They’ve both played superheroes. They’ve both hosted the Oscars. But what unites “Les Miserables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway most is a deep, some might even say geeky love of musical theatre.
Yes, Catwoman and Wolverine can sing.
Musical ardour does not always burnish the reputations of action stars. But in Tom Hooper’s new film of the famed musical, Jackman, as Jean Valjean, and Hathaway, as the unfortunate Fantine, are finally exercising their musical chops on the big screen.
Jackman has made a home on Broadway and won Tony awards, while Hathaway’s theater experience is more limited. Both dove into “Les Miserables” with zeal, considering it a chance of a lifetime: Jackman carrying the weight of the lead performance and Hathaway with the show-stopping number, “I Dreamed a Dream.”
Both actors shed considerable weight for their roles (it’s a gaunter, more hardened Jackman than moviegoers are used to) and Hathaway also had her hair trimmed in an on-camera buzz cut. The film is to be released December 25 but Hooper’s naturalistic adaptation — shot almost entirely with live singing as opposed to the typical dubbing for movie musicals — has already made “Les Miserables” an expected hit, with Oscar nominations, including Jackman as best actor and Hathaway for best supporting actress, widely anticipated. Both received Golden Globe nominations.
Hathaway and Jackman recently sat down to reflect on their similarities, “manning-up” in musical theatre and whether they’ll ever get the songs of “Les Miserables” out of their heads.
Q: You two each grew up dreaming of Broadway, have played superheroes and have hosted the Oscars.
Hathaway: One of us successfully.
Q: Do you feel at all simpatico?
Jackman: I’ve always felt simpatico with Anne ever since we met. When we first started to really work together on the Oscars thing, I instantly loved her. I’ve been hounding Annie to do any number of films.
Hathaway: (Biting her sweater) It’s hard when someone you admire so much says nice things about you. I’ve just admired you. I think I’ve probably known about you longer than you’ve known about me. Hugh was always this myth in the Broadway and West End community. And though I never did a show, I did a lot of workshops and readings and things like that. Everybody had a Hugh Jackman story. Hugh’s always been this beacon of light out there, someone who could do theater and film.
Q: What struck me is that in “Les Miserables,” from your point of view, you’re belting out songs with a live pianist accompanying you through earpieces. But the set is totally quiet. No one else can hear the music.
Jackman: It was a weird set to go on. It was a bunch of crazy people in the rain singing. The good thing about that was, they couldn’t tell if you were hitting the wrong key because they couldn’t hear the accompaniment.
Hathaway: I really want someone to go and talk to the crew and find out from their perspective what it was like to see dozens and dozens of actors every day standing there looking at the camera and then all of a sudden bursting out into eight-part harmony simultaneously.
Jackman: It was weird how natural it became.
Q: Few films have recorded singing live like this. How does that affect your acting?
Jackman: Acting through song, the way I do it is I take the lyrics off the music sheet and I write them out as dialogue, as you would break down any script — as a series of thoughts and ideas and motivations. That I needed to get under my skin first. And I learned that from Trevor Nunn [the famed theatre director and director of the first English-language production of “Les Miserables”].
Q: For you, Anne, what was the day you performed “I Dreamed a Dream” in a single take like?
Hathaway: It came right after I cut off my hair so it was a little bit of an intense one-two punch. It wasn’t my favourite scene to shoot just because there was so much pressure of expectation. I had gone to Tom and said I was starting to feel nervous about a week before. He said: “Listen. It’s not an iconic song. You mustn’t think about it like that. It’s this woman’s howl. It’s her processing what’s just happened to her.” So I felt very protected” I knew what I wanted to do. But all of a sudden the stakes were raised because there was a camera there and it was going to be forever. I couldn’t stop thinking about how if I messed it up how exposed I would feel. So I did the first take and I was so angry with myself because it wasn’t good enough. I had really wanted to come out of the gate and just nail it. I dug in a little deeper and we did the second take and it wasn’t there and I just thought, “Oh, God.” I started the third take and I just said, “No, no. Stop. I’m sorry. The balance, it’s off.” And that’s when I took the earpieces and stuck them in my ears. I closed my eyes and I remember thinking, “Hathaway, if you do not do this in this moment, you have no right to call yourself an actor. Put aside all that [expletive] and just do your job.” I opened my eyes and I’m like (snaps figures): “Let’s go.” And I did it. That was the one that I let rip and that was the one that was in the piece.
Q: You two have seen the awards season play out from multiple perspectives before. With the predictions for you both, what’s your attitude going into that process?
Hathaway: On January 11 [the day after the Oscar nominations], if I am not nominated, I do not want to look back and say I missed all of the joy of the “Les Miz” press because I was expecting to get nominated. I am so happy being here today, talking with you about this extraordinary film that I have a small part in. To want or expect more just feels a bit greedy.
Jackman: Being a lover of musical theatre, the thought that maybe there is some recognition for the film and therefore the genre, that maybe Tom has found a new way to deliver the genre, to make it feel relevant and immediate — that’s exciting. Now it’s selfish, but I would like to be in some more.