TOKYO — Cameron Mackintosh, the megahit producer of musicals, is as animated as his productions, particularly Les Miserables for which Conversations flew to this city. Inspired by Victor Hugo’s 150-year-old tale about the poor rising up against rich, set in 19th-century France, it’s as timely and as relevant as ever, considering that not much has changed in the world. The barricade scene is reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street and similar protests in other parts of the world.
Mackintosh can’t stop talking about Les Miz — and then some. After the 20-minute interview with journalists from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines (The STAR was the only Philippine paper invited), Cameron stops them from leaving the room and says, “Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that…” and goes on and on and on about whatever it is that he has forgotten to tell them.
Les Miz the movie is as touching as, if not ever more so than the stage version because the characters are bigger than life and, with the actors up close, you can see even the slightest nuances in their eyes and in their faces…in their body language. The film brings the characters/actors endearingly closer to the audience, so close that you can almost feel their heart beat.
Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Les Miserables stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Samantha Barks as Eponine, with Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier, Sacha Baron Cohen as Thernadier and Eddie Redmayne as Marius.
Adapted from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s original stage musical, with a screenplay by two-time Oscar nominee William Nicholson (Gladiator, Shadowlands), the film is produced by Working Title Films/Cameron Mackintosh Production. It will be released in the Philippines by Solar Films starting on Jan. 16, 2013. Already, the buzz is that Les Miz may be a strong contender in next year’s Oscars.
I cried over several scenes in Les Miz. Did you?
“I was crying until it was finished. No, I’ve been watching the movie for months and months. I have not seen it yet with an audience because I have to go to Seoul to start the promo. I’ve seen it in the cinema with just us…about 20 people.”
The movie was done on a $61M budget. Did you cry over the budget?
“Yes, I did.” (Laughs) “I cried because we had so little. No, it’s a lot of movies for that kind of money.”
The actors sing throughout the film, even when they are just supposed to be talking to each other.
“Well, that’s what Les Miserables is. It’s constructed as an opera. I think one of the brilliant things about it is that you often forget that they are singing because you are so caught up with the story. It’s probably why it’s one of the few musicals in the world that work just as well in a concert tour with actors and an orchestra as it does on stage. We first did the concert in Australia in 1989 and we had no idea what would happen. We did it before an audience of 125,000 people and we were surprised. We were expecting much less than that because we thought that only a handful knew the music. That’s when I realized that the power of the piece itself could transcend any area.”
The actors seem to be singing live, not by playback.
“Each actor would sing one song 10 or 15 times in a day, non-stop. I think Hugh sang one song 20 times in a day! I’ve been recording the songs live for some time. I mean, I did the 10th-anniversary concert with Lea (Salonga who has played both Eponine and Fantine in the musical) in London and, of course, the 25th anniversary. Those recordings were all done live and the performances were electric. Anyway, going back to the musicals that I love, it feels different. You can tell that there’s something too perfect about them, so different from Les Miz which has a gritty reality to it. I saw West Side Story again a few months ago and it’s so funny, it looks so clean…the clothes are clean. And the voices are so perfect. I think the way we made Les Miz is going to change the way musicals will be done in the future.”
Which is more challenging, mounting the musical or making the movie?
“Well, they both have different challenges. The first challenge was getting it on the stage because if it wasn’t for the stage and for all the people who love the musical for the last 27 years, we would never have the opportunity of making this movie. The public has embraced the theater version and hopefully they will also embrace the movie version.”
It’s the first musical that you have filmed. What made you do it?
“Originally, I was gonna do it 25 years ago when the show opened; I was gonna do it with Sony and Tristar, with Alan Parker as director. But I had to hold back because the show had just opened. I thought maybe it would run five years. Little did I know that 27 years later, it’s still running and a new production is even more successful now. Because of the delay, Alan came to me and said, ‘Look, my mind is on other things now.’ I met with other directors, until we found Tom Hooper. (See accompanying story about Hooper. — RFL) Thank God, the delay was a blessing because at that time I don’t think the world would be ready for this kind of musical. And I don’t think we would have found the right cast. Anne got the role by osmosis (because her mom played Fantine in a national tour). Russell started in musicals and he was one of the first to audition for Miss Saigon; he just came from drama school when I did Miss Saigon in 1990.”
Together with Lea?
“Well, Lea has been a star since she came out of the womb. She started acting at eight and she originated the role of Kim in Miss Saigon when she was 17.”
How did Russell fare in the audition?
“He couldn’t dance well enough. He said, ‘I couldn’t dance well enough to get to you.’ One actor who also auditioned was Geoffrey Rush who tried for The Engineer. But, he looked so Caucasian and that’s the problem I had on Broadway over Jonathan Pryce. But it’s funny how the world was. It was a blessing in disguise. Eight weeks after he didn’t get the role, Geoffrey landed the role in Shine and it changed his life. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for it. With Hugh who also started in musicals, we’ve known each other for many years. He did Oklahoma for me. A few years ago, I thought he would be perfect for Javert because his baritone voice was more on the Javert range. But he’s great Jean Valjean. I think he was born to play this role. He has a wonderful soul and heart as well as a great talent and charisma.”
As the producer, you have a hand in choosing the cast. Didn’t you ever consider casting Lea in one of the roles in the movie?
“If we did Les Miz 25 years ago, I probably would have cast Lea. But Lea is the wrong age right now. You know, it’s been 25 years since I made Miss Saigon, but she still looks and sounds wonderful, with an extraordinary voice. I would dearly love to have her in one of our future shows.”
Speaking of Miss Saigon, there were auditions in Manila just three weeks ago and six actresses were chosen as “finalists.” Are you really restaging the musical?
“Yes, I’m going to restage Miss Saigon in London as soon as I find the theater. In fact, yes, you’re right…we have started preliminary auditions. When we did the show in London 25 years ago, we spent over a year looking for the cast. I hope that in the next 18 months it would be back in London. The new version has just opened here in Japan and it’s a phenomenal success. It’s going to be a different production but still the same great Miss Saigon.”
Have you viewed the tapes of the Manila auditions?
“Not yet. I will do it in London later on. At the moment, my focus is on Les Miz.”
What about a movie version of Miss Saigon?
“It’s possible. But we have to wait and see how successful Les Miz will be as a film.”
You have such a great love for music. You have the looks. So why did you become a producer and not an actor?
“I have one thing missing…the talent. But I did act by mistake. My first job was as a stage hand in Drury Lane in London in 1965. I was there for four months. I was a cleaner and then a prop boy backstage. And then I auditioned for the Oliver! tour and I was a slightly better singer…only slightly…than the other person auditioning so I got the role and I went with the tour while working offstage as well. I couldn’t believe that I was being paid to sing and dance in front of thousands of people with so little talent.”
(E-mail reactions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also send your questions to email@example.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)