Opening today is director Tom Hooper’s fantastic adaptation of Les Miserables. Loaded with great performances and top notch filmmaking, Les Mis is absolutely a contender for all the year end awards and it would shock me if Anne Hathaway doesn’t win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her incredible work as Fantine. Her one take rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was incredible and it’s the type of performance that’s unforgettable. For more on the film, here are five clips and all our previous coverage.
At the recent NYC press day for the film I did an exclusive interview with Eddie Redmayne (Marius). He talked about how he got the role, what it was like to go to school in Cambridge, the way he prefers to work, how he did his big song twenty-three times and it was the last take that got used in the movie, deleted scenes, future projects, and more. In addition, we talked about what it’s like being up for big roles in Marvel movies and his thoughts on the superhero genre. Hit the jump to either listen to the audio or read the transcript.
Click here to listen to the audio. Otherwise the full transcript is below.
Eddie Redmayne: I’m good, mate. How are you?
Excellent. It’s funny because it seems like the last time we spoke it seemed like you had been very successful in theater, but your film career was sort of taking off and my site had been kind of taking off. And now Collider is doing much better, and you are doing much better in terms of film roles.
Redmayne: Thanks very kind. There’s a weird parallel going on [laughs].
You’re landing on your feet I think. You went to school in Cambridge.
Redmayne: That’s right, yeah.
I have friends that went to school in Cambridge, I’ve been to Cambridge, and that’s a hell of a town to go to school in.
Redmayne: It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?
Redmayne: It’s one of those things that even when you wake up in the morning and you’ve got a massive essay to write on some great masters piece of work, and you’re hung-over and feeling miserable, you look outside and its very beautiful, and you go, “It could be so much worse.” So, I was very spoiled to go there, but I loved it.
Do you ever go back?
Redmayne: No, I haven’t been back in a while, but what was amazing actually is they have a great heritage or history of actors there and when I was there Rebecca Hall, you know, Vicky Christina Barcelona amongst other things, and Tom Hiddleston, and Dan Stevens, Khalid Abdalla from The Kite Runner; so there was a group of us that were all there. And it was so interesting because we would all do plays together and mess about. So it’s wonderful having started having a group of friends from back in the day.
I’m going to ask you a question that almost nobody is going to get, did you attend any of May Balls?
Redmayne: I did, yeah. They’re really not going to get that. These were these hilarious- in fact, they were balls where I was dressed pretty much as I am dressed in Les Mis, not much has changed in like a hundred years. I did go. They’re very debauched, incredibly indulgent parties. Yeah, I did go to a couple.
I’m going to jump in to why I get to talk to you. Congratulations on Les Mis, the film is fantastic. You’re fantastic in the role.
Redmayne: Thank you.
Was this a project that you actively pursued or was this something where they came to you and asked you to read?
Redmayne: I saw the musical when I was about seven, and I wanted to be this character Gavroche who’s like the little rock star in it. And it’s just sat in me since then, that musical. I loved it. And I heard that they were making it and I was shooting a movie called Hick with Chloe Moretz and Alec Baldwin in North Carolina. We were doing a night shoot. I was playing this Texan meth addict pedophile. Don’t ask. We were doing a night shoot and I was in the trailer and I had heard that they were making the film, someone had an iPhone so not dissimilar to your flipcam, I sort of thought I’m just going to give it a shot. So dressed as a cowboy I sang in the video “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, which is the character’s big song. I sent it to my agent really to go, “Look I enjoy singing, I loved this show when I was a kid, how about it?” And my agent Josh flung that straight over to Eric Fellner, who’s one of the producers, and that was sort of the start of the most rigorous, X Factor, American Idol style audition process that involved, you know, one day a panel of four producers, the composer, the lyricist, Tom [Hooper] this academy award winning director, and Nina Gold the casting director. So definitely we were put through our paces. But what was interesting when we started filming was that hearing everyone had had that. So Russell [Crowe], Hugh [Jackman], Annie Hathaway, they had all been put through that sort of rigorous process.
What was it like for you when you’re going in and you know, “I’m going to go sing for all these people and this is it. If I do this I’m going to get the role; if they like me.” I’ve spoken to a lot of casting directors or directors and they all say literally within of seeing somebody and having them talk they almost know if they’re going to be able to do it.
