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.
In bringing “Les Misérables” to the big screen, director Tom Hooper not only aimed to honor Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil’s beloved songs, but wanted to bring the audience as close as possible to the actors singing them.
For a typical movie musical, the cast records the songs in a studio months before stepping on set. And in doing so, the actors are committing to the way they will perform a song on camera before fully immersing themselves into the character.
Not in “Les Misérables.”
When you’re watching Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter and Eddie Redmayne sing on screen, the audio recording you hear was captured as they sang it while the scene was shot. This groundbreaking tactic was not only an enormous task for the “Les Mis” sound crew, but also for the actors, who had never sang live on a film set.
“We all have an earpiece in our ears and we can hear the piano, but the piano is in a box just off set,” said 22-year-old Samantha Barks, who reprises her role as adult Éponine from the stage show. “When we watch the film, we can see these big sweeping orchestrations, but, actually, what you can hear in your ear is a tiny, tinny piano. You kind of have to use your imagination to create these epic orchestrations. It was funny because, if you don’t have the earpiece in, then we all just look mad. We’re singing to nothing.”
Redmayne, who plays Marius, the love interest of both Éponine and Seyfried’s Cosette, praised pianists Roger Davison and Jennifer Whyte as the “unsung heroes of the film.”
“We would have one scene and then go off and someone else would come in,” Eddie recalled. “They had to play every single take flawlessly and with the most stunning sensitivity to – if suddenly halfway through a phrase I decided to stop because I felt like it, they had to stop with you.”
While singing live gave the cast a remarkable freedom in their performances – allowing them to live and react in the moment – it also opened them up to a host of on-set challenges. Jackman was forced to sing in the thin oxygen of a mountaintop. Hathaway had to belt out “I Dreamed a Dream” with real tears rolling down her face. And Barks sings Éponine’s famous solo “On My Own” in the midst of a downpour, with rain streaming into her mouth.
“There’s rain pouring on your face and you’re crying and sniffley, and you kind of have to leave a bit of your vocal vanity at the door,” Bark said. “At first you’re thinking, ‘Is it sounding nice? Is it sounding right?’ But I think that kind of realism in your voice adds to the emotion of that live singing. Especially moments like ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ with me and Eddie. It allows you to be so intimate.”
Not only did the cast have to leave its vocal vanity at the door, but a little bit of their physically vanity as well, according to Jackman.
“There had been times where I had – Annie, or all of us – had done a version of the song where there’s snot coming out of our noses,” the actor said. “And Tom would be like, ‘Alright, that’s a little too much.’”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.