*It was two years ago when The Film Strip first met director Tom Hooper and basically asked him the same question when referring to his current film, “Les Miserables.”
Hooper was asked back then how did he know a period piece such as “The King’s Speech” would be such a success. With “Les Miserables” Hooper once again takes a road less traveled. At the press conference for “Les Miserables,” I asked Hooper if there were once again naysayers when he decided to film “Les Miserables?”
“I certainly had a lot of people kind of go, ‘You do understand that the movie musical is something you can fall flat on your face doing,’” Hooper laughed. “And, I think there were people who kind of felt like after ‘The King’s Speech’ I didn’t need to give myself that challenge, and I think they possibly were right about the risks. I mean, Hugh Jackman says that the movie musical is the Mount Everest of filmmaking and I kind of know what he means.
“Even when I watch the film now I sit there and still see the things that could’ve gone wrong; but no, in terms of ‘Les Miserables.’ I was, in fact, more surprised that it had not been made. I mean that in 26 years something that people have responded to with such passion and emotion hadn’t been turned into a film, that was the biggest surprise to me than thinking of not doing it. But I did think a lot about whether this was the right time to tell this story and whether it was timely. I felt in the end there are so many people around the world because of social, economic inequality, inequity, there’s such anger against the system whether it’s the protest on Wall Street, in London, or the Middle East, that “Les Miserables” is the great anthem of the dispossessed.
“It [Les Miserable] has this inspiring message that we can all collectively rise up together to better our situation. I felt that there was something inspiring about that message at this particular time when there are a lot of people in pain. Also, what’s beautiful about that message is it teaches you that the way to collective action is through a compassionate engagement with the people closest around you. It starts with love for the person next to you.”
Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, puts forth his best performance to date; and it comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following his career. Whether the role be that of Wolverine in “X-Men,” the voice of Bunny in “Rise of the Guardians” and the voice of Memphis in “Happy Feet,” romantic lead in “Kate and Leopold,” vampire slayer in “Van Helsing,” world’s greatest hacker in “Swordfish,” rugged stock-man in “Australia,” or the gay songwriter in the Broadway play “The Man From Oz,” Jackman easily transforms into the various characters. A scene in “X-Men” begged the question would Jackman want to appear in another movie with Halle Berry and when I asked, his response was an enthusiastic yes. Ironically, he went on to star in three more films with Berry.
Oscar, Jackman’s adoptive son, has African American and Cherokee roots. In “Les Miserables” Valjean adopts Cosette (Amanda Seyfield), the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Proving to be a great parent aside, Jackman says his role speaks volumes of what is currently wrong with the world today and talks constantly about giving back to his children.
“I think it’s a subject that totally resonates with young people,” he points out. “My father worked at Price Waterhouse his whole life and he said by the end of his time at Price young kids would come there and they weren’t asking about the perks package or car they were going to get. They wanted to know the corporate responsibility that the firm had. That was the most important thing to them. So, I think it’s exciting and it’s a great idea to keep the conversation going whenever possible. I think my son will see it. It’s a good point. It may be at times a little too brutal, but certainly the themes in ‘Les Miserables’ will resonate for sure.
On the virtues of Jean Valjean, Jackman has much praise. “He’s obviously one of the great literary characters and I kind of see him as a real hero; quiet, humble. And Annie and I were just talking about how there has been such a great reminder in the press today of the New York City cop who bought the shoes for the homeless man—the humanity of just seeing what was required. That’s real love according to Victor Hugo and I agree with him. There could be a fair dose of that right now in the Middle East, dare I say it, I think in many places. I think for all of us [there is] the idea, the philosophy that you don’t need to go to the top of a mountain in Tibet to find self-realization. You don’t necessarily need to listen to spiritual leaders, or whatever it is to do great things. The first thing you have to do is be present, know what you stand for in life, and face what is in front of you.
“To me, Jean Valjean comes from a place of the greatest hardship that I could never imagine and I don’t think any of us here could,” Jackman affirmed. “Yet, he manages to transform himself from the inside. Obviously, on film we wanted to show the outside change as well, but actually Victor Hugo uses the word transfiguration. It’s even more than a transformation because he becomes more god like. It’s a religious, it’s a spiritual change, it’s something that happens from within. It’s to me one of the most beautiful journeys ever written and I didn’t take the responsibility behind the role lightly. I think it’s one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had and if I’m a tenth of the man Jean Valjean is, I’ll be a very happy man.”
In a visit to Ethiopia Jackman became friends with a local coffee farmer named Dukale and was motivated to start up the Laughing Man charity.
“I met a man who changed the way I looked at the world,” Jackman says. “As Dukale and I planted coffee trees together, I began to see the potential for one man’s hard work to transform an entire community…While working with Dukale that day, I was so inspired by what I learned from him and his community. I made Dukale a promise to do my bit to help. Laughing Man Worldwide is the fulfillment of that promise.” For more information and to support this worthy cause go to: http://shop.livelaughingman.com/About-Us.html
Anne Hathaway’s character Fantine is a total role reversal of the bad ass—kicking Catwoman Selina in “The Dark Knight Rises;” and she’s perched to be the next Oscar winner. On the timeliness of her role, Hathaway explained that Fantine could be in the immediate vicinity of anyone of us.
“There’s no way that I could relate to what my character was going through. I have a very successful, happy life and I don’t have any children that I’ve had to give up or keep. And so what I did was I tried to get inside the reality of her story, as it exists in our world [today]. And to do that, I read a lot of articles and watched a lot of documentaries and news clips about sexual slavery.
“For me and for this particular story, I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past, but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now. She’s probably less than a block away. This injustice exists in our world and so every day that I was her I just thought this isn’t an invention, this isn’t me acting, this is me honoring that this pain lives in this world. And I hope that in my lifetime, in all of our lifetimes, like today, that we see it end.”
Prior to “Les Miserables,” Eddie Redmayne was best known for his role in “My Week With Marilyn.” However, one of his better performances was in the underrated film “Black Death,” in which he starred as a young monk. Echoing the eternal germane sentiments of Hugo, Redmayne comments referred to his scenes on the frontline.
“…It was certainly a sense also, from the student’s point of view, that this book that was written in the 19th century had such contemporary relevance. So with songs like ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’ and all the stuff that happened at the barricade, all you had to do was open a contemporary newspaper to see equivalent [events] happening, whether it was protests in New York or in the Middle East; this idea of young people lighting a flame to try and expose truths or pursue their own passions for a greater good. So I think there was relevance across the board for all of us to tap into as actors.”
BROADWAY TRIVIA: In the Broadway musical of “Les Miserables” Melba Moore was the first African American to appear in the role of Fantine in 1995 and in 1997, Shanice was the first Black to appear on Broadway in the role of Eponine. And yes, I saw them both in those roles and they were great!
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]