by Jessica Ferri
In 1995, French director Claude Lelouch adapted Les Miserables for the screen. Instead of post-Revolutionary France, he transposed the story to Nazi-occupied France. Though this adaptation didn’t get much attention in the states, it’s very successful. You can imagine the parallels during the time periods — and the actors are very good. Perhaps the success of this adaptation pushed for an American film version of the musical. In 1998, Les Miserables was released starring Liam Neeson as Valjean, Geoffrey Rush as Javert, Uma Thurman as Fantine, and Claire Danes as Cosette. It was a flop. (“Made me feel transported back to high school history class,” wrote Roger Ebert.) It’s easy as a director to get too confident when you have Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush on a bill but it was tedious and flat, which is the opposite of the play: frothy, heady-and rich with opportunities for hot European actors to rip their shirts off.
It’s as easy as casting it right and not having a horrific script and director.
â€¢ Let’s get Gerard Butler in there as Javert, with his stocky frame, swarthy facial hair and bulky muscles he’s perfect for the role. And hey, he can sort of sing! Remember Phantom of the Opera? No, you probably don’t. Well?
â€¢ Valjean, besieged father and leader of men, is harder to cast, but I for one would love to see the deft German-born Irishman from Inglorious Basterds, Michael Fassbender take on the part. Valjean takes great emotional depth and an openness-we have to feel for him. Fassbender could do this part in his sleep. And he’s not hard on the eyes, either. Also, he’s European, so he’s cheap.
â€¢ For Fantine, the mother heroine and mysterious-respiratory-disease haver, let’s get some real talent in here, maybe even rack up an Oscar nom. Get me Emily Watson post-haste. Watson has that strong matron-peasant look that simply crackles on screen.
â€¢ Cosette is such a boring character that it would take a really talented actress to make her shine. Zoe Kazan is a brute of a girl, in the best way possible. Her small part in Revolutionary Road basically stole the show; she’s got the chops and she knows how to use them. Cosette is usually cast as willowy and model-looking — but Kazan could make things interesting.
â€¢ Marius, the featured love interest, is similarly boring. We’d need someone sweet and young-ish, but he’d also need to equal Kazan’s power. How about Kazan’s real-life boyfriend, Paul Dano? Indie cred: SECURED!
â€¢ Eponine, the 14-year-old who sacrifices herself to fulfill the revolutionary role-playing fantasies of her unrequited crush, Marius, is usually played by some vaguely ethnic young lady, mostly likely because Lea Aalonga popularized the part on stage. In movie adaptations she’s similarly “exotic.” Who better for this part than Eva Green? She sizzles. If we wanted to pack the tweens into the seats-and who doesn’t-we may need to take a page from the Disney playbook and cast Vanessa Hudgens.
â€¢ For the innkeepers, the skuzzy cajoling wretches that look as though they leaped out of some painting of France’s third class, I say no, NO, NO to ruddy and grubby character actors this time. Let’s scrub these two up and make it so make the audience wants them to slip their hands in your pocket. Easy: John Slattery and Helen Mirren, overboiled silvery sex pots, those two are.
Okay, Hollywood, I just made your musical as relevant as Twilight with a Lady GaGa soundtrack. Let’s get on it.