Helping to ground the performances further was the fact that they weren’t singing with that expansive orchestra we hear in the final feature. Samantha Barks who stars as Eponine explains, “We all have an earpiece in our ears and we can hear the piano, but the piano is in a box just off set.” Les Misérables’ Marius, Eddie Redmayne, is quick to add, “The sort of unsung heroes of the film, in some ways, were the two accompanists, Roger and Jennifer. We would have one scene and then go off and someone else would come in. They had to play every single take flawlessly and with the most stunning sensitivity.”
Considering part of the appeal of recording the songs live was to make singing and acting simultaneously an organic process, should the actors feel like pausing where they may not have paused the last time, the pianists had to adjust, pausing with them. Redmayne reiterates a term used by another cast member, calling the pianist pair “the other character in the scene.”
Yet another tactic used to up the emotion was hair cutting – real hair cutting. When a reporter offers up a question from a younger fan – “Did you really cut your air and are you sorry?” – Hathaway laughs and replies, “I did cut my hair and I’m only sorry when I get to spend time with Amanda Seyfried whose hair is so beautiful.” But in all seriousness, Hathaway continues, “I thought if it was a painful experience watching her hair cut, then watching her teeth get pulled would be really painful, and then of course when she becomes a prostitute I just thought they’re going to be with her, feeling that alongside of her and as an actor it was great to be able to authentically communicate a physical transformation.”
Jackman recalls that Hathaway even went as far as to agree to shed blood to do the moment right. “Her stylist is a man, but obviously in the film was dressed up in a dress because you needed an actual hair stylist to cut her hair, right? So if you notice man hands in a dress you’ll know why, and I remember Annie saying, ‘Now by the way, if you end up cutting my scalp and there’s blood, fantastic! Let’s go for it!’” Even though Jackman went through a major transformation to play Jean Valjean, cutting his hair as well and losing a significant amount of weight, he’s eager to continue to give Hathaway more credit for she had to do the same in a shorter period of time.
While Hathaway does deserve the praise, she wasn’t about to let Jackman get away with his “nice guy thing.” Hathaway announces, “I just want to make sure that I impress upon everyone in this room, I don’t want you to walk out of here charmed by Hugh Jackman.” And on a more serious note, “He was absolutely our leader, so I just don’t want his nice guy thing to distract you from the fact that he is a deep, serious and profoundly gifted actor.”
Jackman may have been the group’s leader, but Hathaway also notes that Javert himself, Russell Crowe, was key to bringing the group together and turning the cast into a family. “Honestly, the person who I think was the beginning of the glue that we wound up developing isn’t even here unfortunately and that was Russell [Crowe].” She remembers Crowe regularly inviting the gang over for drinks and singing.
“That was such a key part of the process because, up till that point, we were in rehearsals with each other, we’re very serious, we’re spending all day crying, but then, in between, I don’t think we’d gotten to the point where we thought of song as a way of communicating with each other.” She adds, “It made me so much more invested in the totality of the film. Being in a small part of the film that I am, I could have easily just gone home and forgotten about it, but I cared so much when I left. I needed to know, how did ‘On My Own’ go? ‘In My Life,’ how did that turn out? I think it really cemented the bond between us and now we kind of say we’re Camp Les Mis.
It may have been a joke, but as Redmayne suggests, 24601 tattoos for the whole gang really should be next, right?
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.