Redmayne says Cohen, Carter brought lightness to 'Les Miserables' set

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  Dec. 1, 2012 at 4:43 PM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- British actor Eddie Redmayne says he and his co-stars of "Les Miserables" had a secret weapon for when the heartbreaking movie musical became too emotionally grueling to bear and they sought a little comedy relief.

"Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter," Redmayne told UPI at a press conference in New York Friday when questioned about the emotional toll the material had on the cast members and what they needed to recover after the cameras stopped rolling for the day.

The famously quirky and funny twosome, who previously worked together on the movie musical, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," play memorable supporting roles in "Les Miserables."

"It was such a wonderful thing. It was such a rigorous shooting process and fueled by passion, but, my God, there were hard days," Redmayne said of making "Les Miserables."

"And the way [director] Tom [Hooper] likes to work is to create real scenarios, so Sam [Barks] was singing in the freezing rain and Hugh [Jackman] was carrying me through disgusting sewer stuff -- not chocolate milkshake -- but there was this wonderful thing where Helena and Sacha arrived and brought lightness that, my God, we needed."

The movie is an adaptation of Cameron Mackintosh's stage musical, which was based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, "Les Miserables." It stars Redmayne as Marius, Jackman as Jean Valjean, Barks as Eponine, Cohen and Carter as the Thenadiers, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette.

Set in 19th century France, the story of poverty, forgiveness and redemption follows Jean Valjean after he is freed from 19 years of slavery for having stolen a loaf of bread to feed a starving child. He breaks his parole by not checking in with authorities, prompting Javert to hunt him down for the rest of his life. Now free and with the help of a merciful priest, Jean Valjean reinvents himself as an honest, successful businessman who helps others whenever he can, even when doing so puts him at risk for being caught and sent back to prison.

Fantine works in his factory until she has an altercation with some of the other women there and gets fired for being a troublemaker. Jean Valjean is too distracted by the arrival of Javert to aid her at the time and she is forced to sell her hair and teeth and become a prostitute to pay the Thenadiers to continue caring for her young daughter Cosette, alongside their own daughter Eponine, at their inn. Moved by the dying Fantine's story, Jean Valjean vows to raise Cosette as his own, which he does, all the while dodging Javert. Cosette grows up, adored by Jean Valjean but isolated until she meets by chance and falls in love with revolutionary Marius, who has also stolen Eponine's heart.

Asked how he coached such extraordinary vocal performances from actors not well-known as singers, Hooper told UPI at another press conference: "I did a very careful auditioning process.

"Everyone had to go through auditions and they were quite extensive -- at least three hours. We did have some actors, like Russell Crowe, who you usually have to offer a role to, you don't get to audition, but it was because I was determined to do it live and needed them to prove they could handle that and, also, I wasn't just looking for great singing and great acting. I was looking for people who could act through the medium of song. And instinctively know the necessary shift from singing in a big room -- much bigger than this -- compared to singing to a camera in close up. There is a necessary minimalism in film acting, which they needed to combine with the requirements of serving the song musically. That's what I was really looking for and all of those actors proved in the audition that they could do that. That was not something I could responsibly take a risk on," said Hooper, who won a Best Director Oscar in 2010 for helming Best Picture winner "The King's Speech."

Mackintosh, the force behind the stage version of "Les Miserables," and Eric Fellner, co-chair of Working Title Films, acknowledged how difficult it is to translate a successful musical from theater to screen.

Pressed to describe the pitfalls of such an endeavor and to explain how they managed to avoid them in producing the movie version of "Les Miserables," Mackintosh told UPI: "What I didn't want to do was, first of all, put anything on the screen just because it was in the stage show. Neither did Tom, neither did any of us. We wanted to make a movie. I thought it would only have a chance of working if it -- in this far more realistic medium -- seemed natural and had a look that you believed in entirely cinematically."

"The reason I knew we were going to be able to do something interesting is because from the very first meetings, Cameron said, 'I don't want to just put the show on screen,'" Fellner recalled. "So, immediately there, you think if the owners of the brand and the creative DNA of it are saying we want to do something new, then at that point I knew it would be possible for us to work together and make a film. The pitfalls on the physical side was if we only appeal to the fans, then with a budget like this, the film wouldn't work. So, it was really critical we made a film that had the DNA of the show and worked absolutely for the fans, but also had the potential to break out and create a whole new audience for 'Les Miserables.'"

The film opens nationwide Dec. 25.

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