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Les Miserables - Cameron Mackintosh interview

Les Miserables

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CAMERON Mackintosh talks about the continued success of Les Miserables and why he believes Tom Hooper’s new film version will stand the test of time.

He also talks about why the studio backed the film’s ambitious attempt to do something different with the film version, which involved getting the actors to sing the songs live. He was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. What made you decide the time was right to bring the musical version to the big screen now?
Cameron Mackintosh: Well, the truth is that this cast, this amazing cast we’ve got, were either at school, or babies, or hadn’t been born yet [laughs]… even though we were going to do it 25 years ago, thank God we didn’t! I don’t believe we could ever have found such an extraordinary cast with most of them having a background in musical theatre that would have been able to tell the story through music in the way they have done. And they all, along with Hugh Jackman, fought to be in this movie, which I think is a testament to the strength of Les Mis as a piece. It’s such an extraordinary piece that it appeals to actors everywhere around the world. And everyone loves it. Everyone wants to possess this piece as their own.

Q. When or if Les Mis ever closes, how do you think this will stand up as a memorial to that particularly iconic show?
Cameron Mackintosh: Well, I think the thrilling thing for me so far is that people who adore the stage show and have seen the film love it for itself. There’s no doubt in my mind that this film will live forever. And though I suspect the stage show works just as well in a school hall as it does on Broadway or London, because the piece itself is so powerful, it will always be young because this story will never date and this music will never date, and the words never date. It’s something that each generation embraces in every country in the world. It works just as well in concert. I don’t know any other musical that’s ever had this extraordinary life. And that it’s been memorialised in this way as a living thing on film is what every musical producer dreams of.

Q. What concerns, if any, did you glean from the studio about bringing this to the screen because it is a considerable investment?
Cameron Mackintosh: To be honest, they were pretty supportive all the way. Obviously, the biggest challenge for them would have been to embrace the doing it live. But as it’s something that both Tom and I felt passionately about from the outset they went with it. I mean during the process the words ‘are you sure?’ would come up quite a few times [laughs] and we went ‘yes, we are sure’. But we did test it. During the rehearsal period we tested it with the hardest single piece, which was The ABC Cafe, because there are so many people that add so many stories running through it. We knew that technically that would be the hardest part to see if we could make work and we did make it work. I have recorded a couple of my concerts live before, so I had an indication that it could be done.

But we were with such amazing technical people who, when we told them that this is what we wanted to do, they went ‘great’. To get the chance to do something different and dangerous in cinema doesn’t come around very often. And this lot really ran with the challenge and we really owe so much to how they effortlessly did it and how they were very, very… they were tough on everybody. They wouldn’t allow any taker to go into the library unless they were absolutely sure it was usable when the film was edited. Of course, there were a few things like, ‘where are we going to find the money for this shot?, particularly towards the end. But once they started to see the rushes they realised that there was something very special here and I have to say with everyone at Universal and Working Title it has been an extraordinary experience. It wasn’t that they threw money at it, because they didn’t. And I’ve got a feeling that that’s one of the reasons it’s as good as it is.

I can remember with the original set we didn’t have enough money to do the original set and actually what came out of it, through Tom and Eve finding the wonderful designer on this, was something better because every single penny went into what was on-screen. Everybody worked hard in creating something new rather than just going: “Oh, it’s Les Mis, it’s a big hit…” We had to prove it. And I found the history of this musical ever since it’s ropey start in London 27 years ago, having to prove it with talented people often gets the best out of you.

Read our interview with Samantha Barks