Watch: Tom Hooper on timelessness and relevance of ‘Les Miserables’

Tom Hooper took a huge risk following up the hugely successful “The King’s Speech” with “Les Misérables.” But Hooper was drawn to “Les Misérables” not only because of “the emotion that it provokes in people” but because, in his eyes, the iconic musical “is uncannily timely”.

“We live in a time of incredible anger about rising economic inequality around the world,” says Hooper. “We have images of revolution on our front pages every day. Victor Hugo, when he wrote the novel, was motivated by his incredible horror at the level of inequality he saw around himself, and unfortunately, 150 years later, there’s still an appalling and unacceptable level of inequality around the world.”

It is the perfect time to bring the beloved musical to the big screen. “”Les Misérables” is the great cry of the dispossessed,” explains Hooper. “It’s the great anthem of those who struggle, and sadly, 150 years on, those themes remain as topical as ever.”

In Sydney over the pre-Christmas weekend with stars Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe for the Australian premiere of the picture, Hooper sat down with Gold Derby to talk at length about the film and, in particular, about the relatively novel and risky way in which this new film version was put together.

Hooper was adamant that the film would be more authentic if he captured the live performances of the actors rather than relying on dubbing the musical score and the signing of the actors in post-production. “They are not doing renditions of a famous song. They are ripping these songs from their soul. Doing it live felt like the only way to get to the emotional intimacy I was after.”

“When it’s live they can take a moment for a new idea or emotion to form in their eyes before they sing about it; if they start to cry, they can carry that through what they’re singing. They can slow down, they can speed up. But really, they are just going to do what actors do; when actors do dialogue, they are free to pace the dialogue – stop, start, hesitate – as they wish. Here, it was all about creating the necessary illusion that these characters are the authors of these songs.

One of the most talked about scenes in the film is Anne Hathaway‘s Fantine and her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” It is one of the moments in the film that stay with you well after the credits roll. Hooper says that although they did a number of takes, it was the fourth take that he used in the film. 

“After take four, I went over and said ‘We’ve got it’ and [Anne] said ‘I know, but let’s do a couple more just to get it out of my system’,” Hooper recalls. “I remember the day, and I remember feeling really compassionate to her. This is a girl who mother was the understudy for Fantine when she was seven, who had the whole drama of whether her mum would go on, and when her mother did go on, she would have to rush to the theatre in time to see her performing it. You can’t get more of a ‘Les Miz’ fan than Anne Hathaway. So it’s iconic from her childhood. She has had none months to prepare, she’s preparing every day, and really in the back of her mind it’s all about this one moment.”

Now, as “Les Misérables” opens worldwide and has begun to rack up awards nominations, Hooper finds himself back in the race for Oscar glory that he basked in just two years ago with Best Picture champ “The King’s Speech.” He currently sits at fourth place in our exclusive Gold Derby rankings.

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Speaknig at length about his experience with the rollercoaster ride of the 2010 awards season, Hooper says that, in retrospect, winning the DGA award in the lead up to Oscar night was most dear to his heart. “There’s something about being acknowledged by a group that is exclusively working directors, assistant directors, who really understand at that granular level what a director does,” admits Hooper. “There’s something about getting acknowledgment from your fellow directors that, even now, makes me feel a bit emotional.”

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