In order to really get inside the character, Hathaway had her work cut out for her and saw the process as transformative. Since the film was so committed to realism, cutting her hair was always something in the back of her mind she knew she'd do for the role. She said, "I offered Tom (Hooper) the option of cutting my hair. It’s such a devastating scene in the book, I thought doing it for real might raise the stakes a bit for the character.”
Is she sorry? Her response: “Only when I have to spend time with Amanda Seyfried, whose hair is so beautiful.”
But she says it was all "for the sake of art".
Hathaway admits her character's experience is very different to her own life.
There was no way I could relate to what my character was going through. I live a very successful, happy life. I don't have any children that I've had to give up...or keep. So I tried to get inside the reality of her story as it exists in our world. And to do that, I read a lot of articles and watched a lot of documentaries and news clips about sexual slavery. And for me, and this particular story, I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past, but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now, probably less than a block away. This injustice exists in our world. So every day that I was her, I just thought ‘This isn't an invention. This isn't me acting. This is me honoring that this pain lives in this world.’ I hope that in all our lifetimes, we see it end.
Hathaway took the sex slavery cause that Emma Thompson supports to learn more about the ordeal her character was going through. She watched videos of girls who had suffered and realized that she had to get their voices heard. About the experience, she says, “It's something you never think will happen to you, it's the darkest place imaginable.”
Along with every cast member, Hathaway was fully committed to the film. She grew up with the play, her mother played the same character when Anne was seven years-old. "We're all massive Les Mis geeks. We're all slightly worried that this isn't happening and that we're hallucinating. We all showed up on the first day with enormous gratitude. The responsibility was entrusted to us."
Russell Crowe really took the cast under his thumb, inviting them to sing with his voice teacher on a Friday night. About the experience, Hathaway says:
That was such a key part of the process, because up to that point we were in rehearsals with each other. We've very serious. We're spending all day crying. But, then in between, I don't think we had kind of gotten to the point where we thought of song as a way of communicating with each other. I think we thought this is what we have to do. This is a technical thing that we must accomplish. Russell let us approach it from a completely different perspective, which is this is the way we are going to communicate. This is the language we speak. These are our shared experiences. And I know for me, I can't speak for everyone, but it made me so much more invested in the totality of the film. And being in the small part of the film that I am, I could have easily have just gone home and forgotten about it all. But, I cared so much when I left. I needed to know how did On My Own go. Well, In My Life, how did that turn out? And it really cemented the bond between us, and now we kind of say we're Camp Les Mis.
At the premiere this week in NY a eager photographer got a bit too close to Anne and sent out a shot that revelealed a bit too much of Anne. But being the smart woman she is she took this "unfortunate incident" and turned it right around on the offenders and in doing so stood up for people -- especially women -- who are sexually exploited. Here's what she said to Matt Lauer on the Today show:
I'm sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which brings us back to 'Les Mis,' because that's what the character [Fantine] is," she said. "She is someone who is forced to sell sex to benefit her child because she has nothing and there's no social safety net so yeah—let's get back to 'Les Mis.'"
The buzz for Anne is becoming a roar.
Les Misérables is being released nationwide on Christmas Day.
Holly Rosen Fink is a writer and marketer living in Westchester, NY.