Before Samantha Barks was singing in West End productions of Les Miserables or appearing in Hollywood’s movie adaptation of the show, she was a lot like the millions of people who caught the movie on Christmas Day: a fan.
In 2008, 22-year-old Barks took home third place at the UK singing competition, I’d Do Anything. Missing the top prize worked out just fine, as the singer’s standout work caught the eye of legendary theater producer Cameron Mackintosh, who cast her in the West End’s Oliver! and eventually, Les Miserables. Having been a young girl dreaming of performing the show (and eventually a regular player who’d knock Eponine’s “On My Own,” out of the park night after night), Barks had reservations when it came to tinkering with the sacred text on its way to the screen.
“Les Mis is such a huge part of musical theater history. It’s iconic and beloved,” Barks tells Hollywood.com. “So, it’s sort of scary to see how it’s going to be done.” Luckily, Barks had Tom Hooper overseeing the translation, a director who she believes can “do no wrong,” and one who got to the core of the musical. “He has managed to infuse the heart and soul of the West End production with this incredible world of truth and intimacy. To create something, to a Les Mis fan, that’s not just as good… it incorporates every level.”
For Barks, the movie demanded a whole new level of Eponine. “The camera is so close — intimacies can be shown. You can play the emotional truth of this woman,” Barks says. “In the musical there are details you can skim by, but in this, you can’t leave any loose ends. So the novel, by Victor Hugo, was fantastic to tie up loose ends. Eponine spent two months in prison. To add details like that into your mind, it gives you a better idea where she comes from.”
The realism meant Barks also had to deal with the harsh world that plagued the citizens of 19th Century Paris. “I wasn’t used to the conditions. I was singing in the rain, bare feet. I had splinters in my feet. I had a tight corset on. I had rain in my eyes, a sniffy nose. My teeth had teeth guards on painted brown… a lot to contend with.” But contending with it only honed her performance. “[It helped] leave that vocal vanity at the door. You have to allow those conditions into your voice to create something that’s raw and real.”
To hear Barks tell it like it was and describe her successful journey from reality show contestant to star performer (a feat rarely pulled off), watch the full interview below:
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches