Anne Hathaway had to go through much to capture the spirit of the role Fantine in the big screen version of Les Miserables -- not the least of which was cutting off her locks. Then, there was the emotional minefield that was her character and the hell she goes through. In many ways, it is her sacrifice that leads to the upheaval at the heart of the movie. As we state in our Les Miserables review, Hathaway is the highlight of the film and makes the most of what little screen time she has been given. The actress sat down to talk about her latest film and we had to start with the trauma of losing all her hair!
Movie Fanatic: Did you really cut your hair and was it as difficult as some report it to be?
Anne Hathaway: [Laughs] I did cut my hair and I’m only sorry when I get to spend time with Hugh (Jackman) because his hair is so beautiful. I don’t feel sorry. I offered Tom (Hopper, director) the option of cutting my hair. I always knew in the back of my mind, it was something I was willing to do for a character if it was the right thing to do. So, when I got cast and got the script and knew they were keeping the hair cutting in and I’d read the book and it’s such a devastating scene in the book, I thought that doing it for real might raise the stakes a bit for the character. I guess, in the back of my mind, I thought if it was a painful experience watching her hair be cut, then watching her teeth get pulled would be really painful. And, of course, when she becomes a prostitute, I thought the audience is going to be with her feeling that alongside of her and, as an actor, it was great to authentically communicate a physical transformation.
Movie Fanatic: What is the secret to crying while you're singing? How on earth did you manage?
Anne Hathaway: I don’t know that there are any secrets to it. It’s a pulse, a vein that you follow. In my case, there’s no way that I could relate to what my character was going through. I have a very successful life and don’t have any children that I could give up or keep so what I did was tried to get inside the reality of her story as it exists in our world. To do that, I read a lot of articles and watched a lot of documentaries and news clips about sexual slavery. For me, for this particular story, I came to the realization that I was thinking of Fantine as someone who lived in the past but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now. She’s probably less than a block away. This injustice exists in our world so every day that I was her, I thought, ‘This isn’t an invention. This isn’t me acting. This is me honoring that this pain lives in this world." And, I hope that, in all of our lifetimes, like today, we see it end.
Movie Fanatic: One of the most powerful lyrics in the entire musical is “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Did that resonate equally with you?
Anne Hathaway: I think it’s the answer to the question that Jean Valjean asks in the prologue "What spirit comes to move my life?" He spends the rest of the film answering that question. A brief sidebar, I want to make sure that I impress on everyone, I don’t want you to walk out of here charmed by Hugh Jackman [laughs] -- because we all know he’s a miracle. I just want to say that the reason that line resonates with you is that we’ve witnessed it in his performance the entire time. What he does in this film is inspiring. We were all inspired by him. He was absolutely our leader. I don’t want his nice guy thing to distract you from the fact that he is a deep, serious and profoundly gifted actor.
Movie Fanatic: Everyone involved has stated they are huge fans of Les Miserables. Did you all feel any pressure to get it right for those legions of fans? It sure shows, even from the first Les Miserables trailer.
Anne Hathaway: I think it can’t be understated that we are all massive Les Mis geeks. I think we were all slightly worried that this is not really happening, that we were all on some strange mutual trip and were all hallucinating. But we were all such fans of it that I think we all showed up on the first day with enormous gratitude that the responsibility of telling the story was entrusted to us. And, we shared stories like "What was the first time you saw it?" and "Who did you want to be at first?" I think Eddie is still envious of Daniel (Huttlestone) for getting to play Gavroche.
Movie Fanatic: We understand you were moved by a series of documentaries on real-life women like the one you play in Les Miserables? How so?
Anne Hathaway: I was very inspired by some of the work that Emma Thompson has done. I read things that are unimaginable to think that human beings have experienced them. I remember there was a police raid on one of the brothels and a camera crew went along and there was a small crawl space up in the ceiling. Oh my God, 14 girls came out of it and they were all so tiny and crunched up. They weren’t worried about getting arrested. They were gone. They were numb. They were unrecognizable as human beings and my heart broke for them. There was another piece where there was a woman who didn’t want her identity revealed and she sat there and kept repeating, "I come from a good family. We lost everything and I have children so now I do this," and she doesn’t want to do this but it’s the only way the children are going to eat. Then she let out this sob that I’ve never heard before.
Movie Fanatic: Is it safe to say that informed your performance?
Anne Hathaway: Yes, that was the moment I realized that I wasn’t playing a character. This woman deserves to have her voice heard. I needed to connect to that honesty and recreate that feeling. I’ll never know who she is but she was really the one who made me understand when Fantine says "shame" what it’s like not just to go to a dark place but to have fallen from a place where you didn’t imagine anything bad was going to happen to you and the betrayal and rage you feel at life. You’ve gone into a place that, by the way, I don’t believe this woman would have gone to, that Fantine would not have gone to if she didn’t have children to support. I think she would have let herself die. So, Fantine is so heartbreaking and it all just layered within me.