Fantine's assault by a rejected customer is based on an actual incident from Victor Hugo's life that resulted in Fantine's creation: he was on his way to his editor's office when he encountered a young man harassing a prostitute. When she rejected his advances, he shoved a handful of snow down her dress and shoved her to the ground. When she defended herself with her fists, he immediately called the police to arrest his "assailant". Hugo was a minor celebrity at the time and spoke up on the woman's behalf when the police arrived and was able to have her set free. Hugo said he was horrified by the unfairness of the woman's situation and began to imagine that she might have children depending on her, and thus Fantine appeared in his mind.
While it seems odd, the "coffin" to which Fantine takes her first "john" is really the type of bed used by poorer people at that time. The raised sides helped to keep the sleeper warm. People who were better off either had bed curtains on all sides or slept in a small partition with curtains that could be closed to hold in the heat.
Recording the actors' singing live as they're acting may not be a first for this film, but the scope, and especially the manner in which it's being done, is: The actors wore ear pieces which fed the sound of a live piano being played off-stage, to keep their singing in key. The main novelty here is, there's no count-in or predetermined tempo and the piano is following the pacing of the actor, not the other way around - a first for a filmed musical. Orchestral music was added post-production.
Typically, the soundtrack for a movie musical is recorded several months in advance and the actors mime to playback during filming. However, on this film, every single song was recorded live on set to capture the spontaneity of the performances. Everyone involved, from Hugh Jackman to Russell Crowe to producer Cameron Mackintosh, have praised this approach as it allowed them to concentrate on their acting as opposed to lip-syncing properly. They have also praised director Tom Hooper for attempting this on such a scale; something no director has ever done before.
Hugh Jackman lost considerable weight and grew a real scraggly beard for scenes of Valjean as a prisoner, though mercifully they were shot first in production and he could shave and return to his usual weight for scenes playing Valjean as a wealthy man.
Anne Hathaway refuses to discuss how she lost 25 pounds to play the dying Fantine, as she admits her methods were life threatening, and doesn't want to glamorize or promote her methods to young women. However, she has confirmed eating oatmeal paste as one of the reasons of her weight loss.
Due to the physical demands of daily singing, none of the cast was allowed alcohol. Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried both admitted it was a challenge to not be able to drink, and Crowe bought Seyfried a bottle of whiskey as a present after filming wrapped.
After many months of auditioning, Samantha Barks landed the role of Eponine, which she had previously played in the West End and in the 25th anniversary concert. Barks was performing in Oliver! in Manchester when, to her surprise, Cameron Mackintosh came on stage and announced that she had been cast. Barks later described it via Twitter as the "Most incredible moment of my life!!!!".
Amanda Seyfried said in an interview that it took over four months of auditioning to get the part of Cosette. She was entirely unaware of the other young women auditioning/ being considered for the role, but she was constantly told that she was "not right" for this musical/film. During the audition process, Seyfried was also singing/reading for the role of Fantine, and forced herself to get into vocal and physical shape for strong consideration for either one of the roles. When Anne Hathaway signed on as Fantine, Seyfried was given the role of Cosette.
Despite reports of having the number to finished in one shot, Anne Hathaway confirmed in a interview that it took 8 hours to film "I Dreamed a Dream" because she wanted to get the scene deeper and more emotional. The fourth take made it in the final cut.
Coincidentally, Anne Hathaway sang with Hugh Jackman at the Academy Awards (twice). The second time, Hathaway was hosting and sang 'On My Own' to Jackman because Jackman refused to sing with her. Later, Jackman was cast in this movie and he suggested Hathaway as Fantine. She was later cast.
Alfie Boe auditioned for the role of Jean Valjean, having played the role for the 25th anniversary concert. He later claimed that his audition immediately preceded Hugh Jackman's, whom he saw waiting outside for his turn.
