An enthusiastic crowd was treated to a lively and amusing discussion with Director Tom Hooper and Actor Eddie Redmayne after a screening of Les Miserables at the Annenberg Theater this weekend, the second of the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s (PSIFF) Talking Pictures programs.
Introduced by Moderator Pete Hammond, Hooper and Redmayne were greeted with applause as they came on stage, approval not only for the film, but a boisterous birthday wish for Redmayne who, Hammond told the audience, was celebrating his 31st birthday Sunday.
Hammond started the discussion by announcing the musical film had earned $100 million so far, the only musical to earn that much so fast after opening. Hooper recalled how when he first told his agent he wanted to do a musical, his agent said he didn’t much like movie musicals. Hammond joked, “Considering how much it’s making, I bet your agent likes musicals now.”
Hooper said he had been thinking about Les Miserables even before he made The King’s Speech. He wanted to find emotional material and make it even more intense, something he believed Les Miserables offered. He found inspiration by watching great film musicals like West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, which blew him away. The French film, Umbrellas of Cherbourg , also helped him see how it was possible to mix the real world with the unreality of singing and make it work.
Once he decided to move forward with Les Miserables, probably the biggest and most controversial decision was to film the singing live. He said 98% of the singing in the film is original vocals. Aside from wanting to bring another side of the actors to the screen through their singing, he said there were two main reasons he wanted to do the songs live.
First, “with lip syncing, there’s always the artificial factor”; second, by doing it live with a simple piano accompaniment, “the actors would have complete control over their songs.”
Redmayne shook his head in approval.
“The process was experimental, but exhilarating… most liberating,” he said.
Redmayne, who plays Marius in the film, said Hooper’s ideas at first glance seemed simple, “but they always end up groundbreaking.”
"What was difficult was if you do 20 takes of a song-- you have to sing it 20 times," he said, adding that "... being able to take control of the song rather than let the song control you was liberating."
Les Miserables is the second film Hooper and Redmayne worked on together . The first was Elizabeth, with Helen Mirren. Redmayne remembered when he was in discussion about the film, he was asked if he could ride a horse. Without hesitation he said, “Yes!” Two weeks later, when they were in production, he was on a massive stallion and an entire cast and crew filming a scene and he wondered at what point he should admit that he didn’t quite tell the truth. Hooper said that after that experience, in the midst of rehearsal for Les Miserables, he joked with Redmayne and suggested that maybe he should ride a horse in a scene.
Hooper and Redmayne told the audience they hiked before the Q&A, probably the only film festival where they’ve been able to mix a Q&A with a morning hike.
Les Miserables also stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.
The final PSIFF Talking Pictures program is next Saturday with Alan Cumming, and his film Any Day Now.