On a recent night in New York, “Les Miserables” stars Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks re-purposed their singing skills for something less epic—karaoke.
“Amanda was attempting some rap and then halfway in she goes, ‘How does this song go?’ We’re like, ‘You picked it! You picked the song!,’” recalls Barks, a veteran of London’s “Les Miz” stage musical making her film debut in the film from director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”). “And then Annie gave an incredible rendition of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade.’ And then I was like, ‘Can we just sing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”?’ We were jumping from couch to couch. It was like 13-year-olds at a sleepover. We were like, (singing), ‘I come home, in the morning light!’ It was hilarious.”
Decades-old material likewise translates well in “Les Miz,” opening Dec. 25. Nearly all spoken communication is sung in this musical take on Victor Hugo’s classic story, in which Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) spends decades striving for redemption as Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) firmly dedicates himself to the law. Hathaway plays single mother-turned-prostitute Fantine; Seyfried is Fantine’s grown daughter Cosette, who catches the eye of Marius (Eddie Redmayne of “My Week with Marilyn”); Barks plays Eponine, who falls for Marius.
At 7 a.m. at the Peninsula Hotel, Barks, 22 and Redmayne, 30—whose go-to karaoke songs are Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”—talked about sacrificing for their roles, getting songs stuck in their head and singing without forcing people to look into their mouth.
Hugh Jackman went without water for 36 hours before the opening sequences. Anne Hathaway lost a lot of weight. Russell Crowe walked 28 blocks in the rain to audition. What’s something you guys felt like you sacrificed for these roles?
Eddie Redmayne: I can tell you what she sacrificed.
Samantha Barks: A combination of those things, I guess.
ER: Sam not only had to contest with the most hard-core corset you’ve ever seen—it was a sort of gravity defying thing in which her waist was about that small—but also she had to sing her song in the pouring rain whilst crying. So I think you win the prize … I think you take Jackman and Hathaway down!
SB: Lost a bit of weight, walked in the rain …
You didn’t make him put on a corset too to understand what you were going through?
SB: I tried. I tried. But he wasn’t up for it.
ER: Yeah, I think Marius in a corset, that might make the fanatics question it a bit.
So what’s something you sacrificed, Eddie?
ER: Oh, God. I’m going to be totally honest. I remember sitting in rehearsals with Tom Hooper, the director, and he’d be like, “Where is everyone?” I’d be like, “They’re all in the gym.” [Laughs.] He’d be like, “Aren’t you the romantic lead? Shouldn’t you …” I’m like, “Yeah. I get to wear really smart costumes and hold a gun.”
SB: We’re all like a gang like, “Yeah, five pounds to go, woo-hoo, high-five!” [Laughs.]
Was someone leading the workout charge all together?
SB: We had a personal trainer and it was all done in a very healthy way. It was really nice because you got support there.
ER: What I found amazing, for this troupe of people who were all losing weight, I’ve never seen so much food being brought on set. When you do one of these things they make you eat constantly throughout the day, little nibbles of things. It was amazing to watch while I stuffed my face!
SB: A baked potato would go in his direction, he’d be like, “No!”
You sung “Les Miserables” songs over and over and surely had them in your head. What’s another pop song you can recall having in your head recently that you were like “get this out of here now!”
ER: Oh my god, there is an actual answer to this! [Laughs.]
SB: There is an actual perfect answer to this.
ER: Because we’ve been touring about various cities and as a group—Sam keeps humming this song brilliantly.
SB: You know when someone says a phrase ... and I went (singing Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”), “I’m wide awake. Da da da da da da. Da da da da da da.” And I can’t stop doing it. We all finally go a few minutes without the song being mentioned and then it’s like (singing), “I’m wide awake!” I love Katy Perry but …
Is that the only line you know?
SB: That’s it. But then I go (singing), “I’m wide awake. Da da da da da da. Da da da da da da.” How annoying is that?
