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Joy of Les Mis music
The cast soundtrack from the hit film Les Miserables has topped the album charts, but singing live on set was a challenge, the stars tell Steve Pratt
ACTOR Eddie Redmayne grew up listening to the soundtrack of the stage musical Les Miserables.
In particular, he loved Michael Ball as French revolutionary student Marius singing Empty Tables. Understandably perhaps he was nervous about performing the song in the film version.
Director Tom Hooper insisted the cast sing live on the set rather than pre-record the songs as usually happens in film musicals. Redmayne ended up performing Empty Tables no less than 21 times.
“He could have kept going. That boy wasn’t finished yet at take 21. At take 21, as you can hear in the film, there’s no issue of vocal stamina – he’s in his stride,” recalls Hooper.
Redmayne bumped into Ball, the original stage Marius in Les Miserables, by coincidence on the morning of this interview.
“I grew up listening to him sing the part. It’s the version of Empty Tables that I have known and loved,” he says.
“With theatre, you can amend it the next day if you screw it up, you can try to do it better. On the film, I knew I’d leave at the end of that day and never be able to do anything about it. So we did, I think, seven takes and Tom was like, ‘I think you got it mate’ and I was, ‘no, no.no’.
“The stakes are so high in that song. It starts at such an emotional level because he’s lost all his friends.
It’s a song of survivor guilt. You can start somewhere dark and take it darker. So the more takes I did, the more I could feed back into the top of that song.”
This week, the cast soundtrack of Les Miserables became the first cast musical to top the UK album charts for 16 years. The last was the Evita soundtrack with Madonna. Les Mis also features Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, whose rendition of I Dreamed A Dream is climbing the singles chart.
Redmayne’s Marius finds himself courting young Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried, who starred in another hit screen musical, the Abbainspired Mamma Mia! “Les Miserables is completely different,” she says.
“Mamma Mia didn’t really feel like a musical compared to this. At the same time I took a little bit of confidence from having done something that worked. This was the biggest challenge of my career. After singing live, as challenging as it is I never want to do it any other way.”
Redmayne loved doing the Heart Full Of Love song with Seyfried, set in a garden with hundreds of fluttering butterflies. They proved a bit of a distraction. “Tom Hooper became obsessed with the stunt butterflies.
There were moments when Amanda and I would do this incredibly intense take of new-found love and Tom was like, ‘that was great, but the butterflies weren’t right’. But it’s such a beautiful woven song.”
It wasn’t butterflies but rain for Samantha Barks playing Eponine.
She was singing in the rain, performing her big song On My Own in torrential rain. “Singing live is something that’s slightly more comfortable for me than others because I’ve been singing on stage. But there were challenges you wouldn’t come across in the theatre. One was the big rain machine that followed me around for a lot of the film,” she says.
“The actual singing in the rain was one thing, but I had to be wet in every scene that followed. I’d arrive on set and they’d be like, ‘we’re going to have to hose you down’.
“You’d get so cold because of the rain that your teeth started to chatter.
The sound man was like ‘we’re picking up a weird sound’ and I’d say, ‘that’s my teeth’.
“There’s this part of you as a singer that wants it to be flawless, you’re thinking does it sound right?
You have to leave that vanity at the door and embrace those flaws in your voice. If I started crying now and you couldn’t see me, you’d hear it in my voice. There’s no reason you can’t carry that into your singing and that makes for a much more emotional sound.”
Barks was “discovered” through the BBC’s I’d Do Anything talent show to find someone to play Nancy in a London West End revival of the musical Oliver! She didn’t win but later played the role in the UK tour.
She also played Eponine in Les Mis on stage before being asked to reprise the role on screen.
“Film was a completely new world to me. But at least I was approaching it with a character I knew a lot about and a piece I knew a lot about.
“There are so many differences even just playing the same character.
On stage, you are projecting your voice and emotions, so everything is heightened. There’s something so thrilling about keeping that live buzz you get when you connect with an audience in theatre and combining that with the intimacy and realism in film. It felt so unique to have the opportunity to experience both at the same time.”