Musical drama film Les Miserables (based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo) became one of the most successful film projects of the season. Recently it has been confirmed by the American Film Academy that awarded the film directed by Tom Hooper with two technical Oscars: one for sound and makeup, and the other went to Anne Hathaway for the best performance in a supporting role. For Hooper, who already received an Oscar in 2010 for his drama The King’s Speech, the ceremony was not as important as it was for Hathaway, who received the long-desired award from the second attempt (she was nominated for the first time in 2009).
Two weeks before the Academy Awards Ceremony the film Les Miserables was presented at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival. After the premiere Tom Hooper and the film stars Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman answered the questions of the journalists, The Day’s correspondent being one of them.
Which do you find it the most difficult and hard to prepare for: a theatrical play, a musical, or a regular feature film? And which is more rewarding?
Hugh Jackman: “I think this man to my left, Tom Hooper, redefined the movie musical, found a way to take such brave choices: singing live, making it all sound through which is done very really… ultimately really enabled all of us, all of the actors to do what we do. I am not saying it was not challenging, it’s definitely the most challenging job I’ve ever had. I hate even using the word job with it, because it was a labor of love for everybody. And what Eddie said is right: at all different levels, for all of us, from day one, including Tom, there was a sense we were trying to tackle something that has never been done before, and it was so thrilling, exciting, frightening, and it ultimately meant we needed to prepare. So Tom had nine weeks of rehearsal with the whole cast, and that’s unheard of, as you know.”
Do you think you have more confidence now to sing in public, and do you think you will do more roles involving singing in the future, or perhaps, have your own album in the future?
Anne Hathaway: “I don’t have more confidence singing in public, I think I feel a little bit more comfortable singing in small groups, and that’s mainly because of Russell Crowe and his insistence that we all get to know each other by doing just that. So, I’m less afraid of that.
“I hope to do more musicals, it would be lovely to have more opportunities to do that. More musicals, especially movie musicals are being made. And I’m a big fan of them, so that would make me very happy both as an actress and an audience member. And I have plans of recording an album, thank you (laughs).”
There are a lot of subjects, a lot of things in Les Miserables: injustice, revolution, love, history, etc. So, what is the main point of this story in your opinion?
Tom Hooper: “I’m going to answer by quoting the great man, Victor Hugo himself. At the end of the novel, he concludes by saying: ‘To love or have loved, that is enough. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.’”
H.J.: “I was going to say the last line of musical: ‘To love another person is to see the face of God.’ I think Hugo speaks a lot about spirituality or religion, but ultimately what he’s saying is true divinity is sympathizing with the people right in front of you, it is kindness, it is love. And I’m not saying it is what you did or what Victor Hugo did, but I think it’s ultimately love.”
A.H.: “I am going to quote Beyonce: ‘What goes around, comes back around, my baby.’ I do think that the movie, the musical, the novel all have the same things, which are the moments of deepest hopelessness, moments of most profound and complete darkness. A little bit of love can save a life. Compassion is what will keep us going. And it is one of the best parts of what we can offer to each other as human beings.”
Maybe, it is not a usual musical, it’s a bit too shaky for a musical, and I only found one dancing scene. Is it called a musical because it is based on a musical play, or do you consider it a musical even if it is a little different from a typical representative of this genre?
T.H.: “I suppose Les Miserables is quite different from that musical tradition of the fusion of song and dance. But I think why it is speaking to people, is because it has a level of reality in a way it looks at the themes, and explores them. Les Miserables is a great anthem of the dispossessed, a great cry from the heart of those who suffer. When I was making the film, I was thinking about the incredible anger in the world, about rising economy, ecology, and social injustice. During making the film, we regularly had images of the Revolution on our front pages, that’s an extraordinary type of character in this film after 150 years. And that gives the film a seriousness that is different from some traditions of movie and stage musical. And maybe my camera style helped to create the visceral sense that this is really happening in front of you.”
The singing was live during the shooting. Why did you decide to do it that way and how was it for everyone involved?
T.H.: “From the beginning, I was passionate about doing singing live. In fact, I did not want to do the film unless I did the singing live. And what was exciting when I met all these actors for their audition, Anne, Hugh, Eddie, their faces lit up when I said that that was my preferred route. And the reason I’m so passionate about this is I think that there is an artificiality that can come with lip syncing to playback or falseness. And I’m convinced that is one of the reasons why there are some people out there in the world who haven’t embraced the movie musical. And I’m really convinced that there will be people who come to me trying to tell me ‘I don’t know why I don’t really like musicals, but this film really moved me.’ It’s because the removal of the convention of lip syncing has created an emotional immediacy. And also, and more importantly, it allows the actors to control the medium of time, they’re controlling the tempo of what they’re singing, which gives them much greater emotional decision-making freedom. I’ll give a very good example of the expression of this freedom, which is the last line of ‘Dream the Dream’: Anne sings ‘Now life has killed the dream I dreamed,’ and she allows herself a pause before she says ‘I dreamed’ at the end. And in that pause she takes her emotional vulnerability and shuts it down, and her eyes harden, and you can see herself steeling to force herself to go through the life she has chosen, what has been inflicted on her. And that freedom to take that moment and make that emotional change which takes as many seconds as it needs to take is allowed because of the live environment, and it is the most brilliant moment in the song. And that is only possible because she has the freedom to explore that moment in time.”
