Photo: Universal Pictures
Start writing your acceptance speech. "The Dark Knight Rises" star Anne Hathaway, who plays the doomed factory-worker-turned-prostitute Fantine -- and sings her tonsils off -- has hit a very high note. In her supporting turn, Hathaway sings the signature song "I Dreamed a Dream" and brings the audience to tears. She's like musical meat tenderizer -- once the tears start flowing, they don't stop for the rest of the movie. When she called us last Friday afternoon, the newlywed (she wed actor Adam Shulman last September) sounded cheery and warm following a photo shoot:
Thelma Adams: What a year, Anne, Catwoman and Fantine, "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Les Miserables," a popcorn blockbuster and a mega-pop musical. How did you pull this off?
Anne Hathaway: Something like that can only have been unplanned. Both characters are warriors in their own way. In fact, I auditioned for "Les Miz" while I was filming "Batman."
TA: When I was talking to your co-star Eddie Redmayne, who plays the romantic hero Marius, he said he had an 'X Factor' moment during the audition process for "Les Miz." He told me he had "a newfound respect for American 'X Factor' singers as the pressure mounted." Can you identify?
AH: My "X Factor" moment came after my audition. I had tried out for three hours with director Tom Hooper and casting agent Nina Gold. And then three months later, I had a very different idea for singing "I Dreamed a Dream." When I performed it for the composers and producer Cameron Mackintosh, I stood facing five chairs at Pinewood Studios. Before I sang, I said, 'Oh no, it's like 'X Factor'! And so they sweetly scattered the chairs. I did the song, and they were immediately responsive. Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil had written one of the most iconic songs in musical-theater history. For them to tell me to reimagine it and play with it and go with my ideas, I was blown away by their openness and willingness to share their song with me.
TA: Did playing Fantine take a physical toll on you?
AH: With Selina Kyle in "The Dark Knight Rises," I had to transform myself physically to play Catwoman. With Fantine, I had the same amount of work, but it all focused on one part of my body that's the size of a dime: my vocal chords.
TA: What was it like working with this stellar cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried?
AH: I always say, Hugh's naughty, Russell is wicked, and Amanda is the worst. She is such a porcelain potty mouth. There was great camaraderie on set. We all hung out a lot off set. We also bonded by the fact that even though Russell and Hugh had so much experience, we were all doing something for the first time.
TA: You mean the live singing, where you had an earpiece playing the music and you sang while you acted instead of lip-syncing to prerecorded vocals?
AH: Yes. Because of the newness of the live singing technique, we were all really open to each other and really invested. If Eddie had a breakthrough with something, then he shared it with us. We became bonded like a theater cast, doing show after show after show, even though every day felt like an opening and a closing. Getting to watch Russell Crowe on set was a master class. I knew Hugh was a wonderful actor and the greatest entertainer living today, but I wasn't prepared for the depth of his dramatic chops. He set the bar for us all. He was absolutely our leader. The two of them inspired each other to step up their game.
TA: When you were seven, you watched your mother play Fantine in Philadelphia. What do you remember about her performance?
AH: I was very emotional. I felt everything that she was going through so much more intensely because it was my own mother going through it. Part of my connection with this character was because I saw my mother play her. She never seemed like just a character for me. She seemed real. So I took a realistic approach. I didn't want the tears to be broad. I went very deep into my research about sexual slavery and the psychological toll it takes on those women, in part to honor my mother because she made the part so real for me.
TA: If you could do any musical to movie, what would it be? What part would you play?
AH: I'd like to play Bobby in "Company," but I would like it to be about a woman. But that's just because I want to play Bobby. A part of me always hoped to do a musical, but I'd auditioned for a few and I thought it wasn't meant to be. But I was wrong, and it worked out in the most spectacular way possible.
See Anne Hathaway sing in 'Les Miserables':