Hugh Jackman gets serious in first official still from 'Les Misérables'

Posted by · 4:08 am · March 28th, 2012

A reader asked yesterday why we haven’t yet updated the sidebar with Oscar predictions for the 2012 season. In truth, neither Kris nor I think it’s a particularly healthy practice, and with Kris about to set off on his honeymoon, I like to think that the question of who will win Best Supporting Actress in 11 months’ time is the furthest thing from his mind. My mind, meanwhile, has a less ironclad excuse, but refuses to go there all the same.

For those that are daring to put their necks on the block with such projections, however, I imagine that one title is very much in their thoughts. “Les Misérables” is the umpteenth screen version of Victor Hugo’s beloved doorstop of French literature, but the first of the blockbuster 1985 stage musical that ranks as the third longest-running show in Broadway history. Alongside the no-introduction-needed source material, the cast (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway et al) is starry, the director (Tom Hooper) recently if unpopularly Oscared, the release date (December 14) in the prime of awards season. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching — for those who regard Oscar punditry as a kind of mathematical process, this adds up to a frontrunner.

I’ve been more sceptical than most about the project, as I tend to be — sometimes rightly, often wrongly — off prospects that sound a little too perfect on paper. (Hey, I doubted “The King’s Speech” for that same reason, and look where that got me.) Though he has form in period epics for TV, this is a heftier assignment than Hooper has ever undertaken before; with the backlash against “The King’s Speech” having swelled since last year’s Oscar triumph, there are plenty waiting for him to fall.

Meanwhile, there are always going to be nerves surrounding a cultural behemoth like “Les Mis” that has somehow gone 27 years without reaching the screen; the similarly long-awaited “Chicago” overcame the pressure, but “The Phantom of the Opera” cracked fatally. (It doesn’t ease matters that, for all the attempts at doing so, Hugo’s novel has never yet translated to film with complete success, Claude Lelouch’s overblown but involving 1995 meta-adaptation representing perhaps the nearest miss to date.)

Whether or not the film hits its marks, however, all eyes will be on Jackman in the supersized heroic role of Jean Valjean — one of those beefily iconic parts that will draw the attention of awards voters to even a merely serviceable performance in a high-profile adaptation.Jackman’s song-and-dance skills, demonstrated to the world at large during his hosting stint at the 2008 Academy Awards, are beyond reproach; as a thespian, generally relegated to twinkly-eyed romantic or action-hero duty in Hollywood fodder, he’s rarely been handed roles of such range or gravity.

The Australian charmer will therefore be looking on this role as an opportunity to surprise people with his dramatic chops, so it’s no accident that the first official still, introduced via the actor’s own Twitter feed, from the film finds Jackman in the most committedly against-type form imaginable: his matinee-idol features masked in facial scars, a moth-eaten buzzcut and a scraggly hedge of a beard, his trademark Colgate smile replaced with an earnest scowl, he may as well have “LET’S GET SERIOUS” tattooed in flowing calligraphy across his forehead.

After posting the photo, he tweeted that his look will be changing soon — not a fact that will surprise anyone familiar with the story, but there’s a reason they’ve led with Valjean’s most severe guise. This is the kind of calculated instigation of awards buzz that makes self-fulfilling prophecies of certain roles, particular for actors as well-liked (though as-yet-unawarded) as Jackman. We know a Golden Globe musical/comedy nod (if not win) is in the bag; the film would have to be a colossal disappointment for the Academy not to follow suit. 

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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