Les Miserables: Starring Hugh Jackman

The filmmakers set out to find what Hooper often refers to as “the perfect storm of actors.” Elaborates producer Fellner: “We needed three things from our cast: star power, gifted actors and accomplished singers, and we were blessed to hit a moment in time where that group of actors exists. The cast that we see in the film is pretty much everyone we originally went after.”

Central to the story is the relationship between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, which is more complex than the typical hero versus villain scenario. Released on parole after serving a 19-year sentence for a petty crime, Valjean is branded an outcast and shunned wherever he goes. Two decades of hard labor have turned him into a man who hates the world, and most significantly, hates himself. An act of mercy from a bishop, whom he meets when he is first released from prison, sets him on the path to redemption. Still, Valjean will spend his life running from Javert, a dedicated and righteous police inspector who relentlessly pursues him. “It’s a particularly muscular story,” reflects Hayward. “The clash between these two men through time is the engine that drives the whole film.” Accurately casting these two central characters was vital to the success of the endeavor.

Both Mackintosh and Hooper required the entire cast to audition, the director sat with Hugh Jackman approximately nine months before the film was to start principal photography. Of the meeting, Hooper exclaims: “It was the most thrilling audition I’ve ever done. Hugh’s command of acting through the medium of song is completely extraordinary. He can access an emotional life in himself through song almost more profoundly than through conventional dialogue. He is so fluent and so comfortable when he sings that one completely believes it’s his first choice of communication. He was the holy grail for me, a genius at both acting and singing.”

An incredibly charismatic performer of stage and screen, the Tony Award and Emmy Award-winning Jackman had wanted to do a movie musical for some time. The Australian actor shares Hooper’s memory of his audition: “It lasted three hours. It was Tom’s first working session with the material, and it turned into a workshop. It was undoubtedly the most exhilarating audition of my life, but I eventually had to tell Tom I needed to go home and put my kids to bed.”

Already a fan of the show, Jackman had seen Les Misérables three times and had in fact sung “Stars” during one of his first auditions just out of drama school. “Valjean is one of the greatest literary characters of all time,” he notes. “You follow him for a 20-year span, having been released on parole as an ex-convict, to becoming mayor of a town, to becoming an outcast again. Throughout that time, you see all the ups and downs, the pain and the ecstasy that life brings. He is incredibly human, remarkably stoic and powerful and, ultimately, completely inspiring. His life is truly epic.”

Drawn as well to the universal themes of redemption that Hugo’s story evokes, Jackman says: “Valjean is the recipient of one of the most beautiful and touching moments of grace from the bishop and, in the shame of that moment, he decides to mend his ways and dedicate his life and his soul to God and to being of service to the community. He is constantly striving to be a better person, to live up to what he thinks God wants from him.”

Known as an action star, Jackman has endured grueling training regimens to play James Howlett, better known to legions of fans as Logan/Wolverine. Still, discussing the physicality of the part of Valjean, he says: “I’ve never had a role require more of me or take as much of a physical and emotional commitment. Valjean required everything I’ve done. All the things I’ve done leading up to this, whether it be on the stage or in film, I feel came together in this role. It’s the role of a lifetime.”

Jackman embraced the physical challenges and the changes required of the character as he goes from convict to outcast to mayor over several years. It was decided to shoot the scenes of the convict Valjean at the start of principal photography to allow Jackman to not only lose weight, but also to grow his own beard. “It was important to tell the story that he had been in prison for 19 years,” notes Jackman. “I was surviving on very limited food, but Valjean was also known for his strength, so I was spending three hours in the gym. It was a tough beginning.” So committed was Jackman to the part, for 36 hours before he shot the opening sequences of the film, the performer also decided to go without water. This gave him the hollowness and gauntness befitting a convict of the era.

As the film’s lead, Jackman would go through war with Hooper and his fellow cast and crew, and the actor admits he can’t think of another director with whom he would do so: “Tom’s a perfect match for the material. He’s a slave to detail and history, as was Hugo. He’s incredibly smart, has a complete grasp of the material and total confidence with the musical form. I think he’s a great filmmaker, and he decided to take on the Mount Everest of filmmaking. He’s our fearless leader.”