In addition to the actors singing live, which allowed them to improvise their singing patterns, much of the movement was improvised as well. Particularly, Valjean's first solo, the Soliloquy, was filmed using a Steadicam and allowed Hugh Jackman to move as he saw fit in order to convey the heavy emotion of the scene.
Several actors went through transformations upon receiving their roles. Anne Hathaway lost 25 pounds in total for her portrayal of Fantine, while Hugh Jackman lost 30 pounds in order to play Valjean as a prisoner.
In a running gag, Thénardier claims to love Cosette like his own daughter but can never quite remember her name correctly. He incorrectly calls her "Colette" several times, and also once calls her "Courgette." "Courgette" is the French word for "zucchini." Although not mentioned in the musical, in Victor Hugo's source novel explains that "Cosette" is in fact also not the girl's real name; her given name is "Euphrasie," and "Cosette" is a nickname that her mother gave her.
According to Anne Hathaway in a interview, director Tom Hooper suggest that she try a take of her big song, "I Dreamed a Dream" in a coffin. But it was agreed by all involved that it looked too ridiculous.
The large, crumbling elephant statue that features prominently during several scenes in the movie was both a real statue in Paris (between 1813 and 1846) and a focus of vivid description by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Misérables. Known as "The Elephant of the Bastille," Napoléon Bonaparte originally intended the statue to be a bronze monument to his military achievements at the former site of the Bastille, but the design was only ever rendered in plaster and wood; by the time of its demolition in 1846, the statue had become a haven for vermin and was significantly degraded structurally. In the novel, Hugo describes it as an ugly, dilapidated, widely despised public eyesore.
The battle, along with other scenes, were filmed on the campus of the Old Royal Naval college in Greenwich, London, which is home to the University of Greenwich. Many students were used as extras in crowd and battle scenes.
Frances Ruffelle, the original Eponine on Broadway and in the West End, will be returning to Les Mis as a prostitute. When producer Cameron Mackintosh made the announcement, Ruffelle's character name was "The Most Fabulous Whore". Ruffelle also appeared in the 25th Anniversary Concert for Les Miserables taking the stage with the original London cast.
Jackie Marks has come full circle as 'Factory Woman'. She was in the original RSC production, creating the role of the factory girl, and was the first British Fantine taking over the role from Patti LuPone. She also recently played Madame Thenardier at the Queens Theatre in London.
The Broadway production of 'Les Misérables' opened at the Broadway Theater on March 126, 1987 and ran for 6680 performances, making this production the third longest running show on Broadway (February 2013). In 1990 it transferred to the Imperial Theater. Les Misérables was nominated for thirteen 1987 Tony Awards, won eight Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Featured Actor (Michael Maguire), Best Featured Actress (Frances Ruffelle), Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Score and Best Book.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
During the "Master Of The House" song (at around 49 minutes), you can see the Thenandiers stealing someone's bags. They traded it for a basket with a baby. That baby is actually Gavroche, the Thenandiers' abandoned child. It is not stated in the musical but it is in the book. In an interview with director Tom Hooper, he stated it was a clue to see if someone knew who actually that baby was.
Though cut from the theatrical edit, Anne Hathaway insisted that she perform a single stunt that involved Fantine's corpse being thrown from a window into a waiting cart. Director Tom Hooper and the producers had already hired a stunt woman and were hesitant to allow Anne to make the fall. Anne was able to convince them to let her perform the stunt when she stated, "Don't make me say it... guys, I'm Catwoman" (from The Dark Knight Rises (2012)).
The Bishop's appearance at the end of the movie is a nod to the novel, where, as Valjean is dying, he is asked if he wants a priest. He responds by pointing to a spot above his head and saying he has one, implying that the Bishop is bearing witness.
In the sewer scene, Thénardier says "Here's a pretty ring" before Jean Valjean wakes up and grabs him. This is a reference to the second verse in the corresponding song "Dog Eats Dog" from the musical, "Here's a tasty ring, pretty little thing..." Sadly, this gem was not included in the motion picture.