How does it feel to be caught up in all the anticipation surrounding the release of Les Misérables?
I’m floating on air right now. I could die tomorrow and still be happy, that’s how proud and excited I feel about being part of this incredible movie. This is the highlight of my career and my life so far, and it’s hard to explain how much it all means to me. Les Misérables has been a big part of my life. I actually sang Colette’s “A Heart Full of Love” when I was 15 and gave my first recital, and now to have made the film is the most amazing feeling in the world.
Why do you think seeing Les Misérables as a young girl had such an impact on you?
It’s such a powerful story and the songs are just breathtaking and so deeply moving. You’re touching the sky when you allow yourself to be swept away by the story and the songs that resonate so intensely. Even when things are going badly in my personal life, I can always take heart when I recall the first time I saw Les Misérables. It’s a cornerstone of my life. I know every word to every song and it’s by far my favorite musical. I just had to be part of this film.
While you were making the film, did you have a sense that you were part of something very special?
I think most of the cast thought that we were involved in something pretty extraordinary. The director, Tom Hooper, did an incredible job directing the scenes, making sure we didn’t worry about favoring our acting versus our singing, and just getting us to focus on how our character is feeling in the moment.
How do you compare working on a musical film like Les Misérables with Mamma Mia?
Les Misérables is a very different kind of project. It was much more intense and exhausting to be part of simply because of all the takes we were doing and the way it was filmed. Mamma Mia was much lighter and I didn’t even have to study the songs for that film. With Les Misérables, the producers left my voice really raw and didn’t try to polish it in post-production. Tom Hooper really wanted the audience to get into it and to forget that you’re singing. What audiences are going to feel is that there’s an edge to all the singing and it’s not been overproduced to the point where you leave out the tension. Tom wanted us to achieve the kind of performance that was raw and pure and unfiltered. That, for me, was so beautiful and exciting.
Does this kind of experience make you want to turn your attention to performing on Broadway?
I would love to do Broadway but first I have to get over my stage fright, which has been a problem for me over the years. I think I would rather act in a Broadway drama rather than in a musical.
"When I'm working, I'm totally into the moment and I'm able to throw myself into my character and any scene I happen to be doing. "
Do you still harbor ambitions of putting out a CD or trying to have a second career as a singer?
That’s a big step. I would like to at some point, but right now it’s not something I’m thinking about. I love acting and being part of this business, and that’s plenty for me to keep busy and feel creatively fulfilled. I would like to keep singing in films but they make very few musicals these days. Maybe if Les Misérables is a big success that might convince studios to do more.
Are you more confident on a film set than you are away from the set?
There is some truth to that. When I’m working, I’m totally into the moment and I’m able to throw myself into my character and any scene I happen to be doing. When I’m by myself, I have a terrible tendency to overanalyze everything and worry about things that I really shouldn’t be worrying about. I’ve been working to overcome my anxiety and not stress myself so much. I’m getting there.
You spoke out last year about how Hollywood puts pressure on actresses to be as thin as possible…
I have to watch my weight and sometimes it’s hard. I’m eating much healthier now and that helps a lot. My body is an instrument as well, so I try to keep within a certain weight range. I’m naturally thin, but fat comes very quickly if I completely lose it and start eating too many chocolates, which is a weakness of mine [laughs]. Losing too much or gaining too much is not healthy. I keep it simple and I feel like I’m fine. I don’t obsess over it, though. That’s not healthy, either. No matter what I eat, though, I think my legs will always be good – thank God! Genetically, I’m just going to have thinner legs. Some people think they also look like chicken legs… Oh well, you can’t please everybody. That’s the one thing I know for sure about this business!
You’ve had some interesting Hollywood romances. Are you still a big believer in true love?
Yes. Love is the most powerful emotion there is, that’s why we’re always talking about being in love, wanting to be in love, wanting to fall in love, wanting to be with a great partner. I think women respond much more deeply to those feelings than men; women are more in touch with their emotions than men tend to be. It’s dangerous if men break our hearts, we never forget! [Laughs]
How have you dealt with your own romantic ups and downs?
I can be very insecure at times, and being in love is something that is very important and reassuring to me. I’ve had my heart broken and that’s an awful feeling but you can’t let that hold you back. Even though I don’t fall in love that easily, there’s nothing that makes your world brighter or happier than the feeling that you can share your life with someone. You feel so much more enriched because of the experience.
Photos: Courtesy of TRUNK ARCHIVE