Set against the backdrop of violent political unrest in 19th century France, Les Misérables, based on Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel, is an epic story of broken dreams and unrequited love.
And although there have been more than 30 film and television productions based on Hugo's novel, there has never been a film of Les Misérables, the musical until now.
Amanda Seyfried plays the grown up Cosette who, as a child, was adopted by Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, a former prisoner who has re-built his life with a different identity.
You've made a musical before, Mamma Mia!. How does it compare to working on Les Mis?
I have to say Mamma Mia! was a piece of cake compared to this. It was hard, but we pre-recorded all the music and I didn't have to sound perfect, and it wasn't classical in the way that Les Mis is classical. And classical is so much harder. I was singing pop music in Mamma Mia! and pop music is a dream compared to this. However, when you get it right, that classical sound, it feels different and it feels wonderful. I loved singing opera when I was young and this reminds me of that.
Did you work with a voice coach to prepare for Les Mis?
Yes, Claire Underwood. And she is one of the reasons that I got this movie. She has been so supportive and just a dream to work with. I've also been working with Liz Caplan who is based in New York. She listened to me sing all of the time and I'm sure it was frustrating for her at times but she never lets on, she was always so encouraging, saying things like, 'you are amazing!' She has this scientific knowledge and is so in tune with the body and how it works, she's like a scientist. Actually, she's more like a magician and I don't know where I would have been without her. She really helped me so much.
How many times have you seen Les Mis?
Twice. The second time was when we were rehearsing and I went to see the London show. But I could see it over and over again because it's one of those shows that you become addicted to. You get something different from it each time – there are different nuances, different feelings. And that's why we had to sing this live because it's not like an Abba song, something that could be pre-recorded, with this it's all about being in the moment and giving it a different feel with each take. Les Mis is such a great musical for actors. What was your reaction when you heard that you would be singing every take live?
I thought, 'God, this is going to be so hard..' But I knew why Tom wanted to do it that way because the performance on the day comes through, the vulnerability of your voice comes through and that's all part of it. Obviously you don't want the vocals to be flat or sharp but we have so much freedom with it and it's all about acting, too, rather than just miming to a pre-record.
You loved the role of Eponine when you were a child. But you're playing Cosette…
Yes, I auditioned for Cosette. I can't sing Eponine, I wish I could but I can't. And for my audition I worked on Rue Plumet and A Heart Full of Love and I won't lie because I felt that first tape was weak. I think they said that I was having trouble in that register and I was. And I respected the way that they cast this film – they are very serious about it and so they should be. They saw everybody and that's the fairest way to do it. And I was like, 'OK, I'll try harder..' And I kept working. And I love a fight (laughs). I really do. And being in this is my absolute dream and I can't imagine anything else that I want to do more than this. And I think all of us feel the same way – all of us are Les Mis nerds! (laughs). So I kept doing my lessons and working really hard. And later I met Tom in Los Angeles and Tom explained to me that it was about the acting, the soul and the flavour of the piece and he saw something in me that he believed in, thankfully.
How did you find out that you had the role?
I was at home and I missed a call from Tom. It was near Christmas and I was like, 'why is Tom Hooper calling me? What's going on?' And I called him back and he said, 'my Christmas present to you is that you've got the job..' I was absolutely thrilled, as you can imagine. It really was the best Christmas present ever. And I don't take it lightly. It's an honour to be in this film.
Tell me about Cosette…
Cosette is the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean, played by the lovely Hugh Jackman, our hero. He plucked her from this terrible, terrible situation. Cosette is an orphan and her mother, Fantine died when she was tiny. Valjean knew Fantine and he finds her in this awful situation and he adopts her and brings her up as his own child. I play Cosette when she is older and Valjean is still very protective of her. She doesn't really have any friends but they have an amazing relationship and it's quite a complicated dynamic because she's a bit like his mother, his sister, his wife and his child but it works, they love each other. But she's had this kind of secluded life and then she's out one day coming back from church and that's when her journey really starts because she meets Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, and she falls in love. It's the beginnings of romantic love and it's confusing because she's never felt like that before. In our story, Cosette really represents hope and innocence and she's the source of light in Les Misérables. It's wonderful to play that but it also feels like a huge responsibility. You mentioned Hugh as Jean Valjean. What's it been like to work with him?
I think, with his wonderful outlook and attitude, he is the most gracious person I've ever met. And he's funny and he's normal and he knows his stuff. He really is the nicest person I have ever met. He's a great Aussie bloke and a lovely human being. I'd like Hugh Jackman for president, please (laughs). Oh, and did I say he's the most talented actor? Because I should have. He is so right for this role and he has the most incredible voice.
You have a lot of scenes with Eddie Redmayne…
I'd always known Eddie was good because I've seen his films but what I didn't know is what an incredible voice he has. He is just great. He's got the chops. And he is so right as Marius because there's an innocence about him. And it's a lot of fun doing scenes with Eddie and singing together. And I must say, Sam (Barks) has got the most incredible voice. She had to really fight to get the role of Eponine, which she played in the London stage show. And they were so right to give her the part in the film. She has the most amazing voice. As does Annie. Oh my God, her voice just makes me melt. It's like butter. And Anne does play your mother of course. That's a little odd…
(laughs) It's weird because Anne is only two or three years older than me. But of course, we are in different parts of the film. I'm Fantine's grown up daughter. But it's definitely interesting that Anne Hathaway is playing my mother! (laughs).
Tom Hooper hasn't directed a musical before. Were you surprised when you heard that he was directing Les Misérables?
Yes I was. But when I had my first audition with him I was like, 'I get what he's doing..' He's so aware of the music but the acting is the key element and he doesn't lose sight of that. This is an epic film and he absolutely knows what he wants and he is in control of it for every second. He's the most amazing director.
"Les Miserables" Now Showing Nationwide released and distributed by United International Pictures through Solar Entertainment Corp.
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