Do you want to join in, Eddie?
ER: I don’t know the song that well, so I’m the only person that it hasn’t been driving insane...
SB: I think maybe I should learn the words. [Laughs.] Maybe we’ll just pick a [different] song.
ER: I love Katy Perry. I don’t know that song. I’m slightly disappointed in myself.
SB: I think it’s [just], can you sing, “Da da da da da da.” It’s not like this. She has got words to it; they actually fit in somewhere. [Laughs.]
SB: The words are somewhere. [laughs] Very annoying for everyone else.
How long do you think you could go singing everything? Like in the movie, which hardly has any dialogue.
SB: As far as real life?
ER: [Laughs.] Be careful what you say here because I feel like he’s going to ask us do to it! [Laughs.]
SB: Personally my rap skills aren’t that good so my rhymes wouldn’t be that good on the spot. But I really I’d say have spent a large chunk, if you think in percentages of how I’ve spent in my life actually through song, that’s quite a high percentage because I’ve done musical theater since [I was] 17. That’s like 8 shows a week for a year since I was 17. That’s a lot of singing. I would love to think of myself as the girl form “Enchanted,” you know the girl—
ER: [Laughs.] Amy …
SB: Amy Adams in “Enchanted,” but I can’t think of her character’s name. It’s going to really annoy me. Yeah. I’d love to be like that. [Laughs.]
I’m interested you bring up rapping. How much does that come into play?
SB: Rapping does not come into play in “Les Miz.” I can honestly say that. When you’re singing all the time, if I was to sing to you now I’d be trying to think in rhyme like a rap artist, but there is no rap in “Les Miz.”
How long could you go then? After the interview.
ER: After the event, I don’t think I could last very long. I feel like she could. I think you’d be a demon at it.
You talked at last night's Q&A about learning how to sing forcefully without contorting your face in a strange way. I was curious if you’re able to demonstrate what the difference is.
SB: You love a challenge. I love it. I do like to do a challenge, but I just feel like I’m not up to—
You don’t have to sing. I’m just wondering –
ER: What the faces would look like.
Yeah, because it looks so natural in the movie.
SB: I think when you see an opera singer or a musical theater performer in full-blown, big-old belt, their mouth is so huge and you can actually, if you look hard enough, see right down to the—
ER: It’s like a Disney cartoon. You see the [thing] in the back [of the throat]. [Laughs.]
SB: Yeah, you can see that. So it’s kind of like creating those sounds but with a not a neutral face but not like you’re straining to sing. It would be hard to give an example without being really annoying to everybody.
ER: But it’s all right in the moments of serious angst. In “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” which is the song my character sings, the survivor’s guilt song, all his friends have died, and you go at it with veins and tears and contorted [expressions], that works. But if I’m doing a love song it’s, “Uhh, who’s that mangled person … get him off our screen.”
Eddie, I read that at some point you felt ignorant about films but you were getting better after being chastised. What were you referring to?
ER: I was doing a film called “The Other Boleyn Girl” and I was working with Scarlett Johansson and she was like, “You know that bit in ‘The Big Lebowski’?” and I was like “I haven’t seen ‘The Big Lebowski.’” She’s like, “You haven’t seen ‘The Big Lebowski’?” And she’s like, “You know that bit in that Woody Allen film?” I was like, “At what point do I lie and pretend that I’ve seen it.” [Laughs.] She’s like, “What have you seen?” [Laughs.] I was like … “Well, I started out in theater ….” So Scarlett accrued from all the guys working on that film a list of films that I should watch, and I’ve slowly been working my way through.
Have you seen “The Big Lebowski” now?
ER: I have. And I think it’s a fantastic movie. [Laughs.]
Do you have a favorite line?
ER: No, I can’t quote it. I’m not a big quoter. I have a bad memory for that.