Redmayne: I tell you what; it doesn’t get much easier, firstly. The second thing is you are filled and fueled with adrenaline if you want something; it’s rare for me that you find something that you are so passionate about that you go sort of chasing hard, and I have from the outset chased this. But the weird thing is that for musicals they are used to songs being sung out loud, but I basically took all the theater I’ve had and film experience and tried use the knowledge of both of those worlds to try and do something to reinterpret that song, which had been done brilliantly on stage for many years, for the camera. Because it was like you were having to please two camps, you had to appease the theater world and the film world, both of whom are meeting for the first time, as in the producers of the play and the producers of the film. What’s interesting about cameras is of course that they pick up everything, they pick up any glimpse. So when you are adrenaline fueled and you’re nervous, you try to channel all that into something helpful. Sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does.
I’ve talked to a lot of actors, some of them prefer two takes, the way Clint Eastwood does it. Some people prefer the David Fincher method of fifty takes. You obviously come from the theater and a lot of rehearsal. What is your preference in terms of the amount takes on film?
Redmayne: The Fincher method. I’m someone that – on stage you never get a part right as an actor, you never nail it. And anyone who comes out going “I nailed that.” I never believe them. It’s not true. There are so many ways that you can say a line, let alone a whole character, I feel like it’s very, very rare. I don’t believe in my lifetime I’ll ever nail anything. So on stage, you screw it up each night but you get to go and try it again the next night. Now on film, you leave at the end of the day, you get in the car to go home and you’ve got no option to go back. You just have to wait six months and then see something that inevitably you’re not going to be happy with. So certainly for me, I have a bit that happened specifically on this, I have a big song, because each of the characters have their big song, mine is called “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” and we did it at the end of the shoot. So you would hear whispers on set throughout the shooting process going, “did you hear about Hugh’s ‘Bring him Home’? Did you hear about Annie’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’? Oh my god, it was breathtaking.“ So gradually the pressure would mount. And it got to the end of the shoot and we did “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” and after about twelve takes Tom was like, “Great man, I think we’ve got it.” And I was like, “No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no.” I literally was like, “We keep going until there is blood pouring out of my eyeballs.“ Because I just knew that I would never get a chance to do it again, and I knew too many people cared about the song and are fans of the show to have not at least given everything to it. So I’ve heard about David Fincher’s way of working and it sounds right up my street.
How many times did you actually do the song?
Redmayne: I did it twenty-three times and interestingly tom told me a day or two ago that it was actually the twenty-third take that he used. So it was worth powering through.
How much of a difference was it doing the song twenty-three times? Was it like a slight difference each time?
Redmayne: I’m pretty sure it was slight. But my first ever film which was sort of completely out of my depth, but was an amazing experience was a film that Robert De Niro directed called The Good Shepherd. I remember he had a way of working where he would just keep the camera rolling and you would get to end of an emotional scene and he would keep the camera rolling and you would go back to the beginning of it and use that energy that you create at the end of the scene to then compress and then start the scene over again. And I asked Tom if I could do that on “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” because the guys already been through-it’s basically a song about survivor guilt, and all his friends have died and somehow he’s survived it. So I thought that he’s so tired at the beginning of the song that if you could use the energy that you’ve got at the end and start again, wipe the slate clean, but start with something that is sort of tense within you, then that might be helpful. So that’s how I did that song.
You spoke at the press conference a little bit about the nine weeks of rehearsal.
When you first heard about that were you like, “Fuck Yeah.” Or were you a little bit like-
Redmayne: I was definitely “Fuck yeah”. Because I liked the idea. But what was interesting was it wasn’t- you know, we did lots of technical things, but we didn’t block it, we didn’t put on a musical. Do you see what I mean? A lot of that rehearsal was taking the musical and that had been put into script form by William Nicholson and then taking the book and finding all these elements in the book that you could sort of weave into the fabric of the piece that would make it more detailed and make it more filmic, and that would add complications that you can’t see on stage. So a lot of that process was a literary one and was quite a sort of a rigorous process just going through your character, fighting for your character, fighting for aspects to be brought in. you know, as much as I am a massive fan of the musical you needed other aspects for it to work on film. So a lot of that process was a writing process really.
I interviewed Eric earlier and he told me that the first cut was a little over four hours. The one that they tested was two hours and forty-seven minutes, and then Tom went in really was selective and brought it down to what it is. Do you recall anything that you shot that actually didn’t make the final cut, or was it a lot of little things?
