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Oscars: Universal Unveils 'Les Miserables' in NY And LA To Huge Reaction; First Hugh Jackman Interview: “A Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity”

Awards strategists for other horses in the ever-tightening race for Best Picture may not want to hear this but Universal Pictures today may have unleashedLes Miserables the 800-pound-gorilla in the Oscar race. That is, if initial reaction to today’s launch of the much-awaited movie version of the celebrated musical Les Miserables is any indication.  Screenings at Alice Tully Hall in New York along with a smaller invite-only unveiling for about 100 people at the 1000-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills both elicited immediate Oscar talk. Les Mis, one of the few remaining unseen contenders, is now fully in the conversation for real, if not quickly vaunting near or to the top of Best Picture favorites (along with Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Life Of Pi).

Related: ‘Life Of Pi’ Sales into Oscar Race; Ang Lee Interview, Featurette

Almost immediately after the Academy screening this afternoon I got on the phone with star Hugh Jackman in Australia. Shortly afterward its Oscar winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) called me as the second of the NY screenings was taking place (we could both hear the applause in the background). Both seemed relieved to have the film, which opens Christmas Day, finally in the race. Universal is wasting no time as Hooper heads to Los Angeles on Saturday to participate in six, count ’em, six screenings for Guild and Academy members tomorrow and then (along with Jackman) will be travelling to Japan on Sunday. It will be a busy month leading up to the opening but the studio knew it had to get the film out there now since Oscar voting is taking place during the Christmas/New Year’s break this year.

Les MiserablesThe last musical to win Best Picture was Chicago a decade ago and before that there was a 34-year drought between that film and Oliver which took it in 1968. Based on what Hooper, Jackman and cast and crew have wrought Les Mis could be joining that list. It is certainly an instant major contender, a thrilling cinematic realization of the legendary musical that has taken 27 years to reach the screen. Filled with stunning imagery and performances, Les Mis is musically a masterpiece thanks largely to the decision to have the actors sing it live as they were filming rather than pre-recording the songs as is the norm for most, if not all, movie musicals. But bottom line is this is the kind of fully realized triumph that Academy voters traditionally eat up, and it joins a race that has suddenly become one of the most interesting and competitive in years. At the screening Universal held at the Academy, AMPAS President Hawk Koch  watched along with Oscar show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron among others in the small group . Zadan and Meron were Executive Producers of Chicago. Multiple Oscar nominations would seem to be a no-brainer. I would venture those could include Picture, Actor (Jackman), Supporting Actor (Russell Crowe and/or Eddie Redmayne), Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway and maybe one of the other women), Director, Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Editing, Song (for Suddenly, the one new tune written for the film) and Makeup. It could rack up quite a total if everything falls into place.

Related: Weinstein Finds ‘Silver Linings’ For Oscar Race

Les MiserablesJackman himself only just saw the film last night and when we spoke just a while ago he was still reeling from the experience. “I just saw it last night (in Sydney). I was pretty speechless I have to say. I think when I saw it in its entirety — I knew intellectually it was a big risk — but when I saw it I said ‘wow, man. This is massive, a big bone to chew on, that one’. I felt so proud to be part of it. And I think for Tom to do this as his first film after King’s Speech is just an incredible kind of testament to him,” he said.

Jackman praised Hooper saying he was a real warrior and didn’t think he got more than three hours sleep a night for the past four months in getting the film ready to be seen. Hooper confirmed it. “I finished it at 2AM yesterday and was already screening it today at Alice Tully Hall. I don’t think I’ve ever been more exhausted. But it’s been an extraordinary response. I think they broke into applause 14 or 15 times during the film. I remember the audience breaking into applause near the end of The King’s Speech but this is taking that to a new level. Towards the end of this film today this weird thing happened like a rustling kind of sound. For a minute I freaked out wondering what’s that odd sound on the soundtrack. I looked around and realized it’s the sound of people crying en masse. Rather extrarodinary for me,” he said.

Related: Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ Marches Into Oscar Season

Although he’s well-known as a song and dance man with a Tony on Broadway and hosting gigs on the Oscars and Tonys this is only the first movie musical for Jackman. “I was waiting for the right one to come along. This is better than I could have imagined myself not only in musical terms but in literary terms. Jean Valjean is such an iconic character and I think that everything I’ve done up until now somehow has fed into it. It was a daunting role, I will admit that to you, but i put everything into it. I know I had that feeling. Russell Crowe and I were talking about it, that you know you’re doing something that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said adding that he put on 29 pounds during the making of the film because in the early scenes in prison he had to look very gaunt .

“As Tom Hooper said ‘I want people to worry about you. I want your friends to think you’re sick when you see them’. I even went to the point of doing water dehydration before shooting that first scene,” he said. And like all the other actors in the film he auditioned for it, even before Hooper had officially signed on as director. “There was a time when it looked like this might clash with the Wolverine movie but I really wanted to this role so I called Tom and said I had read that he was thinking about doing it but hadn’t yet signed on. I said ‘do you mind if I audition for you anyway in case you decide to do it?’ ” Jackman went to see Hooper in New York and spent three hours going over the role. Hooper knew it was going to be a really difficult challenge finding actors who can sing at the level needed.

“I can tell you having been through the audition process they are very, very rare,” Hooper tells me. “People who can act through singing and sing at that level. The audition with Hugh, which was in May of last year, was an extraordinary moment because that was when I knew I had a movie. I’d go as far to say the movie wouldn’t exist without Hugh Jackman. There wasn’t a second choice. Who else would you cast? I still don’t have a second choice now. He’s a perfect storm of truly global film star, an extraordinary actor, and an extraordinary singer with musical theater pedigree and training. And most importantly for Valjean, Hugh has a kind of innate grace and spirit as a human being and a great kind of moral compass and gentleness that is perfectly suited for this man going on this spiritual journey. In that  audition the sheer power of his singing standing just a couple of feet in front of me was formidable. That’s when I knew this was a ‘go’ movie in my head. He took me over the line in three hours.”

Les MiserablesFor Jackman this was the toughest film role he has ever taken on. “It’s a big risk and I’m not surprised it has taken 27 years to take the punt on it, ” he said adding that before he saw the finished film last night he was more nervous than he had ever been in his life. “It’s tough to watch any movie you are in anyway, no matter what the genre, because you always put everything into it. You want it to work. With a musical all those feelings are tripled because you have a lot of elements that come together. I was a very relieved man about 6PM last night.”

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Says Hooper: “With The King’s Speech the greatest reward was seeing how it made people feel, the emotion it provoked in people and how it touched them. Coming out of that I wanted to work on something that moves people even more. Also after that success I felt I should take a risk, to stretch myself and go someplace new.”

  1. Saw the trailer today and it made me cry. I cannot wait to see this film. From what I have seen so far the casting is perfect and the look is absolutely brilliant.

  2. WOW, so both Les Miserables and Lincoln are up for nominations in 14 categories, 13 the same (both adapted, neither has a female lead etc., only the Score/Song differs) and now it looks like Les Miserables could have more than one nomination in not one but two acting categories ? WOW…so 15-16 nominations are actually possible, depending on Barks, Seyfried and Redmayne ? Let me rephrase that : Les Miserables now has the potential to break the record of most nominations received by a single film (14 – All About Eve, Titanic) ? Damn…

    P.S. Day-Lewis is the only lock, but two of the Cooper-Washington-Hawkes-Phoenix-Hopkins quintet will be snubbed if the Academy wants to make room for Jackman, so…which two ?

    A second nomination in Best Supporting Actress seems doable, there are 4 near-locks now (Hathaway, Field, Hunt, Adams), so the category has been waiting for a strong fifth contender and unless they cancel each other out, Barks or Seyfried might just be that lucky fifth.

    Crowe and Redmayne have massive competition, probably only one of them will make the cut, the Academy has to fall head over heels in love with the film to nominate both when there are already near-locks like Hoffman, De Niro, Jones, probably someone from Argo, not to mention the ones with passionate supporters, McGregor (Jolie-screening), McConaughey (Soderbergh-letter), Law (strong Focus campaign) AND the promising unseens, DiCaprio and Clarke.

    Still, even without a second supporting actor nod, 15 nominations sound perfectly doable…new record on the horizon ?

  3. We just saw this today in NY. It’s an incredible film. One that I can’t find another to measure it with. Congrats to everyone involved. And oh … I might have been one of those crying in the audience. Seriously, one woman was moaning in the row in front of us. I’ve never seen a premiere like reaction to a film at a screening. People were cheering and applauding as if they knew all the actors were there. We didn’t. But the balcony was ominously dark and closed off. I hope we gave THEM the reaction they deserved. Bravo!

    1. I was at the NY screening as well and bravo! Prior to the screening I had no idea that this film could be so big and go up against Lincoln, Argo & etc. Incredible performances and job well done for Hooper. PS I admit that it was a tearjerker, and also heard the woman towards the front-right of Alice Tully moaning as well.

  4. I’m always appalled every year how much “color” is missing from the academies. Denzel is probably a lock for Best Actor, but beyond him, there’s nothing no film with “colored” people either Asian or Hispanic, Black, whatever. And I predict the audience will be down for the telecasts again this year. There’s nothing to bring them to the TV to want to see a bunch of white people congratulating themselves.

      1. uh, how about the Jaime Foxx or kerry washington of django unchained, denzel of flight, the cast and crew of Beasts of southern wild. the leads in life of pi. all serious contenders. seriously what are you talking bout? have you seen any movies this year?

