What a transformation!! Great article about Hugh and his prepping for the role.
Making Les Mis? It was sheer misery! Hugh Jackman starved himself of food AND water for his most gruelling role ever
20:48 EST, 3 January 2013
03:14 EST, 4 January 2013
Hugh Jackman is part-way through a
gruelling, 12-hour working day on the film Les Miserables, which comes
hard on the heels of an equally gruelling three-hour stint in the gym
that began shortly after dawn.
He has barely eaten for 36 hours and hasn’t drunk anything, not even water, during this period.
wonder that the normally bright-eyed and smiling Australian, star of
films Wolverine, Real Steel and Van Helsing and an accomplished musical
theatre actor, looks gaunt, with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes.
Brutal: This shocking image shows the results of
Hugh Jackman's gruelling regime to get him into the right shape for Les
Hugh Jackman, pictured left as Jean Valjean in a
scene from Les Miserables and right being interviewed in December about
the movie, have to starve himself of food and water to play the role
Hugh later apologises to those around
him for his grumpiness but feels wholly justified the following morning
when he sees the unedited version of the scene he was shooting the
realised the sacrifices had been worth it, that the headaches, dizziness
— and the grumpiness — had been a relatively small price to pay,’ says
Hugh, who is cast as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, the £38 million
film version of one of the most successful stage musicals of all time.
‘The scene is near the start
of the film, when Valjean is about to be released from prison on parole
after serving 19 years of hard labour, during which time he has often
been close to starvation.
‘So of course I had to look gaunt.
The director Tom Hooper [who won an Oscar for The King’s Speech] said I
had to look so strikingly thin, in fact, so different from the way I
normally look, that my friends would think I was ill.
‘And I guess I achieved that although there were times when I thought I had maybe pushed my body too far.
Dramatic: Hugh Jackman pictured with Anne Hathaway who Fantine, a poor mother driven to prostitution, in a scene of the film
‘I’d already shed 20 pounds,
through exercise and a very lean diet, before I embarked on that 36-hour
period in which I drank nothing and ate very little and I knew I was
pushing myself and my body to the limit.
the non-consumption of liquids is a very clever bodybuilders’ trick for
giving one sunken cheeks and sunken eyes and, boy, did it work. Maybe
just a little too well…’
there is more to his grim self-discipline and denial than a simple
desire to look convincing in the lead role of a film which is expected
to capture a host of Oscar nominations.
performance is both a tribute and a thank you to his father Chris, who
brought him up after his mother walked out of the family home in
Australia when Hugh was just eight years old. Both parents are
English-born, but settled in Australia, where Jackman was born.
the marriage broke up, Hugh’s mother, Grace, returned to England with
his two sisters, leaving Chris, a Cambridge-trained accountant, to bring
up him and his two brothers.
says: ‘I remember the day Mum left. I was going to school in the
morning, and she must have just washed her hair, because she was wearing
a towel round her head. There was just something about the way she said
goodbye . . .
came home, she had gone. There was no one in the house. The next day a
telegram came from England. Mum was back there. And that was it.’
All star cast: Isabelle Allen pictured as a
young Cosette being carried in the arms of Hugh Jackman playing Jean
Valjean in Les Miserables
Hugh, 44, who was in London for
the premiere of the film, which also stars Russell Crowe and Anne
Hathaway and has been co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh, says he owes so
much to his father.
him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Without him, I wouldn’t have had
an inspiration for my role in Les Miserables. Dad underwent the same
kind of life-changing experience that my character undergoes in the
religious artefacts from a bishop, is caught by the police but then —in
an act of supreme kindness — is allowed to keep the artefacts and sell
them, when the bishop denies the theft after the police capture Valjean
and prepare to put him back in jail. The incident transforms his life,
he becomes a respected town mayor.
was converted by the Christian evangelist Dr Billy Graham when he was
30 years old, and underwent a life-changing epiphany, too.
thought about that constantly when I was playing Valjean, I tried to
inject as much of Dad’s goodness, and change of life, into the character
I was playing.
would recall conversations Dad and I had about his religious beliefs. He
was an accountant at Price Waterhouse and I used to ask him whether his
religion ever impacted on his work, whether it was ever an issue, or a
subject for discussion.
Pushing himself to the limit: Hugh Jackman said the pain of his regime for the role was a small price to pay for the end result
‘He said it wasn’t, because religion,
in his mind, was about deed rather than word. He said that talking
about religion meant nothing, that practising religion through one’s
actions meant everything.
he was wholly sincere. He lived —and lives — his life through a firm
foundation of principle and he is both my inspiration and my hero.’
a child growing up in Australia, Hugh would watch the Oscar ceremonies
with his father, not only for the film stars on the red carpet but for
the accountants who would walk out on stage and deliver the names of the
winners in tightly sealed envelopes to whoever was presenting the
‘They were from
Dad’s company, so he and I felt a distant link to the grand, Los
Angeles ceremony,’ says Hugh. ‘As a boy growing up in the northern
suburbs of Sydney, I thought it was as close as I was ever going to get
to the Oscars.’
very least, Hugh will surely get to attend this year’s ceremony as an
award nominee. Daniel Day-Lewis may be hot favourite to scoop the
Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln, but the
Australian is a shoo-in for a nomination in the same category.
dominates the screen in a film which is hardly short on significant
co-stars. There’s Russell Crowe as Javert, the ruthless policeman who
spends his life hunting Valjean after he skips his parole.
