Both Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman have dreamed the same dream for a while. That they would one day appear in a movie musical. Jackman started off in theater in his native Australia and in London's West End, and has sung for his supper on Broadway, winning a Tony in 2004 for The Boy From Oz. Hathaway made her New York stage debut in a 2002 concert version of Carnival! and trilled some pop tunes during her princess phase in 2004's Ella Enchanted. Now their dream has come true with the big-screen version of Les Miserables. USA TODAY's Susan Wloszczyna spoke to both about the experience.
Anne Hathaway, 30, as the tragic Fantine
Producer Cameron Mackintosh says: "It's really wonderful how Anne reinvented I Dreamed a Dream, arguably one of the most famous songs in the show. It is something that can only be done in cinema. It wouldn't be as effective of a performance in the theater because we have been taken into such an intimate world, which by nature theater doesn't do. You get the power of that song in a different way."
Q. The Oscar ceremony that aired in 2009 acted as a kind of audition for you and Hugh, who hosted when you sang and danced together during the opening.
A. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a nice kind of "Hi, glad to meet you. Do you want to do something during the show?" Two years later, I sang On My Own from Les Mis (at the Oscars). And Tom Hooper won that year. And, by the way, the year Hugh and I performed he also worked with Amanda Seyfried (who plays Cosette, her grown-up daughter) as well. I've never been a huge believer in fate but I kind of am rethinking that position.
Q. You've tried to do movie musical before but they didn't work out. The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd and Nine. Why?
A. I've auditioned for plenty, but I have never been able to do one. Yeah, I didn't have any specific request for which one it ought to be. I love musical theater and I love film. And I thought, wouldn't it be great if they had a baby and I got to be in it?
Q. You did get to sing in Ella Enchanted, but performing I Dreamed a Dream in Les Miserables is a whole different challenge. Did you say "give that song to me, I have no fear, I'm going for it"?
A. I didn't say that. I did say give it to me and I'll go for it. I've been familiar with that song my whole life. But that was not the song from Les Mis that I was drawn to growing up. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Cosette so bad. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be Eponine until I fell in love with the voice part of Cosette and wanted to be both.
Q. When did you decide you wanted to be Fantine?
A. I never really considered Fantine because my mother played that role in the national tour. And that was my first experience seeing the show, when she was in it. And I always thought of the role as hers and untouchable to me. So when this opportunity came up, I had never even thought about the character. But I knew I wanted to be in the movie so I auditioned and went for the part.
Q. How did you prepare to play her?
A. I had just six months to prep for what is about 18 minutes onscreen. Which is just about the ratio I like. I just really got inside the lyrics of the song and I wanted to know what she means when she says, "So different from this hell I'm living." I really got inside the lyrics of the song. I wanted that hell to be tangible. So I started to do research about what it is like to be a woman in a repressive society, specifically France during that time.
Q. The song has been moved from where it is performed in the stage show.
A. It changes the meaning of it. In the show, it is done after she loses her job. You now see her make the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter and what that song becomes is her relinquishing her life and her hope and replacing all the love in her heart with anger, rage and betrayal. That was the only thing that was going to get her from day to day. I did a lot of research on the lives of sex slaves.
Q. There are many great death scenes in this, including yours. How did it feel?
A. I know this sounds weird, but I was so moved by the way death is portrayed in this movie. There are a lot of deaths, but three of the four principal characters who die do so either in the arms of loved ones or surrounded by them. And one dies alone. The difference in the feeling of each of them I found profound.
Q. In screenings, people are applauding after songs. Especially I Dreamed a Dream and One Day More. How does that make you feel.
A. I am so honored to be in this film, but the person I am happiest for is Hugh. He has such a singular talent and has such a marvelous set of skills. He is a wonderful dramatic actor and a light-hearted entertainer. The fact is the role of Valjean, more than any other role in the musical theater world, is where you need to be lovable, gracious, aspirational and dramatic. I can't think of another actor who could have done what he did in this.
Q. Many of the characters in the film, especially Valjean, are given the chance to do either the right or the wrong thing. We face that, too, obviously although it is not usually a matter of life or death.
