released within five years of the Broadway opening and then it went on forever,” Mackintosh said.
5. The cast credit Russell Crowe as the figure that helped bond them together.
One of the more surprising pieces of casting in the film was Russell Crowe, who unlike other actors such as Jackman and Amanda Seyfried, has no major stage or screen musical credits to his name (though he has fronted bands when not acting). But his castmates suggest that Crowe, who held karaoke nights for his co-stars during filming, was the vital missing piece of the puzzle. “The person who was the beginning of the glue is Russell,” Anne Hathaway said. “You cannot underestimate Russell’s contribution to this cast. [The bonding nights] were such a key part of the process. Up until that point we were in rehearsals but in between we hadn’t gotten to the point where we thought of song as a way of communicating with each other. Through those nights Russell let us approach it with a different perspective – this is the language that we speak, this is our shared experience. It made me so much more invested in the totality of the film. I wanted to know how these songs turned out. It cemented the bond between us. And now we say we’re Camp Les Mis.”
Newcomer Samantha Barks, who plays the key role of Eponine, adds “He was so passionate about music. It’s all about passion. There was something new to all of us. It made us all so comfortable with each other. We were sharing that bond. It was cool.”
– Reporting by Drew Taylor