Anne Hathaway was 7 years old when she saw the musical “Les Misérables” for the first time. “I remember it being soul-stirring—though I couldn’t have really known what a soul was then—and very emotional. I loved it,” Hathaway says.
Twenty-plus years later, Hathaway is Fantine in the film adaptation, delivering a gut-wrenching performance as the factory worker who falls from grace, selling her hair and teeth before turning to prostitution, all in the name of aiding her young daughter. The climax of her story—and the highlight of Tom Hooper’s screen adaptation—is the song “I Dreamed a Dream,” which Hathaway sang live almost entirely in close-up in one take. Hathaway had no idea while filming that the scene would play out that way. “Tom told me a few weeks before the film was finished that it would primarily be a one-take scene,” Hathaway says. “I felt flattered and proud.”
Hathaway jokes that the biggest challenge of the role was “not collapsing.” But to prepare, she referred back to the Victor Hugo novel on which the musical was based. “I also did research about what Fantine’s physical world and emotional state would have been by learning about the history of the time,” she says. “Particularly about women from her social background, and prostitution, past and present.” She also had to cut her long locks, which she jokes resulted in her looking like “my gay brother.”
Hathaway has shown off her vocal chops before, usually to comedic effect, such as playing Mary Poppins on “Saturday Night Live” or singing at the Academy Awards. In fact, she performed a number at the 2009 Oscars with Hugh Jackman, with whom she reunited for “Les Miz.” (She also sang a version of the musical’s “On My Own” to Jackman when she hosted the 2011 Oscars.) Hathaway has nothing but praise for her co-star. “Hugh is a dream, and he is just extraordinary in the role; it must be seen—several times—to be believed,” she says. “In life, he has a unique gift for making people feel warm and included. The film felt like the continuation of a connection made when we performed together at the Oscars. I can’t wait/hope/pray daily that we get to work together again soon.”