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How Les Misérables Made Anne Hathaway an Actress

Anne Hathaway - HUGH JACKMAN HONORED WITH A STAR ON THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME - Hollywood, CA - December 13, 2012
Anne Hathaway. Photo: DAVID CROTTY/Patrick McMullan

Yesterday, on a rainy day at the Chateau Marmont, Anne Hathaway was doing her damnedest to make Eddie Redmayne cry. “You have made it okay for men to run down the street singing at the top of their lungs!” she told her Les Misérables co-star at a star-studded brunch thrown in his honor. “You’re an artist and a star, and now it’s just up to the rest of the world to catch up.” Redmayne became teary, and Hathaway’s enthusiasm didn’t dim. “He’s delicious!” she told me later. The two don’t technically interact in Les Miz — Hathaway’s Fantine exits the story before Redmayne is introduced as a suitor for Amanda Seyfried — but Hathaway says that her own absence from the film helped her to appreciate Redmayne’s performance all the more. “It’s the reverse of what I felt with Brokeback Mountain, where my character enters after an hour; the first time I saw that, I thought, Oh no, it’s perfect, and now my part!” she laughed. “I find the idea of love at first sight to be somewhat cheesy, and I’ve intellectualized myself beyond it, but when I saw Eddie and Amanda’s portrayal of it, it made me believe again.”

It’s been an emotional Les Miz journey for Hathaway, whose close-cropped hair is a reminder that filming wrapped not too long ago. Though the 30-year-old actress is onscreen for less than half an hour as the tragic Fantine, who’s forced into prostitution to provide for her daughter, Hathaway has still become the movie’s main talking point as magazines write about her weight loss for the role and audiences weep at her powerhouse one-take rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

It’s clear from talking to her that Hathaway is quite content with her performance, but she admits it wasn’t always so. The breakthrough moment  came when she accompanied director Tom Hooper to the film’s first, applause-drenched press screening at New York’s Alice Tully Hall, which wiped away the worries Hathaway had felt after a private screening earlier that week. “Technically, I saw it for the first time two days before at the Universal Screening Room, which has the unfortunate address of 666 Fifth Avenue,” she said. “I was feeling very nervous to see it anyway, and then when I saw that, I told the car to turn around! He didn’t listen to me, because I don’t have any power in these situations, so I saw the movie and I was very overwhelmed.”

“The first time you see a film — particularly one that you care so much about — you can’t see the film for what it is,” she added. “All you can see is how different it is from the way it was in your mind, or what take was used that you weren’t expecting. And so the second time I saw it with the audience at Alice Tully Hall, I was able to really see it, and I thought it was one of the most emotionally satisfying experiences I’ve ever had as an audience member. I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve ever done.”

It’s a role that’s loaded with significance for Hathaway, whose mother understudied Fantine on the American tour of Les Miz when Hathaway was just a little girl. “My mother’s involvement has deepened my level of gratitude and appreciation for the sometimes unexpected and exquisite ways in which the universe will bring awe into our lives,” she said, after a deep breath. “I didn’t know this until I started to unpackage the process of filming it through doing press, but seeing my mother play this part made it more than just a show for me. I can’t ever really engage with this on a critical level the way I sometimes do with other things because for me, these are people. It’s not just because of my mother, either; now, as an adult, knowing that Fantine is real and that sex workers are a very real and shameful part of our collective experience as human beings, that people are still laying down their lives for what should be accepted human truths … I mean, there’s that amazing line that Enjolras says, ‘Let others rise to take our place until the Earth is free.’”

And though Hathaway has now taken her mother’s place as Fantine, she said that nothing she has done on the screen will prove as indelible as the night she watched her mother inhabit the role onstage. “I sobbed so hard that the woman next to me — who didn’t know that it was my mother I was seeing — gave me her pack of tissues,” recalled Hathaway. “I remember everything about that night: I remember what the weather was like, I remember what I was wearing. It’s one of the greatest moments of my life, and certainly one of the most definitive moments of my life. That was the night I decided to become an actress.”

How Les Misérables Made Anne Hathaway an Actress