Hathaway appears as the tragic, malnourished prostitute Fantine, whose
daughter Cosette is adopted by a guilt-ridden Valjean after her mother
dies. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter appear as evil
innkeeper Thenardier and his wife.
even the lavish sets, 4,500 costumes and the exotic locations — Gourdon
in the south of France; Boughton House in Northamptonshire, and
London’s Old Royal Naval College — can distract from Hugh’s performance.
Tom Hooper describes it as a ‘tour de force’ and pretty much everything
about his involvement in the production — from his initial attempts to
land a part in it through to his commitment to the project once it was
being filmed — smacks of utter devotion.
admit I made a bit of a nuisance of myself when I first heard the film
was being made,’ grins Hugh. ‘I was a huge fan of the stage version of
Les Miserables, but I didn’t think a film would ever get off the ground.
‘When I heard it was happening, I rang Tom and told him I needed a meeting with him — urgently!
met him, demanded an audition and pushed him so hard for a part —
harder than I had ever pushed for a part before — that I was lucky he
didn’t call for security and have me slung out on my ear.
Co-stars: Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda
Seyfried and Hugh Jackman at the World Premiere of Les Miserables at the
Odeon in Leicester Square
‘In my enthusiasm to land a
role, I didn’t even realise that the poor guy hadn’t signed to the film
himself at this point! So I backtracked a little and we went from there.
A three-hour singing audition later — one of the most gruelling but
exhilarating experiences of my life — and the role of Valjean was mine.’
Les Miserables is almost entirely set to music and the songs are sung live, rather than mimed.
says Hugh, plus the challenge of having to sing while performing tough
physical tasks as his beleaguered, hard-working character, made Les Mis
the most demanding role of his career.
a lot of people don’t realise is that singing is very physically
demanding anyway. I’ve done a lot of action films and people assume
musicals are easy to do by comparison — which they are not!
this particular part, in this particular musical, was both emotionally
and vocally challenging, often at one and the same time, with the
attendant discomfort vital in displaying the character’s unhappiness.
Mackintosh talked about the need to put yourself into a position of
discomfort — not always to sing in the key that you find most
comfortable, for example — so you have something to work against if you
are searching for emotional angst, which I was, and he was spot on.
Hugh Jackman, left, with his co-star Russell Crowe as the Australian premiere of Les Miserables in Sydney
‘I knew I had to go to extremes in my
preparation and prove I could multi-task. When I went to the gym, I
would sing loudly as I chalked up high-speed miles on the running
machine or as I bench-pressed. The people around me probably thought I
was crazy, but I felt I had to do it. You’re pushing, you’re pulling,
you are lifting, you are carrying and you are singing at the same time.
last thing I wanted to do, when I came to the film, was give the
impression that any part of what my character was doing was not being
stupid in the gym was a small price to pay for that conviction. If
you’re an actor, you sign up to make a fool of yourself on a regular
helping Hugh through the production was his great friend Russell Crowe.
Jackman has held a place in his heart for the gruff New Zealander ever
since Crowe turned down the lead role in the action film Wolverine and
recommended him for the part instead.
‘He suggested me to the director, something for which I will always be grateful, and he has been a mentor to me for years.
rung Russell on many occasions for advice and to work with him on Les
Miserables was a dream come true. There’s an old adage about great
actors making other actors look good and Russell does just that!
would have soirees at his home on a Friday evening, throughout filming,
for cast and crew and the guitars would come out, we’d relax and have
‘He was very much the cheerleader of the production, the guy who kept our spirits up when we were cold, hungry and tired.
day one of rehearsals, he came into the room, grinned and said: “This
is what you wait for, this buzz in the air, the really special project
that doesn’t come along very often.” ’ Russell Crowe would doubtless
feature in Hugh’s Oscar-winning acceptance speech, should he be
fortunate enough to triumph.
Not that Hugh — so open on so many subjects — is prepared to speculate on winning his first ever Oscar.
something to dream about, but not to talk about in public! I just hope
that people love watching the film as much as I enjoyed making it.’
Hugh win on Oscar night, expect mentions of his wife of 16 years,
Deborra-Lee Furness, and their children, Oscar Maximillian, 12, and Ava
central to any list of ‘thank yous’ would be that unassuming,
English-born accountant from Sydney who did so much for Hugh during the
early years of his life and continues to be an influence.
‘I simply couldn’t have played Jean Valjean without my dad,’ says Hugh.
was everything to me when I was growing up and now — appropriately — he
is integral to my working life, too. I love him and I say thank you to
him from the very bottom of my heart.’
- Les Miserables opens on January 11.