Redmayne: There were pieces that were cut and its always weird when you watch a film, it’s always weird the first time you see it you’re always sort of not happy with what you’ve done, you’re always self-critical and also you see all the bits that have been taken out and its more difficult to see the whole. So it was actually the second time that I watched this film that I emotionally engaged with it, because the first time you’re busy scrutinizing all the things that have changed. But what Tom was so magnificent with was that the story was the thing and he manages-it’s a brilliant story, it’s an incredibly complicated story, and he manages to make that through line and although it is a long film it doesn’t t feel like there’s waste of it. There’s a very powerful through line. So I’m curious to see the four and a half hour version.
I asked him, I said, “If this is a big success is there a possibility of releasing a new version in theaters, like an extended cut?” And he said that they only scored what the final release was and they would have to really go in with the scoring, and it would be a lot of work, but it could be worth it.
Redmayne: I think what was amazing talking to Tom, because it felt new, this whole experience, none of us knew what we were doing as I said in the press conference, it’s like we all helped each other out. Everyone, it was new for everyone. So the sound department had never had to do this thing of having to radio the music into our ears from a distance. Which is fine if you’re in a studio, but if you’re climbing up a mountain, which Hugh is, how do you put the ring around a mountain in order that the radio stuff is going to work. Everything felt new and I remember Tom said during the editing process when I was speaking to him, “I can’t tell you how complicated it is.” Because every edit you change, every time you choose a different take, because we chose the speed of the songs so each take is different, every time you shave a bit off you have to then write out new orchestrations, get an orchestra in, record the orchestra. So it’s like every element normally in a film you can just shift and change, whereas here it was- he said it was like chasing your own tail, sort of a cyclical thing. So I think the complications were extraordinary. So I think when I spoke to him, when we first showed it, he had finished it the night before and he talked about the director’s cut and he was like, “So tired, I can’t even possibly consider the notion at the moment.”
You have either screen tested or are rumored for a few big projects in the future.
What’s it like for you being mentioned alongside all these other actors for say, Spider-Man 2 or Guardians of the Galaxy?
Redmayne: I’ll tell you what’s interesting about it, is first it’s very flattering, but I don’t know it’s a bit like someone said in this interview earlier, “Did you know all the people you were auditioning against?” And I’m one of those people, I just quite like to keep my head down and put one foot in front of the other because I get affected by noise and the feeling of it. So I try not to look into that. And sometimes it’s true and sometime it’s not. It’s very flattering and I feel very privileged for the moments that are true, but I try not to look at it.
Well I’ll say this because obviously there are many people that Marvel is looking at and Sony is looking at, I mean these are huge franchises, but I’ll ask you just as a comic book person are you a big comic book person? Are you familiar with these characters? The superhero genre is getting more and more popular.
Redmayne: It is. No and I’ve always been, do you know what, I have been a fan. – I go and see those films and the ones are good I absolutely love, and the ones that aren’t I don’t so much. But having seen things like Andrew and Emma’s performance in spider-man, you know it’s often that the scale of the pieces can make an audience think that there’s so much going on that you sort of forget that there are brilliant things being done by the actors in the middle of it. And same thing with The Avengers and I’m lucky enough to have worked with some of these actors and some of them are friends. And so you do go in from an actor’s point of view scrutinizing that. and I think through The Dark Knight Rises and all these other films there’s is a weightiness that is being given to these pieces now that, for me, is so much more extraordinary than when they felt more light.
Totally. I think that in Spider-Man Andrew and Emma’s performance, their relationship, is the best part of the film. I really do.
Redmayne: They have fantastic chemistry don’t they?
Well I think they were falling in love on screen.
Redmayne: [Laughs] Yeah, but I’ve done that and often it reads as really bad chemistry, it’s that famous thing.
My last thing because I’ve got to wrap with you. Are there other projects that you are looking at, other scripts that you are thinking about? I imagine that this is going to be a leapfrog into a lot of other things.
Redmayne: Since Les Mis, before that I did a play Richard II in London and I did My Week with Marilyn and I did a thing called Birdsong for BBC, all of which were passion projects. And as an actor you spend years doing whatever you can get to just try and be employed and gradually, over the last year or two I’ve been lucky enough to do things that were all sort of passion projects. So what’s amazing is I’m trying to keep that alive for as long as I can, to do things that I actually care about. So since Les Mis I’ve been reading some really interesting things, and I think, yeah, there are some interesting things in the mix, but we’ll have to see. [Laughs] I’ve got nothing to give you.
I understand. I’m going to say thank you for this. Congrats on Les Mis, it’s going to be a very big hit.
Redmayne: Thank you.