The thing about Amanda
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - December 30, 2012 - 12:00am

TOKYO — At a function room of Ritz Carlton which provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, with Mt. Fuji looming yonder, Amanda Seyfried is regaling Asian journalists wide-eyed with anecdotes from the set of Les Miserables (a.k.a. Les Mis or Les Miz), her favorite musical of all time in which she plays Cosette, the young daughter of Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway).

She’s such a darling, her big beautiful eyes turning even bigger when she recounts that as a schoolgirl, she played Cosette at a recital and started dreaming the dream (to paraphrase Fantine’s signature song) of one day being part of the bigger picture, even if, she says, she would have to sell her soul for it. Luckily, she didn’t have to.

Directed by Tom Hopper (who helmed the Oscar-winner The King’s Speech) and co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh (who also produced the musical on stage) with Working Title Films, Les Miz also stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, newcomer Samantha Barks as Eponine, Eddie Redmayne (of My Week with Marilyn fame) as Marius, Sacha Baron Cohen as Thenardier and Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier.

Trivia: Inspired by Victor Hugo’s 150-year-old tale about a group of students, immigrants and insurrectionists who barricaded parts of Paris demanding for change amidst economic inequality (with Occupy Wall Street as the present-day version), Les Miz is said to have been seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages around the world and, after 28 years, continues to draw record crowds.

Of course, fans remember Amanda from such films as Mean Girls (with Lindsay Lohan among her co-stars), Dear John (based on the Nicholas Sparks best-seller, with Channing Tatum) and Chloe (a thriller, with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson), but she’s well-loved for her role as Sophie (daughter of Meryl Streep’s character Donna) in the film adaptation of the hit musical Mamma Mia!

It has been an exciting musical journey for you from Mamma Mia! to Les Miz (to be shown nationwide starting Jan. 16, 2013, released by Solar Entertainment Films).

“Oh yes, it was!”

At 15, you played Cosette in a school play. And now you’re playing Cosette as a professional actor. You must feel awesome!

“Yes, awesome! It’s like if you want something bad enough, you will get it…that if you have enough of a dream, I think anything can come back around you. Les Miz has always been my absolute favorite show. It’s influential to all ages. In school, I played Cosette for only one night, for a recital for our voice class. When I learned that they were filming the musical, I said I would sell my soul to be in it. It’s really a dream come true.”

When was the first time you saw Les Miz onstage and what was its impact on you?

“I was 11 years old and I was sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time. My mom recalled seeing me sitting still from beginning to end. So you can tell that I was blown away. At that time, I was attracted to the Eponine role because she’s about my age in the story, and for years I was singing On My Own for years and years and years after that. I was so obsessed with the song.”

You and the other members of the cast performed the singing parts live. How did you prepare for it?

“You just have to exercise your voice; it needs to be conditioned for that kind of singing. You know, I started singing when I was 17 consistently and I took voice lessons. In the movie, we sing live so you just have to be in the moment. So it definitely required a lot of preparation, a lot of practice and a lot of vocal exercising day in and day out. So…it’s hard. I really do feel that everybody is so, so unbelievable…Anne, Hugh, Russell…that when I come on the screen I’m just like, ‘I don’t wanna hear it!’ I do lack certain strength, which I think I would love to have one day which is why I’m still taking voice lessons.”

What part of the movie made you cry? There are so many touching scenes, you know.

“It’s such a dramatic story, it’s really dark, the music is really special and you can’t help but be moved by it. The movie captures everything that the fans love about the stage production and infuses the story with more depth. It’s so very intimate that you can experience what the characters are experiencing. Oh yes, the whole movie made me cry and not just one part did it. It’s the whole of it! By the way, funny but I cried so much during the filming of the death scene but when I watched it I didn’t cry. It’s just weird. Maybe because I shot that scene so many times.”

Anne lost 25 pounds and cut her hair for Fantine. Did you lose anything for Cosette?

“No.” (Laughs) “I still have my hair, I still weigh the same and I gained a lot, though, a lot of…(Thinks awhile)…life experience.”

How much would you sacrifice for a role?

“Hmmm, like losing weight and losing my hair? I don’t know anything about that. I guess I’m very sensitive to those kinds of things, so I’m not sure if I’d do it. Doing that is a testament to how strong your body really is. I appreciate actors who can do that. I don’t see anything in my future that will require me to…you know, chop off my hair or losing weight. When I saw Anne with short hair, I told her, ‘I’m jealous of your haircut!’ I think Anne was very traumatized losing her hair. She was nervous. I mean, it’s just hair but at the same time it becomes part of your identity.”

Speaking of life, what lesson did you learn from working with such great co-stars and from the movie?

“That no matter how much experience you have as an actress or whatever, and whatever the accolades that you have achieved, there’s always a way that things can be leveled. I’ve just worked with wonderful actors who are good people, and we became a closely-knit team, and through all the challenges we were so supportive of one another and that comes through in the movie. The movie kind of kept all of us grounded. I also learned from Fantine through Anne Hathaway that no matter how miserable your surroundings and the elements are, as long as you are grateful for the experience you can overcome anything. In the barricade scene, you can see Anne weathering away and Hugh is still on diet, they are standing freezing in the cold, and really it’s so exciting to be part of that scene.”

Fame and fortune have a way of sweeping stars off their feet. How do you keep yourself grounded?

“Well, I have really cool aspects in my life. Yes, I have a life outside of my career. I have my family and friends who will be there no matter what. I have a lot of hobbies...I knit, I exercise, I play the piano and I do a lot of other things. My schedule is always very jampacked. I have a lot of things to do so I don’t get bored. I’m only bored when I’m on the set, when they’re taking too long to set up a shot. Otherwise, I’m very happy. And more important, I think is that I don’t move or look around feeling like an actor. I get a lot of time off my work and that keeps me grounded.”

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