    1. Ang Lee is a possibility for Life of Pi, as is the picture itself, which stars an Indian actor. Not exactly a plethora, but it’s something.

  5. Other than the leaked poster, I have yet to see anything of Sacha Baron Cohen nd Helena Bonham Carter’s characters, are they barely in it?

    If so, why give them a poster, if not, why hide them?

    1. My guess, since they’re essentially the comic relief, fitting them into the tone of the marketing campaign is tricky. Their parts in the stage musical however are quite substantial.

    2. SBC and HBC are vibrantly “In It” providing a raucously wicked comedic thread. Seasoned, disciplined pros in top form.

    3. They are the stand out performances in the film. Overall, it was fabulous!! An enormous undertaking for Tom Hooper. Bravo!!!!

  6. I am so happy for everyone involved. Les Miserables is going to be special
    and massive!!! I predict the most nominations and a sweep!!!

  7. It’s about damn time! After a couple years of movie-musical duds like Nine, Burlesque, Rock of Ages and Sparkle, this genre needed a big hit spectacle to come along to keep the greenlights moving forward. I really hope this is the creative and popular hit that it sounds like it could be.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. I love musicals, and it seems that every time a stage musical is adapted for the screen, the entire genre hangs in the balance. The genre couldn’t take many more bombs. I’m much relieved that Les Mis seems like a triumph. Now let’s hope Rob Marshall does Into the Woods justice!!!

      1. Sam Mendes directed a much-maligned revival of Gypsy some years ago. It would be ironic if he now had the last laugh and directed the film. But will Sondheim and the Laurents estate agree to it? I’m thinking it’s Hooper.

        1. From what I heard, Arthur didn’t want a remake at all, and now he’s dead, so that’s one reason it’s moving forward again at all.

          Before they even began production on Les Mis, I knew from everyone involved and the scope possibilities of the stage musical that it’d turn out like this. They might as well engrave the Best Picture Oscar now.

      1. Heard Universal and Joel Silver were so pleased with Streisand’s concert performance that it is definitely on. Waiting for TGT to be released for casting and director to be announced.

  8. I had the privilege to be a part of last nights Alice Tully screening of Les Miserables. Its a masterpiece a not to be missed. Hugh Jackman you gave the performance of a lifetime, congratulations to all involved.

    1. Agree. I feel I was the witness to something extremely remarkable last night; not just the film but the actual participation in it and the audience’s reaction. It was extraordinary. Like nothing I’ve ever felt. Kudos to Hooper and the entire cast.

  9. Les Miserables is at the very top of my must see movie at Christmas. From the trailers to the Extended scenes I’ve seen this film looks remarkable. It wouldn’t surprise me if it didn’t snag as many as 14 nominations & Anne Hathaway could be a lock for Best Actress.

  10. “It is certainly an instant major contender, a thrilling cinematic realization of the legendary musical that has taken 27 years to reach the screen.”

    There was a version of Les Miz that came out in 1998, with Liam Neeson, Claire Danes and Uma Thurman. Okay, sure, it’s been 14 years, but it wasn’t that long ago.

  11. I just came home from the Saturday afternoon screening. Had a hard time driving home because of al the moments, songs, and feelings I left with.

    I was completely surprised by the amazing film. It’s a classic and Hugh Jackman will be only one of the many award winners. I’d predict this wins Best Picture and the most nominations of any film this year.

  12. Saw it today in LA. FANTASTIC. Was teary-eyed the entire time, and I don’t care for musicals. What movies are all about. Puts many of the rest to shame.

  13. I saw it Saturday in Sydney. I love the live show and have seen it 5 times. Each time I travel, I check where it is and have seen it in Adelaide, Sydney, London, New York and San Francisco. The movie is electric. Words are hard to find to explain how good it is. I was extra pleased that the great Colm Wilkinson who was the first Valjean in New York & London plays the Bihop in the movie. Amongst a superb cast Eddie Redmayne cast as marius has come from nowhere is breathtaking. Thanks to everyone involved. You deserve massive support at the Box Office.

  14. Les Miserables should – and will – win Best Picture. It’s a towering achievement, and an unparalleled high-wire act compared to all other contenders this year. A ravisihing, remarkable and revelatory film.

  15. One thing that is a certain about Les Miserables. Anne Hathaway is winning her first, well-deserved , Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Hathaway is the standout , and she is beyond superb in this movie, and this lady has proven to be one of the most gifted young actresses in the business.

  16. Why don’t they push Anne Hathaway for Best Actress? I really like Jennifer Lawrence, but the idea of her winning the award for her role in Silver Linings is so silly.

    1. Anne Hathaway’s character appears in the movie briefly at the beginning for 2 songs and again at the very end. Not enough screen time for Best Actress – but the time she has on screen is simply unforgettalbe. She is a marvel to behold when she sings “I Dreamed A Dream.”

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