During the 2013 awards season, Anne Hathaway's Oscar-bound sweep as Fantine in "Les Misérables" sadly overshadowed one of the movie musical's biggest break-through performances -- that of Samantha Barks as Eponine. With the release of the movie on Blu-ray and DVD this Friday, audiences will have another chance to check out the pipes on the Isle of Man native who made her film debut alongside Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Eddie Redmayne.
Barks definitely comes from the glass-slipper, Cinderella-story school of show business: She was named Best Foreign Singer at the Maltese International Song Competition in 2007. The next year, at 17, she came in third on the BBC talent show "I'd Do Anything." Next up were "Aladdin" at the Theatre Royal Windsor and Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and then she entered "Les Mis" territory playing Eponine, a tragic love-struck urchin, in London's West End.
Famed producer Cameron Mackintosh caught Barks at the West End and cast her opposite Nick Jonas in "Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary" in 2010. From there, she was just a song away from her film debut in Tom Hooper's Oscar-winning musical. We caught up with the dark-haired, dimpled star, 22, who was as surprised as anybody that she made the cut alongside the Hollywood A-list: "I never for a second thought I would be considered. It was a new experience for me after the West End. On film, you have to really play to a camera instead of trying to fill a 2,000-seat auditorium. To bring it into such an intimate place is very exciting."
Watch Samantha Barks performing in "On My Own" in 'Les Miserables':
Thelma Adams: Of all the major cast members, you're probably the least known outside of England. What should we know about you?
Samantha Barks: I am an actress that loves to sing.
TA: Any pet peeves?
SB: Many! One of mine is when you start singing and someone joins in on your song and changes the key so that you cannot sing your own song.
TA: What's one thing people wouldn't learn about you from the studio press notes?
SB: I have a brother and a sister. My brother is a pilot with three beautiful children. My sister is a primary school teacher. Christmas dinner is interesting because we all have different careers. No one in my family has ever sung, and we're all equally thrilled to hear about my sister the teacher or my brother the pilot.
TA: How old were you when you landed your first professional lead role on stage?
SB: I was 17 when I was cast as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret." It's such a meaty role. I was really thrown in the deep end on that and it taught me so much, so fast. There's something about the song "Mein Herr" that was so fierce. You just see this young woman's world absolutely crumble in front of her. It's heartbreaking.
TA: When we talked to your co-star Eddie Redmayne, who plays the romantic revolutionary Marius, the unrequited love of Eponine, he described the audition process as "rigorous." He said, "It was an 'X Factor'-style audition in front of the lyricist, the composer, Mackintosh, the producers, the director, and the casting director. I have a newfound respect for American singers on 'The X Factor.'"
SB: It was more a grueling in-and-out process for me because I had to show I could transform a theatrical role to the screen. I auditioned in front of Mackintosh, the writers, Tom Hooper -- and they all sat a bit spread out. There were so many auditions!
TA: What was one of the biggest differences between playing Eponine on stage and making her come alive on set?
SB: What was interesting to me as a theater performer is that we're pretty nocturnal. Having to be up and sing at five and do my vocal exercises at four AM was tough. My neighbors were totally sick of it.
TA: Not only was the role musically challenging, it was physically challenging, too. You play a lot of your scenes soaking wet. Was it as uncomfortable as it looked?
SB: They had a big rain machine spewing freezing- cold water that followed me around everywhere I walked. At first it was refreshing. But after a while, your teeth start to chatter, and your rib cage starts uncontrollably shaking. What's that sound? That's Sam's teeth chattering.
TA: So, logistically, how do they reshoot those scenes -- do you start out dry, they get you wet, and then you have to towel off, or what?
SB: I started the song already wet. By the time you see me in the song, I'm already completely soaked. At lunch, I sat in my wet costume. What was interesting was that all the scenes that followed the song, I had to be drenched, so before the scene they had to hose me down. I had an overwhelming sense of cold, and it tickles, to be followed around by a big cloud of rain. I even died in Eddie's arms in the rain. Now if I go outside in the rain, I don't need an umbrella. I'm used to it.
TA: Eddie Redmayne was also amazing in "Les Mis." I'd seen him on Broadway in "Red," and in "My Week with Marilyn," but I had no clue about his singing voice.
SB: I didn't know that he sang, either, and all of a sudden this angelic voice came out. His control over his falsetto and his upper vocal range floored me. I think the world of Eddie as a person and an actor. He's such an approachable lovely man, and getting to die in his arms was an absolute joy.
TA: You also had scenes with Sacha Baron Cohen: Tell us about your on-screen spat.
SB: He slaps me and I spit at him. He left me with a sore face, and I left him disgusting. Sacha's very improvisational. Every scene, every take is completely different. It's fresh and on the spot every take. It creates this real tension.
TA: Cohen, Redmayne, Jackman, Hathaway -- that's a hard act to follow, Sam. What's next for you?
SB: Having had a bit of a taste of a film world, I'm excited to do another film. My goal is to build a varied career. I look at Hugh Jackman for smart decisions: He has the perfect balance combining stage with film and musical theater in such a classy way. Also, he has such a balanced headspace, and he's such a wonderful human being.
And yet another dream comes true for the "Les Mis" star. After singing "One Day More" with the ensemble at the Academy Awards in Hollywood on Feb. 26, Barks returned home to her native Isle of Man to film the period costume drama "The Christmas Candle" opposite that other British singing-contest phenom, Susan Boyle, in her film debut. "Having just landed from the Academy Awards," Barks told THR, "I had an hour to unpack and repack and get to set."