Interview: Hugh Jackman of 'Les Miserables'
'Really 'Les Miz' is about hope and redemption and love, which is, let's face it, what we reflect on at this time of year ...'
Conducting interviews for "Les Miserables" in New York, actor Hugh Jackman has also -- and not coincidentally -- set up a suite to serve his own band of philanthropic morning pick-me-up, Laughing Man coffee. When I'm ushered into talk to Jackman, who plays convict-turned-respectable citizen-turned-fugitive Jean Valjean, he asks if I've tried Laughing Man coffee yet. I mention I have, and that it tasted "like singing and fighting." Jackman, thank heavens, laughs; with his career split between musicals like this and tough-guy parts like in "Wolverine," it's a combination audiences seem to enjoy more than not. We spoke with Jackman about singing on-set, applying musical theater skills to the screen and much more.
MSN Movies: In the first scene in this when you're playing Jean Valjean, you're singing, you're hauling a ship into a real ship dock. Did that mixture of cinematic, epic spectacle and the business of singing, was that a reminder of how tough it was going to be to do this great hybrid?
Hugh Jackman: Yes. Constantly, that reminder was there for me, but ultimately it was exciting. I've done a lot of stage shows, and a lot of the time you're trying to recreate that feeling of epic size and space. The music may be epic, but actually you're on a little stage. And here we had an opportunity in the film to really show the scale of time and also that sweeping nature of the French Revolution and the era of the period so .. it was exciting, it was thrilling.
You finish the song and you pull back and it's the glory of Paris.
Tonally though, this is a really different musical. I mean this is not Curly in "Oklahoma!" This is love and revolution and death. Does embracing dramatic emotional material like that through song ... that's got to be a real challenge and really exciting.
It is a challenge, and basically you cannot pull it off unless you have great music and great lyrics. In a way, the miracle of -- well first of all, what Victor Hugo wrote is a miracle, and it's an incredible book. If you haven't read it you must read it at some point. Don't wait until you're 44, like me. But the real miracle is ... you give two guys, a lyricist and a composer, the challenge of trying to match that story with music, and they've done it. The music is timeless, epic, sweeping. And without that, if the music and the lyrics don't match the size of the story, you can't work; as an actor, you can't pull it off. So hats off to all those who did all the heavy lifting.
I was asking Miss Barks, does it feel good to know that you're helping to provide Christmastime moviegoers with one really good, solid cry by the end of this?
Like that whole emotional outflowing people get to have.
That's a good question. I think it's a perfect movie for Christmas. I know it's called "Les Miserables," but really Victor Hugo's talking about the human spirit, the enduring nature of humanity, that no matter what the obstacle we can rise above it. And yes he's speaking to injustice and some darker things. But really it's about hope and redemption and love, which is, let's face it, what we reflect on at this time of year, you know? We're reflecting on what's important in life and what's possible and who's closest to us.
You of course have such great stage experience, but a lot of the people in this film did not, and some had quite a lot. Were you surprised by anyone just making the jump up to musical acting? Like Eddie Redmayne, for example…
I was going to think of Eddie because really everybody has. I mean, he has a lot of theater experience obviously, but someone said to me the other day -- it was actually Jason my guy who helps me not look terrible in the morning for the camera -- and he said, "Oh man, that singer? I don't know what his name is. That singer who plays like your daughter's boyfriend? He can really act man." And I immediately went to Eddie and told him that because Eddie's an actor who, apart from being in the choir in school, he said he hadn't sung in ages. And everybody rises to the occasion in this one.
For more about "Les Miserables," see our video interview with the cast and crew: