Tom Hooper 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. My other interviews for ‘Les Misérables’ can be found through the following links: Hugh Jackman #1, Hugh Jackman #2, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks (more to come).
What was it about this material that made you want to reinterpret it for film? Is there something you always look for in particular when you decide to tell a story?
Tom Hooper: I thought that there was an amazing opportunity to work in a very emotional way with this film, because of the way it combines this extraordinary story with the power and transcendence and pull of the music. I’m interested in telling stories where there’s strong emotional connections that pre-exist between the audience and the story I’m telling. One of the things that was so exciting about doing ‘The King’s Speech’ was the emotion it provoked in audiences around the world. It made me very much want to make my next film with a subject that would provoke even stronger emotions.
’Les Misérables,’ it’s a film that really works for every age. Kids may be obsessed with Gavroche; little girls may be obsessed with little Cosette; teenagers may be obsessed with Marius and the older Cosette and the Eponine story; then adults have plenty of entry points, you’ve got Russell and Hugh’s characters through a long stretch of their lives. It covers such a huge spectrum of life’s journey.
What most impressed you about your cast for ‘Les Miserables’? And I know having Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was incredibly important for you?
Tom Hooper: Very. The idea of singing live was a big requirement for me, the second big requirement of doing this film was Hugh Jackman existing (laughs). If Hugh Jackman didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have made this film. The mans command of acting through the medium of song was so extraordinary, I almost felt that as an actor he could access an emotional life in himself that was even more profound when he was singing than in conventional dialogue. He’s that Holy Grail; when he sings, you don’t want him to stop singing, you don’t want him to go into dialogue because he’s so completely comfortable and competent and happy in that place. I was incredibly impressed with how much effort and care went into the preparation from these actors, and how much they thought about how the medium should work. Also, how they instinctively understood the intimacy of singing on film as opposed to singing on a stage, and what that meant for their performances.
Like you said, singing live was a big thing for you on this film….
Tom Hooper: Yeah. There’s been a great tradition of experimenting with live singing within film, within musicals that otherwise use singing to playback. But because of the way creativity and technology has moved on, there was an opportunity to do something here genuinely groundbreaking, in the attempt to do the entire thing live. I wanted to take a risk and do something very different in a different genre. From the beginning, what excited me was the idea of doing it live. I don’t think I would have done it if it turned out not to be possible to direct the film live, because no matter how good the synchronisation is of actors singing to playback, an audience can tell that there’s something unreal about it. It doesn’t feel connected to what is occurring on the screen.
And while singing live stretches the actors and their vocal chords, they’ve all said to me how much it added to their performances emotionally. Plus, it gives you various takes and options….
Tom Hooper: Definitely. The problem when you’re singing to playback is that it denies the actor of being in the moment because they have to stick to the millisecond of a plan laid down months before. Whereas, when they sing live, an actor has the freedom to create the illusion that the character is acting in the moment, which has a profound effect on the power and the realism of the performance. There’s so much emotion in ‘Les Misérables,’ and I wanted the actors to have options which might be created by the performance – options which they would be unlikely to have in a recording studio months before.
How did the new song “Suddenly” come about? For me it really captures a huge moment for both Jean Valjean and Cosette….
Tom Hooper: When I read Victor Hugo’s novel, I felt the one thing missing from the musical was the acknowledgment of how central falling in love with little Cosette was to Jean Valjean, and what it was like to become a father in an unexpected way. There is a very inspiring line in the book where Jean Valjean meets little Cosette, it goes something like, “This was the second white apparition Jean Valjean had encountered. The bishop had taught him virtue. Cosette taught him the meaning of love.” The book made it very clear that these two epiphanies were the central transformative moments for him. I think the musical really captures the first epiphany, but not so much the second. So I took that wonderful paragraph from the book and asked Claude Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil to write me a song about what it’s like to fall in love with a child, to experience parental love out of nowhere. Out of that came “Suddenly”.
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