In the latest casting news, Hugh Jackman is saying to the press that he will be playing Jean Valjean in the movie version of the musical Les Misérables. I have not yet found an official confirmation of this from the movie’s producers, so I sure hope those contracts are signed and the deal is sealed. I’m not saying this because I’m desperate to see Jackman do the role. It’s just that he’s a really nice guy, and if he says he’s playing the role, I want to believe him.
People who only know Jackman as a movie actor might not realize that he got his start doing musicals in Melbourne and London. He played Gaston in Beauty & The Beast and Curly in Oklahoma. His Oklahoma was filmed onstage, and I have the DVD. He’s really good, although the curly perm is pretty unconvincing! I have witnessed Jackman’s musical talents firsthand, having seen him in Carousel at Carnegie Hall and in his Tony Award winning role in The Boy from Oz. My feelings about him playing Valjean are cautiously optimistic. He has the acting ability and the physical stature to play a man who’s unusually strong. He’s the right age for the beginning of the story, and movie makeup techniques (not to mention digital effects) will age him gradually to an old man. Heck, the way they aged Brad Pitt backwards in Benjamin Button, Valjean will be a breeze. Jackman can sing, although I don’t know if his range will take him all the way through Valjean’s big solo, Bring Him Home. I think it would be smart for Jackman to record this song in advance and release it on iTunes, because this will create buzz for the movie and reassure the skeptics. These include the many fans of Colm Wilkinson, Alfie Boe, and all the other brilliant actors who have played the role onstage. I’d really like to hear Jackman sing any Les Mis song, because I think I hear his Australian accent in the vowel sounds when he sings. Now, I’m no expert in either singing or Aussie accents, so this may not be what I’m hearing. I’m hoping folks will offer their opinions in the comment section.
After my friend said she only knew Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men), I got to thinking about the two characters. Wolverine and Valjean are actually similar in a lot of ways. They are both bitter men, angry at society’s injustices. They both have shameful secrets; Valjean is a convict who broke parole, and Wolverine is a mutant. They are both very strong physically. Granted, Valjean has no adamantium claws that retract between his knuckles, but he does lift a cart off a man trapped beneath. Both characters are softened and changed by helping a young girl; Valjean rescues Cosette, Wolverine rescues Rogue. I suppose it’s kind of silly to compare a comic book superhero to one of the great characters of literature. I’m just trying to point out that playing Valjean might not be that much of a stretch for an actor who’s used to playing Wolverine.
The press is also reporting that Paul Bettany has auditioned for Javert, the police inspector who doggedly hunts Valjean through the years. I love Paul Bettany, and he’s an actor with a fantastic range. He played the naked Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, Dakota Fanning’s brutal father in The Secret Life of Bees, and Opus Dei monk Silas in The Da Vinci Code. I have never heard him sing. I don’t know if he can, or what his vocal range might be. If Les Mis were being filmed in India, it wouldn’t matter. In the Bollywood musical tradition, the actors aren’t expected to sing their own songs, and the “playback” singers are as famous as the actors. The actors have to do their own dancing, of course, but Les Mis is not a musical that requires that particular talent. Anyway, if Paul Bettany ends up playing Javert, I guess we will all find out if he can sing.
It’s also being reported that Tom Hooper may direct the Les Mis movie. He just won the Oscar for directing The King’s Speech. Looking over his various credits, he definitely has experience with period costume dramas, having done the movie Elizabeth I and miniseries like John Adams and Daniel Deronda. Has he directed a movie musical? Well, how many people actually have?
It’s pretty amazing that Les Mis is finally being made into a movie, after 25 years of waiting. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be like The Hobbit, with years of even more delays, and with actors and directors finally moving on to other projects. How much longer can we wait? (Don’t say One Day More. Please.)