Les Miserables: A Conversation With Anne Hathaway

In no way prepping herself as a happy hooker for Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway stopped by for some conversation about her melancholy turn in the famed Victor Hugo novel to stage and then screen Tom Hooper directed movie musical.

Fielding all sorts of questions including one from an absentee mystery Glitter Girl, Hathaway held forth on perfecting the art of singing and crying at the same time, mulling sentimental cast tattoos, possible on location chocolate sewers, and what in the world is Camp Les Miz.

In addition to her own personal take on method acting, which included a willingness to lose the hair but drew the line at pulling her teeth for real.

You gave a pretty amazing performance.


Now, there’s a lot of crying in this move.

AH: Ha! From the audience or the actors!

Well, a little bit of both, actually. Is it true that you practiced crying while you were singing?

AH: Yes!

So what’s your secret to crying and singing at the same time? Go, Annie!

AH: Alright…Um, I don’t know that there any secrets to it. It’s just, it’s a pulse, it’s a vein. That you follow.

Was there something about your character Fantine you related to, that led you to that dark place?

AH: In my case, there’s no way that I could relate to what my Fantine is going through. I have a very successful, happy life.

And I don’t have any children that I’ve had to give up! Um, or keep! So what I did, is I tried to get inside the reality of her story as it exists in our world.

And to do that, I read a lot of articles and news clips. And I watched a lot of documentaries about sexual slavery.

And for me, for this particular story, I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as somebody who lived in the past. But she doesn’t.

You know, she’s living in New York City right now. She’s probably less than a block away. This injustice exists in our world too.

And every day that I was her, I thought, this isn’t just an invention. This isn’t me acting.

This is me honoring that this pain lives in this world. And I hope that in all of our lifetimes like today, that we see it end.

A lot is heard about the amazing cast camaraderie in Les Miserables. So did you do anything to commemorate that, as happens with the Lord Of The Rings cast, like going out and getting tattoos together?

AH: Well, last night when we all went out, we were right next to like eight tattoo parlors! But honestly, the person who I think was kind of the beginning of the glue that we wound up developing, isn’t even here with us in New York, unfortunately.

And that’s Russell Crowe. You cannot underestimate Russell’s contribution and influence on this cast. Where is Russell anyway!

But he was the first one to say, hey. Everyone come to my house on Friday night.

You know, my voice teacher is gonna play piano. And we’ll have a couple of drinks, and we’ll sing. And that was such a key part of the process.

Because up to that point, we were in rehearsals with each other. And we were all very serious, and spending all day crying!

But then in between, I don’t think we had quite gotten to the point where we thought of song as a way of communicating with each other. I think we thought, this is what we have to do.

You know, this is a technical thing that we must accomplish. But through those nights, Russell let us approach it from a completely different perspective.

Which is, this is the way we are going to communicate. This is the language we speak. These are our shared experiences.

And I know for me, it made me so much more invested in the totality of the film. And being in a small part of the film that I am, I could have easily just gone home.

And you know, forgotten about it all. But I cared so much when I left, I needed to know, how did my own thing go. You know, in my life, how did that turn out.

And I think that really cemented the bond between us. And now we kinda say, we’re Camp Les Miz!

Anne, a fan of yours out there called Glitter Girl wants to know, did you really chop your hair off in the movie. And if you did are you sorry?

AH: Ha! First of all Glitter Girl, where are you. Slacker!

At school. Fourth grade.

AH: Likely story! Um, I did cut my hair. And I’m only sorry when I had to spend time with Amanda Seyfried. Whose hair is so beautiful! And no, I don’t feel sorry.

But I did offer Tom the option of cutting my hair. And it was always something kinda in the back of my mind, that I’d be willing to do for a character. If it was ever the right thing to do.

So when I was cast and I got the script, I knew they were keeping the hair cutting in. And then I read the book, and it’s such a devastating scene in the book.

So I thought, doing it for real might raise the stakes a bit for the character. And I guess in the back of my mind I thought, if it was a painful experience watching her hair cut, then watching her teeth get pulled would be really painful!

And of course when she becomes a prostitute, I just thought, I’m going to be there with her. Feeling that alongside of her. And as an actor, it was great to be able to authentically communicate a physical transformation.

How did you go about getting into the head of a prostitute?

AH: Well, I was very inspired and moved by the work Emma Thompson has done. And so I just started off from there.

And the Internet is a spectacular tool, to answer any questions you might have. And so I just started Googling, and reading various articles.

I mean, it stays with you. Things that, I read things that are unimaginable. And you just think, these human beings have experienced them.

And I remember a few images that jumped out at me. I remember there was a police raid on a brothel. And a camera crew went along.

And there was a crawlspace up in the ceiling. Oh my god, it was so small, and fourteen girls came out of it.

And they were all so tiny and scrunched up there together. And when they came out, they weren’t shocked that there was a camera there.

And they weren’t worried about getting arrested. They were gone, they were numb. They were unrecognizable as human beings. And my heart broke for them.

And there was another piece where a woman, her face was blacked out. Because she didn’t want her identity revealed.

And she sat there and kept repeating, I come from a good family. I come from a good family. We lost everything. And I have children, so now I do this.

So she doesn’t want to do this, it’s the only way her children are going to eat. And then she let out this sob that I’ve never heard before.

And then she just raised her hand to her forehead. And it was the most despairing gesture that I have ever seen.

And that was the moment I realized, I wasn’t playing a character. This woman deserves to have her voice heard. And I needed to connect to that honesty, and recreate that feeling.

And she’s nameless, I’ll never know who she is. But she really was the one who made me understand when Fantine says, ‘Shame.’

And you know, what it’s like to not just go to a dark place. But to have fallen from a place where you didn’t ever imagine that anything bad was going to happen to you.

And then, the betrayal and the rage that you feel at life. And because of that, you’ve gone into a place that, by the way, I don’t believe she would have gone to.

I don’t believe this woman would have gone there, or that Fantine would have gone to if she didn’t have children to support. I think she would have let herself die.

And so it all just added up to be…You know, Fantine is so heartbreaking. And it just kind of all became layered within me.

What about other powerful themes in the movie, like redemption and hope?

AH: I think it’s the answer to the question of Jean Valjean in the prologue, what spirit comes to move my life. And he spends the rest of the film answering that question.

And on a brief sidebar! I just want to make sure that I impress on you, I don’t want you to be charmed by Hugh Jackman!


AH: Because we all know that he’s a miracle. And we all know that he can go and make friends with everyone, and be totally friendly.

And sometimes I think that keeps people from seeing his genius as an actor. So I just want to say, the reason that line resonates, is that we witness it in his performance the entire time.

What Hugh does in this film, is inspiring. And we were all inspired by him. He was absolutely our leader.

So I just don’t want his nice guy thing to distract anyone. You know, from the fact that he is a deep, serious and profoundly gifted actor.

So how does it feel to come down emotionally from such a huge production?

AH: I think we’re all kinda slightly worried that…this is not really happening! Um, you know, that we’re all kind of in some strange, odd mutual trip. And we’re hallucinating!

But we were all such fans of it, that I think we all showed up on the first day with enormous gratitude. And the responsibility of telling this story that was entrusted to us.

And it was great to share those stories. You know, when was the first time you saw it. And who did you want to be at first.

And sorry to answer this twice, but I don’t think it can be understated, we’re all massive Les Miz geeks!

Now about the awful scenes with the characters plodding along through the guck in those underground sewers…

AH: That was probably chocolate!

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.