A. But in small ways we are. We were all talking about that policeman who gave the homeless man the shoes. I read the story this morning. The policeman was so indignant that people were laughing at this person. That was the place their hearts went to. And he did the right thing. He seems like such a good person, I got a little emotional this morning reading about it. There is that spirit that Victor Hugo wrote about that is alive and well in the world today. Honestly, it feels like a balm to my soul when I hear about people doing good things.
Hugh Jackman, 44, as the ex-convict Jean Valjean
Director Tom Hooper says: "Hugh has extraordinary grace and goodness in him as a human being and therefore him playing Valjean would seem like a natural fit. I've been quoted as saying I wouldn't have done the film if Hugh Jackman did not exist."
Q. Are you excited that your fans will finally see you in a movie musical?
A. I hadn't done one yet and I can't believe I got this one. They did inquire about Phantom of the Opera (the role went to Gerard Butler) but I was never available. Chicago is the one I turned down. It was probably stupid. I was 31. I had this line at the end where I say, "I've seen it all, kid" and I'm thinking, "I'm the same age as the girls." It didn't make sense. When I saw the movie, I thought maybe I could have just put on a little bit of makeup.
Q. When did you first see Les Mis?
A. In New York about 10 years after it started. It took me a while to get to it. It's so beautifully done and heartfelt. What amazed me when I saw it -- and I've been in long-running shows -- was how fresh it still felt. I have seen it three or four times since. The first audition I ever did I sang Stars, which Javert sings. I always loved that song. Cameron Mackintosh the producer asked me to do the show a number of times, but it never worked out with my film schedule. So when this one came up, I chased it. I auditioned. Everyone auditioned. No one got the part handed to him.
Q. Between the live singing and the constant close-up shots, Tom Hooper made some unusual choices in how he brought Les Mis to the screen. What did you think watching it?
A. It's so different from how anyone else has done a musical. Tom took so many risks. My main thoughts after seeing it was, "What was he thinking?" It's amazing how all things work. He took so many risks by using through-sung and not dialogue. I'm so glad he didn't listen to me. The first meeting we had, he said, "What is your instinct? Should it be dialogue or like it is onstage?" I said, "I'm pretty sure it's going to be dialogue. I can't imagine a film just holding through song."
Q. Sometimes you allowed your voice to sound rough. It worked somehow.
A. There is a fine line. It can be grating and it can be off-putting. But I think Samantha (Barks, who plays Eponine) put it very well. You had to put your vocal vanity to the side. When you are recording, it's very difficult to let that go. Because you are listening to yourself and thinking, "Oh, I want to fix that or make that clearer." Here, it was the thoughts and emotions that led the way."
Q. You act opposite the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, who plays the bishop whose kindness saves your character. Did he offer any advice?
A. He said, "You know, I had the Victor Hugo novel and I would read it a little bit every day. It's like dipping into the Bible. There is so much in it." I had it on the set with me, because he's given 20 times more research and back story than anyone ever could. To me, the book is very uplifting. It's about the human spirit and the ability to be the best version of ourselves no matter what the odds.
Q. Was there a friendly rivalry between you and Russell Crowe, who plays your foil Javert?
A. I've known him for years. He's been a great friend and ally to me. Russell is an incredible professional, and he knows how to seize a moment and rip it apart. When it matters, he is completely focused and can let go. The day he got there, he rang me and said, "Come on, Jackman. Let's go through our parts." I said, "No, it's 10:30 at night." He said, "Come on." He was ready to go at 11 at night. We rehearsed together. We all sang for hours a day just to get used to singing for a long period of time. When he did Stars, it had to be 22 takes. Because it was live, you couldn't pick and choose from each take. You had to do the song each time. It was a real honor to work with him.
Q. Probably the one scene you and Eddie Redmayne wished you could have done onstage instead of film is when Valjean carries the injured Marius over his shoulder through the sewers and you are both covered in this gray goo. That doesn't happen in the theater.
A. It was very cold. And Eddie is heavier than he looks. I was hoisting everything. The flag. The cart. Eddie. I am going to take a nice holiday after this one.
Q. Any other musical opportunities in the works?
A. I am in the middle of doing a new stage musical, Houdini, now. Aaron Sorkin is writing it and Stephen Schwartz is doing the music. Jack O'Brien is directing. We have been at it for a year and a half now. And I say we are about halfway through it. But new musicals take a lot of effort. Fingers crossed this one goes well.