Hugh Jackman Interview For ‘Les Misérables’
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, ‘Les Misérables’ tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
‘Les Misérables’ is the motion-picture adaptation of the beloved global stage sensation – itself an interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel - seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages around the globe and still breaking box-office records everywhere in its 27th year. Helmed by Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), the film also stars Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Samantha Barks as Eponine, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Sacha Baron Cohen as Monsieur Thenardierto, and Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier. ‘Les Misérables’ arrives in cinemas from December 25th in the US and January 11th in the UK.
For me, Jean Valjean is very much an archetypal redemptive hero. How do you yourself look at your character? He’s a man who goes through a huge amount of conflict in this story?
Hugh Jackman: Jean Valjean is one of those, he’s a very humble man who constantly feels like he’s falling short. And here, the journey of his life, the journey of this story is actually about acceptance of himself, acceptance of the world that he’s in. And also finding love. Everyone in this musical is fighting a battle. Sometimes that’s within themselves, sometimes that’s in their life, with their circumstances. But there’s difficulties for everybody. And for me, in all the things I’ve done, I’ve never had a role that required more of me in a concentrated period. It requires everything I’ve done. All of the things I’ve done leading up to this, whether it’s the stage work or the film work, it all came together for this role and for this movie. It was the most demanding thing I’ve ever done, physically, emotionally, vocally – but it’s also probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
And with Jean Valjean, we live in a world where there’s a lot of movies about superheroes – I play one of them (laughs), but to me Jean Valjean as a character is a real hero. He’s about as good a man as I can imagine. Playing him is daunting because he’s certainly been lower, he’s had more obstacles than I’ve ever had in my life by a mile, and he rises above them. Playing him, with his humility, his courage, and ultimately his love and service for those around him, I see him as a model.
What do you think it is about this story and these characters that gives it that enduring quality, something that’s so relatable for over a 100 years?
Hugh Jackman: It’s an epic tale and what Victor Hugo’s done so brilliantly is actually tell the story of the human condition. That it’s never easy, it’s never always happiness, it’s never always roses. It’s light and shade, it’s up and down. There’s always a question of how do we get through, how do we elevate ourselves and be the best version of ourselves, you know? And it doesn’t always work, you see that in ‘Les Misérables,’ some people fail, and that’s why I think people relate to it. And it’s very much about the importance of love and family. Themes of love, hope, grace, redemption, justice….they’re timeless themes. And the book, the portrait of human nature is as good as I’ve ever read.
‘Les Misérables’ is set to the backdrop of revolution, of great societal change in 19th century France. How do you think that backdrop assists the story?
Hugh Jackman: All the stories that really resonate and become timeless, somehow they have a backdrop of something bigger. You have all these human stories, but it’s set amongst this world where we find France in tumult, under incredible change. It’s post French revolution but the ideas that we now know as normal with democracy haven’t fully taken hold. There’s a real battle on a societal level, not only on the individual level.
The aspect of singing live in this film, how does that add to the story emotionally for you? I can imagine that was a great challenge when shooting on long days?
Hugh Jackman: Oh yeah (laughs). To me, acting through song is instinctive. For it’s to transcend just the musical notes, it needs to come from thought and emotion. The idea of replicating something you did three months before in a music studio, it’s like handcuffs for an actor. It was fantastic and it was challenging – a shooting day can be 12 hours long, but we were taking very good care of. I thought it was masterstroke of Cameron Mackintosh (producer) and Tom Hooper to allow us to sing live.
The idea of singing live is daunting, but what it gives you is freedom. I can take a break, I can move on, I can speed up, I can slow it down – which means I just have to worry about acting it. Everything you sing is thought, it’s emotion first. So the song has to be so within you, within your bones, so that you never think you’re singing. If you’re thinking about singing then you’re not communicating just the thought. It has to feel real and it has to feel immediate, and with the way Tom Hooper has decided to capture it, I think it does. It’s like that old-fashioned Hollywood movie, that Hollywood find riskier and riskier to make. I feel so fortunate to be a part of it. I’d been waiting a long time to do a movie musical. Never did I dream this one would come at just the perfect time.
What was it like working with director Tom Hooper on ‘Les Misérables’?
Hugh Jackman: I think musicals are the Mount Everest of movie-making. I don’t think there’s anything more to difficult to pull off. I think by what Tom Hooper has done by taking it on, after winning an Oscar – you don’t have to take on a musical, you just won an Oscar (laughs)! But he’s pushed himself to go even further, and I applaud that. ‘Les Miserables’ really starts with Tom Hooper. It’s a directors medium, and the courage, the determination, the passion of the director….that’s what really sets the tone.
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