By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 16, 2011 at 1:19AM
So, you might not be aware of this, but even with the awards buzz around his role in "A Single Man," Colin Firth wasn't the first choice to star in "The King's Speech," the film that became a phenomenon, and won the British veteran his first Oscar. In fact, the part was originally offered to Paul Bettany, star of, among others, "A Beautiful Mind," "Master and Commander" and "Dogville." Unfortunately, for Bettany, he was coming off a lengthy shoot for vampire actioner "Priest" (yes, it shot that long ago), and the actor turned the role down to spend time with his young family: an admirable decision, but one that the actor must view with some regret, considering his once-promising career has been stricken with bad action movies like the aforementioned "Priest" and "Legion," or sub-par dramas like "Creation" in recent years.
However, it seems that Bettany won't make the same mistake twice when a Tom Hooper-helmed project comes calling. Only last night, it was reported that "The King's Speech" helmer was courting Broadway veteran and megastar Hugh Jackman for his adaptation of the long-running musical version of Victor Hugo's classic novel "Les Miserables," for a role now confirmed to be that of Jean Valjean, the reformed convict who finds his past catching up to him as revolution brews in France. And it now seems that Hooper is still keen to work with Bettany, as Deadline now reports that the actor is a candidate to play Valjean's nemesis, the dogged policeman Inspector Javert.
As with Jackman, there's no offer, and no talks just yet, but Bettany has read for the part, and sung a selection of songs; we imagine the latter is the bigger concern, as Mr. Jennifer Connelly doesn't have the song-and-dance experience of his potential co-star (although he did busk on the streets of London as a teenager, so can presumably carry a tune). It's also worth noting that other actors seem to be in the running at this point. Still, Bettany's a strong choice for the part, which was last taken by Geoffrey Rush, opposite Liam Neeson in the 1997 non-musical film version. We're sure that if Oscar-winner Hooper wants him, he'll get him, and we suspect that the director's a fan, having pursued him for two projects in a row.
The script comes from "Gladiator" writer Bill Nicholson, and assuming everything goes smoothly from here, filming will begin in Europe before the end of the year on a project that is almost certainly already clearing space on its shelves for some Oscars. More news as the casting firms up.