When he was about to win the Best Director Oscar, Tom Hooper had the offer to make "Les Misérables," but was still deciding whether to take the gig or not. But it seems that Anne Hathaway's cunning rendition of a song from "Les Misérables" as part of her hosting duties that year helped to swing it.
"It was funny because I was sitting in the Oscars two years ago and I was in the difficult decision of whether or not to do 'Les Mis' and at one point Anne Hathaway sings to Hugh Jackman. [It was like] they're brilliantly using the Oscars as their auditioning tool and that was the first time I got to see Annie sing live. She has this utter feeling of naturalness about her that puts you at ease. I wanted people who were so comfortable expressing themselves through song that they didn't have to break into dialogue," the director explained. "Jackman, I never saw 'Man from Oz' [the musical Jackman did on Broadway] but I did see his one-man show, and he has since said to me that the reason he did his one-man show was to get himself vocally fit for 'Les Mis'." Even so, however, Hooper made sure to put them through their paces. "None of this I felt could allow them to sidestep the audition process. It was very exciting."
Given that it's one of the most successful stage musical shows in history, it's surprising that no one has made "Les Misérables" into a movie before now. But according to Cameron Mackintosh, producer of both the stage and screen versions, there were other attempts, most notably from a man who, thanks to "Fame," "Bugsy Malone" and, later, "Evita," knows a thing or two about screen musicals.
"Alan Parker was going to do it 25 years ago. It had just opened on Broadway and I said, 'I'm not interested in selling the rights.' And Alan did want to do it. Alan said to me, 'If I do it, you've got to produce it.' And I said, 'I don't know anything about how to produce it.' But I made a rule that it couldn't be released within five years of the Broadway opening and then it went on forever," Mackintosh said.
One of the more surprising pieces of casting in the film was Russell Crowe, who unlike other actors such as Jackman and Amanda Seyfried, has no major stage or screen musical credits to his name (though he has fronted bands when not acting). But his castmates suggest that Crowe, who held karaoke nights for his co-stars during filming, was the vital missing piece of the puzzle. "The person who was the beginning of the glue is Russell," Anne Hathaway said. "You cannot underestimate Russell's contribution to this cast. [The bonding nights] were such a key part of the process. Up until that point we were in rehearsals but in between we hadn't gotten to the point where we thought of song as a way of communicating with each other. Through those nights Russell let us approach it with a different perspective – this is the language that we speak, this is our shared experience. It made me so much more invested in the totality of the film. I wanted to know how these songs turned out. It cemented the bond between us. And now we say we're Camp Les Mis."
Newcomer Samantha Barks, who plays the key role of Eponine, adds "He was so passionate about music. It's all about passion. There was something new to all of us. It made us all so comfortable with each other. We were sharing that bond. It was cool."
- Reporting by Drew Taylor