Tom Hooper Defends His 'Les Misérables ' Close-Ups & Reveals Who's The Bigger Musical Geek: Jackman or Hathaway
Now that Les Misérables is expected to surpass its opening-day box-office expectations by $5 million-10 million, director Tom Hooper could pretend that adapting the beloved musical for the big screen was a walk in the park — but he'd be lying. On Thursday, Hooper spoke to Movieline from his Sydney, Australia hotel room and, as he watched a massive tanker navigate Sydney Harbor, likened the challenge of directing the film to piloting an unwieldy boat through a very tricky channel.
"It was an extraordinary dance between musical structure and filmic structure," Hooper explained in a revealing interview about the making of Les Miz. The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who's expected to snare his second Best Director nomination on Jan. 10, talked at length about his reasons for making the movie and the challenges of pacing and editing a film that is essentially sung through from beginning to end. He also addressed criticism that he relied too heavily on close-ups in the film, divulged Eddie Redmayne's technique for attaining such exquisite sadness in his performance of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" and answered the burning question of the day: whether Anne Hathaway or Hugh Jackman is a bigger musical geek.
Movieline: When I saw Les Misérables in New York, I was surprised by the audience’s passionate reaction to the movie. After certain scenes and songs, they were applauding and cheering as if they were actually seeing a live performance.
Tom Hooper: It's quite extraordinary. I've never sat in any cinema or any premiere, or any screening of one of my films and seen a response like this. It’s like you're at some kind of happening, some kind of out-of-body experience rather than a movie. I was at the Tokyo premiere with the Crown Prince of Japan on Monday. It was quite a formal screening and the audience went kind of crazy. The Japanese broke into a standing ovation at the end, and I was told that for people to stand in the presence of the Crown Prince without him having gotten to his feet first was a total break of protocol.
Since you had the foresight to make this movie, what do you think is causing audiences to react so effusively?
Actually, I want to ask you: What about the movie connected with you? I’m very interested.
Oddly enough, I’m not a big fan of movie musicals, but I liked that Les Misérables wasn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, especially in a year when Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, which I also admire, are these relatively cool procedurals. I also thought that your decision to have the actors sing on camera paid off. There are some honest, raw performances in Les Miz and, as a result, the movie ends up being quite a cathartic experience.
Yes, I think that’s the word. I always get asked, “Why did you do this film?” The very first time I saw the musical, the ending was what made me want to do the movie. There’s that moment where the hero of the story, Jean Valjean (Jackman), has just passed away and you hear the distant sound of “Do you hear the people singing?” — like an angelic chorus. I had a bodily physical reaction and was crying. I remember thinking what, why am I reacting this way? I was crying about my dad.
My dad is alive and well and — but I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that this moment is going to come with my father. A few years ago, he went through cancer. He recovered, but when he was facing it, he told me, “Tom, I want to master the art of dying well." And I said, "Dad, what on earth do you mean by that?" He said, "When I pass away, I want to do it in a way that’s as compassionate to my family as possible and that limits the pain they suffer. These words came to me when I was thinking about the end of this film. I thought, what’s extraordinary about Les Misérables is that it looks death square in the eye and says that if you navigate that moment with love, it’s possible to achieve a kind of peace.