After watching the rough cut of Les Miserables, I found myself walking out of the theater and asking: What the hell do I contribute to the world?
Hugh Jackman: [Laughs.] Yeah! I found that after reading the book. I felt, ‘Wow, I’m not really measuring up here at all.’ I will never ever complain about the weather again.
Everyone in the movie sings live instead of lip-synching to pre-recorded songs. [NOTE: Check out the video above for more details on this technique.] It’s not how movie musicals are normally done, so did you start with something easy to warm up?
No, one of my biggest songs was on the first day, which was probably a good idea. It was the soliloquy at the beginning [“What Have I Done,”] which is a very emotional song, and it was great to make that first because it’s one of the toughest.
So you jumped right in to the deep end. Did it immediately feel comfortable after that?
I suppose it was a bit like doing a nude scene. When you take your clothes off, everybody is self-conscious, but within an hour … It’s nothing. [Laughs.] I definitely felt more and more comfortable as we went. I think everybody did. It would become normal. Everyone was singing. Even the crew was singing!
At least with a nude scene, the crew workers don’t take their clothes off! Given your longtime love of musicals, would you shoot another this way?
If I ever had it do to again, I would much prefer to sing live. There’s something about the crucible of that moment, where everybody – the crew, you, the music – has to come together and work. It’s frightening, but it’s exciting.
Musicals are frequently an unabashedly happy genre, but in Les Mis we see what pushing people to the fringe of society can do to them. The poor struggling and dying. People starving, and children in bad homes. There’s a lot of pain in this movie, as well.
There is, you’re right. He put Les Miserables in the title because you can’t tell this story in any way without exploring that. How do people behave under that? You have the Thenadiers, these survivors, these parasites, who go around and find a way to survive in it all. They’re not altruistic, they’re not empathetic, they’re not idealistic in any way, shape or form. But they scurry around and survive, and we somehow enjoy them too. The full gamut of human nature is on display here. But my feeling is that ultimately it’s uplifting. Valjean, who is someone to look up to, is pretty amazing what he does and what he gives.