After getting the musical training and experience during the making of Les Miserables, would you consider playing in theater musicals?
T.H.: “He is about the most modest person on the planet. This man can do anything he desires. And if he wanted to be in a musical anywhere in the world, I am sure producers around the world would be happy to have him, and he would be brilliant; that’s the truth.”
One of the most popular songs is “I Have a Dream.” So, what is your personal dream? Oscar, children, marriage?
A.H.: “I’d like to make it to 80 plus years old with legions of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, however that would work out with time, and still be acting, doing work that fulfills me, still be happily married. So, yes, work, and a wonderful life to balance it out, not necessarily in that order.”
H.J.: “When I did Okhaloma! for the Royal National Theater, that pretty much was the summation of all my professional dreams. I was married to this amazing woman, and we now have a family, I really don’t have a backpack full of dreams anymore. Probably like Anne, I think if I can just keep being curious with life, keep being open and optimistic, and connecting with life on a daily basis, I’ll be very happy.”
Hugh JACKMAN: “Hugo speaks a lot about spirituality or religion, but ultimately what he’s saying is true divinity is sympathizing with the people right in front of you, it is kindness, it is love.”
T.H.: “I’d like to be here at 90 years old presenting a film and still going.”
What is the importance of an Oscar, and how in your opinion the Academy Awards have treated musicals?
H.J.: “I have a son, and his name is Oscar, so for twelve years I’ve been getting used to the thought of having an Oscar, every day. I’m from Australia, and the enormity and celebration and what that represents is not lost on me being someone from the other side of the planet. The same as I’m sure it is for all of you, it’s a part of our culture now. And to be invited… I’m going to tell you, my father was an accountant for a company called Price Waterhouse. And I don’t know if you remember the old days of the Oscars, but they used to trudge out three accountants with briefcases to show legitimacy of the counting process. And we used to go crazy when the accountants would come on stage. And I remember my dad saying: ‘That’s Bob, I had a meeting with him once,’ so I flipped, right. To be there as a nominee, to host like Anne and I have done, it’s beyond dreams.
“I think in general, to go to your second question briefly, the Academy and the movie industry recognize musicals. It takes crazy people like these guys to try and do musicals. They are the Mount Everest of filmmaking. It is the most difficult thing to do and the easiest thing to screw up. And when you get them right, the Academy generally wants to recognize that. And for all the nominees right across from that, it’s really exciting, because I think we all know how hard it is (and it’s true) to be recognized.”
A.H.: “I haven’t won an Oscar, so I don’t know what it means yet. I have to probably be way more competitive about it and a little more blood-thirsty, but the truth is the fact that I’m 30 years old and I’ve been nominated twice is so far beyond my wildest dreams and most ambitious expectations. I’m just really happy to be there! When I was a little girl, I used to get the Miss America Pageant and the Oscars confused, so I would make myself a little tinfoil crown and wear it. All I cared about was that everybody was really pretty and glamorous and seemed like they were having a great time. And now it’s obviously deeper, because now I appreciate how hard it is to get a film made, I appreciate how difficult it is to let go. I remember in an interview I did with Sally Field, who’s so good it’s alarming, she talked about how that feeling that you have of skittering surface and how as an actor is all you want to do is to take off and take flight. To be in a room full of people who were able to connect with material in such a way as to take flight, I mean, I feel like I get to spend my time on that night with wizards. Which is such a cool thing, wizards and magicians. So, I was at the Oscar’s once before, I didn’t receive an Oscar that evening. I know that not winning an Oscar is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Just getting to be there is pretty cool. And I got married last year, so I already know that if I ever win one, that would not be the happiest day of my life. So, I feel like I’m in some kind of happy middle ground with it.
“Musicals? I don’t know if they get any special treatment. I think it’s like with any other film: if they are good, then they get love, and if they are not, they probably don’t get mentioned at all.”
What reasons are there to go to the cinema, buy a ticket, and see the film?
H.J.: “First of all, happy New Year! When is the New Year in China, today? Oh, happy New Year then! I think it is actually a perfect time of year. The New Year for me is always the time to reflect and a time of redefining the things that are most important to you for the coming year. It makes you honestly reflect about your life, about what you’ve done. But more importantly, it makes you think about what is the most important thing to me? How can I be of service the most? How can I move ahead in the next year in a way where I can make a difference and where the world can become a better place? Which is what Victor Hugo was talking about. I hope you enjoy Les Miserables and it renews your faith in love and in life.”
A.H.: “Well, I want to add two things. One, I’d like to nominate Hugh Jackman for President of the Universe. I think you’d all vote for him too. I’ve never been to China, I hope to go some time very soon. But my understanding of Chinese culture is that it is very much based on family and it’s very much about respecting one’s own ancestors and taking care of the generations that are still alive and you’re lucky enough to have with you. This is a film about love and about family. And I think that in a culture that celebrates that and has that woven into it, it would speak very deeply.”