There's a line Tom Hooper likes to use on the audience before he presents his new movie Les Miserables: "If I'm standing here looking at all of you, it must mean I've finished the film." It's no wonder he feels that way, since the production of Les Miz has been such a gargantuan, will-they-make-it undertaking: Hooper only began filming it this year, then survived a grueling shoot and anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived post-production schedule to deliver one of this year's big Oscar frontrunners at the absolute last minute. Hooper's life has been such a blur since he completed the movie, so we called him up last Friday just to check in. Here's a diary of what he had done and where he had been over the week prior. How productive will you feel after reading this?
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22
Brits don't necessarily have a special attachment to Thanksgiving, but it'll always be a memorable day for Hooper, who finished mixing Les Miserables at 2 a.m. in New York that morning. He felt relieved — the film would thankfully be ready for its first screening the next day — but also a little melancholy.
"It's a process of saying good-bye, and that's actually quite hard," confessed Hooper. "You have to let the making process go, even though your body and mind is still primed to make the film and all you've been doing for a year and a half is making it better, making it better … I always find it emotionally quite tough."
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23
At 3 p.m., Hooper trekked to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center to screen Les Miserables for a revved up crowd of 1,000, including cast members, crew, and press. "Lincoln Center is the home of the best the human voice can do, so it felt like a spiritual place to usher the film into the world," recalled Hooper, who took his seat next to Anne Hathaway and his producer Eric Fellner.
Though the director was nervous about how the crowd would react, his fears were assuaged early on. "The scene where Hugh Jackman storms out of the church and tears up his passport, throwing it to the winds, that got applause ten minutes into the film," said Hooper. "And then there was applause twelve to fourteen more times during the film, which I've never experienced. With The King's Speech, people would clap once he successfully made the big speech at the end, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, how surreal.' So this? Was just insane."
Hooper found the reactions from his cast members even more gratifying. "Annie had seen an earlier version — not the final cut, but the version before it — with just a few people," he said. "And after she finished it, she said, 'Well, that's probably not going to happen in our lives again.' It was a strange thing to say, but she's probably right. She was thrilled with the reaction to 'I Dreamed a Dream.' I told her that people would applaud, but I don't think she quite believed it until it happened."
Though Hugh Jackman was busy shooting The Wolverine in Australia, his co-lead Russell Crowe slipped into the seven o'clock screening later that day. "We had drinks at his hotel on Friday night, and he was so warm about it and so happy," said Hooper. "He kept saying, 'It's so epic, Tom,' and I was thinking, 'Bloody hell, Russell, you've done some epic films in your life!' So for Russell to say it was really epic, I felt very pleased about. He's been a trooper and a great supporter throughout the process."
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24
The next morning, Hooper flew to Los Angeles to present the film there for guild members and the West Coast press. "In L.A., there are a lot more posters up, so you kind of get the sense that the film has become more real, which is very exciting," he said.
The first screening was at noon at the historic Chinese Theatre, "and there was Taylor Hackford and Helen Mirren sitting there," remembered Hooper. "Helen has been such an inspiring figure in my life, and it immediately put me back into these incredible nerves, hoping they'd like it. I think I still felt quite raw on that first day, so it was great to see it with so many audiences and get that great reception."
Along for the ride this time were his cast members Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and newcomer Samantha Barks, all of whom figure into the primary love triangle that dominates the second half of the film. Laughed Hooper, "Eddie and Amanda and Sam are very funny: They like to say that they settle in to watch a movie starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, and then after the first hour, they suddenly go, 'Oh my God, now I'm in it!'"
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25
Hooper was barely in Los Angeles for 24 hours before he boarded a plane for Tokyo.
"I know it sounds crazy," he allowed, "but none of this schedule is as insane as actually making the film. The last two months of the production, I cut my sleep down to about three or four hours a night."
"It might sound mad, but I'm kind of enjoying being on a plane for ten hours not doing very much. I'm excited just to calm down. It's been a year and a half of crazy full-time work."
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26 & TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27
So why the press push in Japan? "Apparently, Victor Hugo's novel is a staple for kids there, so it's one of the great western stories that they come to know in their childhood," explained Hooper, who had originally intended to visit the country after The King's Speech won Best Picture at the Oscars, but found his trip scuttled after the devastating 2011 earthquake.
It's at this point, too, that Hooper — who'd spent the last several months chained to an editing bay — began to reacclimate himself to daylight and proper meals. "I've spent most of my life in totally dark rooms, so it's kind of an extreme change," he said. "The filmmaking process can feel quite private, because you're with a small group of people finishing it. To go from that to having other people see it … " He paused, adding, "But then, that's what it's all for."
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28
On Wednesday, Hooper reunited with Jackman, Hathaway, and Seyfried for the film's Japanese press conference … which was a whopper. "It was twenty minutes of a Les Miserables concert performance with the Japanese cast, and then their cast kind of handed it over to us," said Hooper. Then, following a brief Q&A, the audience of thousands lifted red, white, and blue signs (the colors of the French flag) into the air and broke into an English-language rendition of the classic Les Miz song "Do You Hear the People Sing" for the film's stunned cast.
"It was actually quite moving, to see 3,000 audience members singing this people's anthem," said Hooper. Safe to say, then, that the reaction from the Japanese audience topped even the ecstatic early buzz in the States? "I get the feeling it's pretty huge there," Hooper laughed. "I don't know that you'd get 3,000 fans in London or New York to come out to a press conference."
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 29
"On the plane back from Japan, I secretly spent ten hours dreaming that I was still making changes to the film," laughs Hooper. "Even if you're not doing it during your waking hours of work, your brain will do it in your sleep!"
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30
And finally, on Friday morning, Hooper was back in New York to continue promoting the film he'd finished there just a week ago. "It's been so gratifying. Even this morning, sitting down for interviews, people were going, 'Ten minutes in, I was crying and I couldn't stop crying. I didn't have enough tissues!' When it hits people, it really seems to hit them hard."
He laughs. "It's quite a strange process when you're pleased to make people weep! I don't think there's any other job quite like it, where you seek to make grown men cry."