12 Days of ‘Misérables’: Meet Jean Valjean

by | December 17, 2012 at 2:07 PM | 12 Days of 'Miserables', Movies

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean (Photo: Universal)

Celebrate the December 25th release of Universal’s movie musical epic “Les Misérables” with 12 days of interviews and inside peeks at the film’s production with director Tom Hooper, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and more of the cast.

“Les Misérables” opens on 1815 France, where an inmate named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) – prisoner 24601 – is seen hauling a crippled warship into port as part of a chain gang.

Valjean, who has spent 19 years in prison for stealing bread to feed children, is soon released from the Toulan prison by a hard-nosed police inspector named Javert (Russell Crowe). While trying to rebuild his life, the embittered ex-con stumbles upon a church where he steals a set of silver candlesticks. Valjean is quickly captured, but shown mercy by the church’s bishop (Colm Wilkinson), who denies the theft and sends the poor man on his way with the silver.

Click here to watch ‘Les Mis’ clips and behind-the-scenes videos

Eight years later, Valjean has repaid the bishop’s generosity by transforming his life. However, prisoner 24601’s quest to start anew has caused him to violate parole, and Inspector Javert will track him across France to dispense justice.

“He’s obviously one of the great literary characters, and I kind of see him as a real hero,” Jackman, 44, said of the character created by author Victor Hugo in 1862. “There’s been such a great reminder in the press today of the New York City cop who bought the shoes for the homeless man. To me, Jean Valjean comes from a place of the greatest hardship that I could never imagine, and manages to transform himself from the inside. 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 godlike.”

He continued, “It’s a religious, spiritual change. It’s something that happens from within and it’s, to me, one of the most beautiful journeys ever written. I didn’t take the responsibility of playing the role lightly. I think he’s one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had, and if I’m a 10th of the man Jean Valjean is, I’ll be a very happy man.”

As the father of two children, ages 7 and 12, Jackman also views “Les Misérables” as a vehicle for raising important world issues, such as poverty, with children.

“I think, for kids in particular, equity is the way the world was meant to be,” he said. “They naturally see the good in everyone around them and the equality in wherever they go. [My kids and I] do talk about it. We often talk about contribution, about community, about giving back.”

Click here to watch more ‘Les Mis’ clips and behind-the-scenes videos

The Australian actor supports many charity, education and advocacy organizations, including the Global Poverty Project, World Vision, Charity: Water and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. Jackman is also the founder of Laughing Man Worldwide, a coffee, tea and chocolate company that donates 100 percent of its profits to charity.

“Global Poverty Project is really a bunch of 20-year-olds whose mission is to see the end of extreme poverty in their lifetime,” Jackman said. “I’m a 44-year-old guy who basically gets on their bandwagon. They’re smart and passionate. I think it’s an exciting time, because I think it’s a subject that totally resonates with young people.”

Perhaps it is Jean Valjean who should aspire to be a 10th of the man that Hugh Jackman is.

 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.