Les Misérables: The Madness behind the Method

What made LES MISÉRABLES the trail-blazing musical it has become?


After earning eight Oscar nominations, LES MISÉRABLES, adapted from the long-running stage-musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel, had a triumphant screening at the Berlinale Special. But despite the praise for Anne Hathaway, she told reporters at a press conference held yesterday that she still didn’t have confidence singing in public, even though she would love to do more musicals.

Hathaway and other stars of the film, Hugh Jackman and Eddie Redmayne, along with director Tom Hooper and producer Eric Fellner, spoke eloquently about the experimental nature of the musical, and on breaking conventions without ever being certain about their audiences’ reactions. In the sweepingly photographed film, integrating live-singing into the narrative acts as a wondrous substitute to spoken-dialogue, and for a musical that is as revolutionary as the revolution the film documents.

In terms of the meticulous efforts that went into bringing the epic to the screen, actor Hugh Jackman, who plays the part of Jean Valjean, said it was director Tom Hooper’s uncompromising overall vision that helped the entire ensemble sail through: “I think filmmaking is the most difficult thing to do, and the easiest to screw up. Tom did something spectacularly impossible. He redefined the idea of a musical mainly by incorporating live-singing. Before we started filming, he held nine week long rehearsals, again something unheard of, which hugely aided the entire cast in bringing to life their respective characters.”

Hooper, when asked what exactly made him choose live-singing over conventional methods, said: “When I told my actors that we were going to record the songs live, all our faces suddenly lit up. There is a certain amount of passion about singing live; it brings a sense of emotional immediacy and doesn’t reflect the artificiality that lip-synced songs inevitably bring out. So the intention wasn’t just to break rules, but to make the emotions look more real and heartfelt.”

Eddie Redmayne, who enacts the part of Marius Pontmercy, stressed the uniqueness of the entire experiment: “The most astounding thing about the project was the amalgamation of musical-theatre actors and film actors. Just to navigate that sort of untried territory was challenging and a novel experience altogether.”