The first time Eddie Redmayne—who stars as Marius, the poetic object of desire in the movie adaptation of Les Misérables—sang for a paying audience, he was a 12-year-old member of Fagin’s gang in the 1994 production of the musical Oliver! in London. “Nearly every British actor has been in Oliver! at some point,” Redmayne told me over the phone from Los Angeles, where he was finishing postproduction on Les Mis before returning home to London. “When I did my American Idol–type audition for Cameron Mackintosh, who is producing Les Mis, I told him I’d been in his production of Oliver! He asked, ‘Who were you? Oliver? The Artful Dodger?’ I said, ‘No. I was Workhouse Boy number 82.’ ” Redmayne laughed. “But it’s still on my résumé. We all have to start somewhere.”
Redmayne, who is 30, has had a bifurcated career: In England, he’s known mostly for his work in television period dramas, but in the United States, he’s portrayed a series of dark, disturbed men. In the 2007 film Savage Grace, for instance, he slept with and killed his mother, played by Julianne Moore. With his auburn hair, freckles, and tall, lanky frame, Redmayne looks like he could have been born in the American heartland. “I recently did a movie called Hick,” the actor said. “I was a meth-addicted pedophile sugar daddy from Texas. I think the casting director saw Savage Grace and thought, If he can commit incest and matricide on film, he won’t have any trouble being a pedophile.”
And yet, in the very British production of the very French Les Mis, which arrives in theaters this Christmas, Redmayne is utterly romantic as he breaks the hearts of Eponine and Gavroche. “They both die for him,” Redmayne said, sounding apologetic. “I wanted to make his idealism something worth dying for. And it’s tricky being dashing and powerful while you’re singing.” There is almost no spoken dialogue in Les Mis—the director, Academy Award winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), decided that all the singing in the film should be recorded live. “We are the first movie to do this,” Redmayne explained. “And it’s very difficult. If it requires 50 takes to get the scene right, then you have to sing the song 50 times. It also means you have to sing while you’re walking or riding a horse or firing a gun. You feel very exposed: It’s just you, alone, with your voice.” Redmayne paused. “All that singing meant that I had to be healthier than ever. To protect your voice you can’t drink, and you are suddenly in love with your humidifier. I also kept thinking about the intensity and high expectations of the millions of people who have seen Les Misérables on the stage. Basically, I was in a state of anxiety during most of the making of the movie. Luckily, I find fear to be inspiring.”
Grooming by Helen Robertson for Chanel at Celestine Agency. Set design by Thomas Thurnauer. Photography assistants: John Schoenfeld, Micah Baird. Special thanks to Milk Studios Los Angeles.