Les Misérables - Hugh Jackman
Les Misérables - Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) admits that he is the real prisoner ©2012 Universal Pictures

Academy Award winning director, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), brings to life in a remarkable way the motion-picture adaptation of the musical sensation Les Miserables, which opens on Christmas Day.

Set in 19th century France, it tells the story of ex-prisoner Jean Vajean (Hugh Jackman) who, after he breaks parole, is hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe).

Hugh Jackman spoke of his performance and the movie Les Miserables at the press day for the film in New York.

How did you prepare for this role?

Les Miserables - Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman
Javert (Russell Crowe) confronts Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) ©2012 Universal Pictures

Tom Hooper from the beginning told us all that there were going to be rehearsals, but I’m not sure any of us expected nine weeks of rehearsals.

I’ve never been on a film where an entire cast signs up for the entire time.I come from the theatre so for me rehearsals are vital and a way of life.

We would rehearse full out, it wasn’t like a halfhearted thing, and Tom would move his chair often to a very uncomfortably close [position]. It was brilliant, by the time we got to the set it was not uncomfortable having the camera that close.

You lost a lot of weight for this role, can you talk about that?

Les Miserables - Hugh Jackman
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and his fellow prisoners in Toulon haul a massive ship into port ©2012 Universal Pictures

It’s a very big part of the story Javier has with Valjan, as they know each other right through the story.

They meet in the play, and it’s probably five minutes later where they re-meet nine years later, and Javier has no idea who this guy is.

It’s plainly clear to [the audience] that the guy has just taken a fake beard off and put on a greyer wig, and it’s exactly the same guy.

We had an opportunity here for all the characters to show the [passing of] time. Tom said, ‘I want to make you unrecognizable, and if people in your life aren’t saying, ‘Are you sick?’ then you haven’t gone far enough.’

How do you see Jean Valjean?

Les Miserables - Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) embraces a very ill Fantine (Anne Hathaway) ©2012 Universal Pictures

I see him as a real hero. He’s quiet, humble. Jean Valjean comes from a place of the greatest hardship that I could never imagine, and manages to transform himself from the inside.

Obviously on film we wanted to show the outside change as well, but actually Victor Hugo uses the word transfiguration, it’s even more than a transformation, because he becomes more God-like.

It’s a spiritual change, it’s something that happens from within. And to me it’s one of the most beautiful journeys ever written and I didn’t take the responsibility of playing the role lightly.

I think it’s one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had and if I’m a tenth of the man Jean Valjean is, I’ll be a very happy man.

One of the most powerful lyrics in the movie is ‘To love another person is the see the face of God.’ What is your personal take on that?

Les Miserables - Hugh Jackman
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) ©2012 Universal Pictures

I think you’ve hit on the most powerful line of the musical and what Victor Hugo was talking about. Of course, for Victor Hugo there’s a large comment in the book about the church at the time, which made him very, very unpopular when he wrote it.

It was a big, powerful, distant, quite excluding thing, there is a lot of fire and brimstone and I think he was reminding everyone at the time of the Jesus Christ example, which is to love people.

For all of us, the idea that the philosophy that actually you don’t need to go to the top of a mountain in Tibet to find self-realization, you don’t need to do great things or listen to spiritual leaders, the first thing you have to do is be present, know what you stand for in life and face what is in front of you, the humanity of just seeing what is required.

That’s real love and that’s probably, according to Victor Hugo and I agree with him, the answer to life.

A new song was written for the movie of Les Miserables. Click below to listen to Hugh discuss it.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.