ENTERTAINMENT

Eddie Redmayne, 'Les Miserables' Star, On Sets That Smell Like Dead Fish & Singing Till You Bleed

Dec 18, 2012 | Updated Dec 18, 2012

When Eddie Redmayne isn't giving support to some of the biggest stars in Hollywood -- recent co-workers include Michelle Williams and Hugh Jackman -- he's busy being the next big thing. That's why the New York Times used 1,200 words to profile the 30-year-old British actor this past Sunday, and why he's negotiating to co-star opposite Channing Tatum in the new Andy and Lana Wachowski film. It's also why Redmayne has awards buzz: He's a dark horse candidate to earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his "Les Miserables" role, an impressive feat considering the film also features lush supporting performances from big names like Russell Crowe and Sacha Baron Cohen.

In "Les Miserables," Redmayne stars as Marius, the romantic lead of the film's second half, an upstanding youngster who falls head over heels in love with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). It's a role Michael Ball made famous in the original London production of "Les Miserables," and it provides Redmayne with a stand-out moment: a heartbreaking rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables."

Redmayne spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about landing the "Les Miserables" role, why this might be his last musical, and how the set smelled when Hathaway sang "I Dreamed A Dream." (Hint: Bad.)

"Les Miserables" is a film that's epic in scope. How much did the expansive nature of Tom Hooper's vision help you performance?
I found it incredibly helpful. The set that Eve Stewart had created was extraordinary in scale. But what Tom is amazing at is that he's not precious with the set. The scene of building the barricade: Tom had 30 students and 50 background artists playing peasants. He had five cameraman dressed up as peasants. He said, "10 minutes worth of stock in the cameras. Build a barricade. Action." Furniture was being thrown from above. It was complete anarchy and carnage. Your 7-year-old-self was in seventh heaven. You didn't even know where the cameras were; you would catch a glimpse of them somewhere. So while he built all these sets, they were used as real settings and even filled with horse dung. On the set where Annie [Hathaway] did "I Dreamed A Dream" there were thousands of rotting fish corpses and the place stunk to high heaven. Although they were sets, they felt cold and real. Tom was aspiring to see condensation in our breath even though we were shooting in studios.

We built the barricade in 10 minutes. We assumed the designer would have brought in a new set for the barricade, but Tom liked it so much that they kept it together. The barricade we built became our barricade.

What was the audition process like for you, as someone not known for being a singer?
I sang when I was a kid, but I haven't for about 10 or 12 years. I saw "Les Mis" when I was 9 or 10, however, and wanted to be Gavroche. I loved the piece. I had worked with Tom before in an HBO film about Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren. So I knew Tom and I knew that I would love to play a part. I was on a set in North Carolina and recorded myself on my iPhone, singing this song. It was really just to show my agents, who didn't know I was interested in singing, that I enjoyed singing and wanted to have a go at this part. That was the start of a really rigorous process that I could only describe as "X-Factor" or "American Idol." The last audition was in front of Tom, Nina Gold, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, the producers at Working Title, Cameron Mackintosh, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil. They all sat behind us in a panel. What was extraordinary was that everyone went through that: Hugh, Russell. Samantha Barks, who plays Eponine and has done it so extraordinarily on stage, went through that again.

What was your final audition song?
It was "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" and then "A Heart Full of Love." Claude-Michel, who composed it, got so passionate and into that he made me sing that bit in "One Day More," where I have to come in and grab a flag and sing quite a high note; a rousing note. I hadn't prepared that. He was like, "Eddie, you must try this!" I thought, "Oh, God." I grabbed my balls and gave it as good a belt as I could.

"Empty Chairs" is show-stopping moment in the film. How difficult was that to film?
What was interesting about the shooting of "Les Mis" is that most characters have their seminal song. I listened to the Michael Ball version of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" since I was a kid. You'd arrive on set one day and you'd hear the crew going, "Oh my God, have you heard Annie's 'I Dreamed A Dream'? It was spectacular!" Gradually, you'd move through the schedule and hear, "Oh, did you hear 'Bring Him Home'? Astounding!" Tom, almost in a sort of sadistic way, kept moving "Empty Chairs" further and further along. I think he was making up for the fact that years ago, when we had worked together before, I had lied to him about my horse-riding prowess. He kept moving it along and then it sits on your shoulder like a gremlin. The day that it came, I knew I had to give it everything. We did about seven takes and Tom said, "I think we got it." I was like, "No, Tom. We have to keep going. I have to literally bleed this song so when I see it in the film and I'm disappointed by it, I know at least I've given everything I can." Tom told me that the last take -- the 21st or 23rd take that he used. I quite like that.

How much collaboration did you have with Tom?
A massive amount. He was incredible collaborative. Certainly during the rehearsal process, we sat with Tom and the Victor Hugo book adding things. Stuff that didn't work in the musical or plot points from the musical that you don't need to investigate because of the distance from stage to the audience. The fact that, in the book, Marius' grandfather is very wealthy and Marius has given all that up for his political beliefs. Adding those moments with the grandfather in a way to show that this guy had a political agenda that he was willing to give everything up for. Similarly, the moment where he takes the gun powder and threatens to blow up the barricade. That came from the book. Tom was brilliant like that. He's a wonderful leader and team player and everyone brought their elements too it.

Was there anything that from the book that you weren't able to add that you wanted to?
The musical itself is two hours and 45 minutes. Knowing that a film audience has no intermission, you have to play it through. It's tricky. You want to add all this detail, but you needed to keep the story fiercely focused. For example in the book, Marius spies Cosette the first time and spends seven months stalking her before they get together. In the theater world that becomes a love-at-first-sight moment. For me, it's the same as "Romeo and Juliet." Love never works as first sight -- or it does, but in a theatrical way. What I liked was having seen Baz Luhrmann's film of "Romeo and Juliet" and how you can find a moment of two people investigating each others' faces. That was exciting for me and one of the moments that I thought we could make work on film when it's more tricky to work on stage.

Do you ever want to do another musical?
I don't know, man. It was an extraordinary thing, but it felt like a very specific thing. Never say never, but I'm not sure. I love going to see musicals that could be interpreted, like "Cabaret," that aren't the same production. One of the great things about doing the film version of "Les Mis" was that the more you scrutinize the text and lyrics, it really holds up. So those are the musicals that I enjoy.

Les Miserables premiere

Comments