SB: That’s probably one of my pet peeves. I feel really bad when someone goes … I think I did this to you the other day with “Up.” The Pixar film that will make you cry. I was like, (gasps), “You haven’t seen it?” I always go, “No, I’m sorry.” I get so panicked. I’m like “Hang on, you haven’t seen it.” “No.” “You must’ve seen it.” “I haven’t.” “How?” “I don’t know.”
ER: But she really did that.
SB: I feel like I totally picked on you. [Laughs.] I’m so sorry.
What’s next? Eddie, there are rumors about you being in the sequel to “The Amazing Spider-Man”?
ER: I feel like again—we were just asking Sam earlier about other people casting. With the Internet it’s extraordinary that I get told stuff that I’ve never heard of before. It’s wonderfully flattering, but no, I don’t have any plans at the moment.
SB: It’s funny. You get told news about yourself that you don’t know.
ER: You’re like, “Wait a second guys.”
SB: “Oh, wow.” You’re like, “I didn’t know that.”
Samantha, I heard you were playing Katy Perry in an upcoming biopic?
SB: I’m not going to spread rumors but I have been practicing. (sings) “I’m wide awake. Da da da da da. Da da da da da.”
ER: Seriously. I am imagining right now. That’s quite good.
“I’ve never been here but I’ve heard it’s the most fantastic theater city and Steppenwolf. Also the fact that skyscrapers started here. if you’re from Chicago, I’m sure you know this but for us this is novel.” (ER) “I haven’t been at all. Driving through we’re like, “Oh what’s that? And what’s that?” we were trying to soak in as much as we could.” (SB) “You do Christmas well here. The decorations, the city is looking so festive.” (ER)
On auditioning versus some reported big names like Taylor Swift: “I think whenever you audition for a role you’re always up against so many fantastic people and I think it does you no favors to get yourself involved with that kind of gossip because some things are true, some things aren’t true and if you spend any time focusing on that kind of thing then you’re detracting away from the time you can be using to fully emerge yourself into that audition process. You try and stick to your own thing and try and go in there and do your best and not concentrate on all the other stuff around it. I think that it can kind of … drive you insane.” (SB)
If she was aware of who else was up for it: “Not really. You get told, but then you get told of people who are going in but I didn’t really think about it. I was just constantly going, “What am I doing? I need to do this! I need to do that!” it was the biggest audition of my life and I’ve never wanted a role more. I can honestly say I think I put 100 percent into putting my absolute all into this audition process.” (SB)
On watching the film for the first time: “For the first hour we’re not in it, it’s an extraordinary film with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. And we were completely mind-blown. And there’s suddenly this horrible moment when it cuts to years later. ‘Ahhh! Who are these reprobates coming in to ruin …’ It was an interesting experience watching it.” (ER)
On not getting tired of the songs: “The songs in ‘Les Miz’ are so formidable and catchy that you think that song is going to remain with you for weeks but then by the next day we’re on to the next one and that one sort of sits in you, … Months on, having spent so long with this musical over the last couple years, I still find myself putting on the original cast soundtrack to have a listen.” (ER) “I don’t get tired of it. I was in the West End cast for a year. I think what I’ve always been drawn to about these songs is you can get beautifully written songs with wonderful lyrics and melodies but I think every time I listen to these songs they take me on that emotional journey. That’s what you strive for, especially I did, when watching musical theater you want to be taken on that kind of journey and you want to feel something. And every time I hear these songs, I go over it. it’s a testament to how well they’re written.” (SB)
If they’ve ever sung for a crush in real life: “Absolutely not. No. I would be so embarrassed.” (SB) “I find that the idea of singing randomly in life mildly terrifying. But I’m one of these hideous people that I’ll go to karaoke and I’ll sit there going, “No no no, not me, not me, you sing, you sing.” Then I’ll have a few drinks and you cannot take the microphone off me. I like hog it aggressively. I couldn’t do it until, I think I need a bit of help to get me to a place to be able to sing to a loved one. [Laughs.]” (ER)
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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