Les Mis congeniality
Les Misérables is a movie full of superstars and lofty expectations, but it’s the performance of rising star Eddie Redmayne that catches the eye and ear. The impeccably mannered old Etonian talks to DONALD CLARKE
The people behind Les Misérables are taking this seriously. A veritable army of stars has descended on Claridge’s in London for the premiere of Tom Hooper’s take on the monster musical. Look, here comes Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and Hugh Jackman are also lurking in the corridor. One could understand if Eddie Redmayne felt slightly lost in the pack.
That would be unjust. Redmayne, a finefeatured 30-year-old, is among the best things in the film. Saddled with the tricky part of Marius – the young revolutionary who inexplicably falls for drippy Cosette – he determinedly extracts emotion from every warbled line.
Hooper hasn’t made it easy for his cast. Unusually for a contemporary musical, Les Misérables was sung live on set. This is particularly impressive when you consider that few of the cast are proper song-and-dance people.
“We knew all that from the outset,” Redmayne says. That’s why the audition process was so rigorous. I sang a bit when I was a kid and enjoyed it. What was wonderful was that we had a great vocal coach who changed the [physiology] at the back of your throat to sustain the stamina that filming live was going to need. We did 21 takes of Empty Chairs, Empty Tables.”
Ah yes. And Eddie managed to squeeze out a tear on the take that was eventually used. That song, in which Marius mourns his lost colleagues, is the character’s big, show-off number.
“There isn’t a cynical way of doing it,” he says. “You have to let the moment take over. The first proper film I did was directed by Robert De Niro. He likes to put a lot of film in the camera and allow a lot of takes. Then, when you start again, you can use the emotion you got to at the end of the previous take. We actually ended up using that last take. So it was worth it.”
Eddie’s old masters at Eton College will be pleased to hear that he exhibits immaculate manners in interviews. Dressed in a gorgeous grey tweed suit, he speaks in neat sentences comprised of well-formed clauses. Raised in London, the son of a businessman, Eddie can’t quite explain how he ended up as an actor. When he was 11, he did appear as “urchin number eight” in Sam Mendes’s production of Oliver! But even that seems to have been a happy accident.
“I really don’t know,” he muses. “People ask me what I was rebelling against. Not much, really. I came from a family that were phenomenally supportive. So it didn’t feel like rebellion. They were all happy with my career, but it was still shocking that they suddenly had somebody with interests that were so different to their own. The only objection I ever remember my dad raising was when he said: ‘Have you ever thought about producing?’ There’s no money in that, Dad!”
It’s hard to feel too sorry for somebody who went to Eton. But Eddie is stuck with answering questions about the place. If he were the only old Etonian actor on the block, journalists might have forgotten about it by now. But, all of a sudden, the profession seems jammed with performers who attended the major public schools. Dominic West, Damien Lewis and Tom Hiddleston were all at Eton. Benedict Cumberbatch and Laurence Fox attended Harrow. With the Conservative cabinet packed full of more posh boys than at any time since the early 1960s, commentators are beginning to wonder if the establishment has reasserted itself.