Hugh Jackman is known for his love of a good musical as much as he's known for his portrayal of the adamantium-reinforced wise-ass Wolverine. So, it's no surprise that he used a bit of the latter character's blunt persuasiveness to land the part of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables.
At a press conference for the hotly anticipated musical at Claridge's on Wednesday, Jackman recalled that upon hearing from his agent that a film adaptation of the vaunted musical was in the works, he began to lobby for the part.
Upon meeting Hooper, Jackman didn't mince words. The straight-talking Aussie told the British filmmaker: “Mate, I’m going to audition for you," and persisted with both Hooper and Les Misérables’ legendary theater producer, Sir Cameron MacKintosh until the deal was sealed.
“I’ve dreamt of being in a movie musical for a long time. For some reason I never even thought Les Mis would be possible," Jackman said. "It was so iconic, the role wasn’t even on my radar.”
Once cast, Jackman said that Hooper issued a clear directive to him about his coming portrayal of Valjean: “I want you unrecognizable. If you’re recognizable, I want your friends to think you’re sick,” the director told him. Upon which Jackman lost around 15 kilos (33lb) — more weight than Anne Hathaway shed for her role of Fantine, as the actress pointed out following a New York screening in November — to shoot the movie's opening scenes as an emaciated prisoner. Jackman later gorged to regain the weight for following scenes, gleefully stating, “That bit was fun by the way!”
Jackman insisted that Les Misérables has been the most physically demanding role he has ever tackled. It seems giving Eddie Redmayne a fireman’s lift while wading through the movie equivalent of chin-high sewage (in reality, watery peat), remains a prominent struggle in the then rehabilitated-man-mountain’s mind, “It was very, very cold, and Eddie, a very trim guy, is not a light as he looks, let me tell you! I constantly wanted to call for a double.”
Alas, Jackman said, Hooper wasn’t up for that.
As a regular performer on the musical scene, the physical requirements of the role were no surprise to Jackman, “It’s weird coming from me, who’s played Wolverine, or has been in other action movies, you’d probably think, ‘at least a musical is going to be easy.’ But anyone who’s done a musical knows; whether you’re dancing or not, physically it’s the most difficult thing you can do.
“Singing is incredibly physical. All of those things combined, as well as emotionally and vocally, it’s the most challenging thing, and usually all at once. It’s the kind of thing you want as an actor. You want to feel challenged. It’s good to feel uncomfortable.
“I’m really grateful, that’s the overwhelming feeling.”
A head-strong actor with a passion for both musical and action genres — does anyone see a hybrid movie on the horizon, The Sound of Mutants perhaps?
Les Misérables opens in U.S. theaters on December 25.
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