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Les Miserables - Anne Hathaway interview

Les Miserables

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ANNE Hathaway talks about preparing for the role of Fantine in the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables and deciding to cut her hair for the role prior to becoming engaged.

She also talks about working with director Tom Hooper and getting to sing live, as well as her earliest experiences of the play with her mother. She was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. Did this film, and the rendition of I Dreamed A Dream in particular, give you the chance to explore places as an actress that you maybe hadn’t before?
Anne Hathaway: Yes, of course. Obviously, I’d never sung on film live before. Whenever I’ve sung on film it’s always been ‘the character is singing now’. And that was a really new thing to wrap my head around because I’m a musical theatre geek and so I’ve been taking classes every year since I was very young. So, I’m used to song interpretation and I’m used to telling a story through a song that would resonate with however big the audience is that you’re playing to – and in theatre you usually know how many people that is. But the language of film is totally different to the language of theatre so it was really exciting to take this iconic song, that is so beloved, and find a way to put it through the prism of film. And that meant having to go very, very, very deep inside myself to some uncomfortable places… but that’s what we do. Those are the jobs that you remember and those are the ones that make you grow.

Q. Fantine’s descent into the gutter is harrowing and heartbreaking. Can you talk about the process of getting there and how gruelling it was for you?
Anne Hathaway: Sometimes you have so much in common with your character that it feels you should return the pay cheque. This was not one of those times [laughs]. I did a lot of research about the history of the period and what it was like to be a woman then because I couldn’t help[ but think of how brilliant the word choice was for Alain Boublil, the lyricist, to say ‘I dreamed a dream’ because Fantine is a dreamer. So, so much of the way I began the character was with that idea. There’s text in the novel where Victor Hugo says something along the lines of ‘Fantine would walk through a garden and she would hear and see more birds that were actually there’. She loved in a fantasy world that was far more beautiful than the one she lived in, so I wanted to give her a touch of that.

But then when it came time for her descent I actually turned to modern research, specifically into the lives of sex slaves, and reading their accounts instantly puts you in a place of empathy and horror… there are things that I’ve read that I’ll never forget. I’ve read interviews with women and the emotion that comes out of them is undeniably shame. And pain. And deep, deep, barely contained rage. And it was a great opportunity to have a song like I Dreamed A Dream to apply all of that to in order to tell that story.

Q. Susan Boyle made a name for herself singing I Dreamed A Dream. Were you aware of that? And what is your own experience of Les Mis prior to being in the film?
Anne Hathaway: I’m breathing, so of course I know who Susan Boyle is. I think she’s wonderful and adorable. Her story… I mean, it’s so heart-warming. Before I knew that I’d be playing Fantine I used to watch that clip when I was having a low day because it made me feel so wonderful watching… the look of… the thing about it that’s so brilliant apart from, of course, her is watching Simon Cowell’s mind racing as a producer and an adding machine. I just love that clip.

My own experience with Les Mis began when I was seven-years-old when I found out my mum had been cast in the national tour and played the factory girl and understudied Fantine. So, my introduction to the show was my living room. And then I got to see my mum perform the role of Fantine when I was seven and have seen the show many, many times, including Samantha Barks in the 25th anniversary. She just dominated that. I was crying by the end.

Q. How was cutting your hair off? Did you do it live? And how intense was it?
Anne Hathaway: It was intense for me! It was my hair. When I got the role, Tom [Hooper, director] and I had lunch and I said: “Look, I’m going to float this out there. I’m up for cutting my hair off if you’d like to.” I knew that on film it can be very difficult to shoot things in chronological order and it’s kind of the bane of every line producer’s existence to try to do things like that. I didn’t want to insist if it was going to be too much of a pain on the production side but I did also feel strongly that as much of the physical transformation that could be real ought to be real. And so I was really happy about it when Tom accepted.

But at the time I hadn’t yet gotten engaged and my now husband looked at me with a mixture of pride, joy and worry… and slight panic too. And I said: “What’s going on?” But he said: “OK, without giving anything away about what’s coming in the next few months, how do you feel about being a short haired bride?” I, of course, just went: “Noooooo!” But then I thought it would be truthful. I’d be who I am when I get married and who I am is an actor and what I do is transform when the occasion arises. So, I kind of tried to minimise that kind of drama in my own head.

But then on the day, I’d been trying to be very stoic about it, like it wasn’t going to be a big deal, but on the day I was shaking like a leaf. I was so scared. But to Tom’s credit, he could have been very removed from the situation, thinking I was an actress complaining about the loss of her hair… he had so many other things going on. But he was just really, really nice to me and loving. And then they cut my hair and it was done. I’ve become obsessed with my nails as a result because you need to have somewhere to put that kind of thing. But I’m also having a nice time not spending an hour on my hair every morning [laughs].

Read our interview with Samantha Barks