For the Oscar-nominated film Les Misérables, much has been made of the decision to have the cast sing their roles “live,” rather than recording them separately and dubbing them in later on in the film’s production. And while this unusual method of filming did present some challenges for the cast, several of the characters themselves presented even bigger hurdles for the actors to overcome.
Well-known as an action star, Hugh Jackman has endured grueling training regimens to play James Howlett, better known to legions of fans as Logan/Wolverine in the X-Men movies. Still, discussing the physicality of the part of Valjean in Les Misérables, he says: “I’ve never had a role require more of me or take as much of a physical and emotional commitment.”
Jackman embraced the physical challenges and the changes required of the character as he goes from convict to outcast to mayor over several years. It was decided to shoot the scenes of the convict Valjean at the start of principal photography to allow Jackman to not only lose weight, but also to grow his own beard. “It was important to tell the story that he had been in prison for 19 years,” notes Jackman. “I was surviving on very limited food, but Valjean was also known for his strength, so I was spending three hours in the gym. It was a tough beginning.” So committed was Jackman to the part, that for 36 hours before he shot the opening sequences of the film, the performer also decided to go without water. This gave him the hollowness and gauntness befitting a convict of the era.
Anne Hathaway’s dedication to the role of Fantine was also, by all accounts, extraordinary, and her physical journey, as well as the emotional one, was just as intense as Jackman’s. Not only did she choose to have her own hair cut in the scene where Fantine sells her tresses, but the already slim actress also lost a great deal of weight to make completely believable Fantine’s physical decline from consumption. “Over the course of five weeks I lost 25 pounds,” says Hathaway. “It was very intense and very extreme, and to be honest, if I had stopped and really thought about what I was doing, it probably would have felt too hard. I knew that I had an end moment, and all I needed to do was keep my spirits up and keep my focus on that point. I’m not Method, but I was playing a martyr. So any kind of suffering that I was going through, I wouldn’t feel it as suffering. I would have felt as she would, which was instant transformation.”
Les Misérables is available starting March 22 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2013 Universal Pictures Credit: Laurie Sparham