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Cast This! "Les Miz" For the Big Screen

In the annals of "the movie business is SO weird" and "Hollywood is terrified of musicals" few things beat the case of the 1998 film version of Victor Hugo's French revolution classic Les Miserables. Despite being moved into production during the 90s when the British mega-musical of the same name was well into its record breaking stage run, Hollywood thought it time to revive the book, which had been filmed many times before, but not as an adaptation of the ginormously popular musical.

Hollywood is currently repeating this dunderheaded mistake with umpteen Wizard of Oz projects in development that ARE NOT Wicked the musical, which is so popular that it has already earned more than half a billion dollars at the box office.

What is wrong with Hollywood?

So back to Les Miz. Admittedly we tend to travel in packs with people who share our interests but I didn't meet one person around the late 1990s who didn't say "Why isn't it the musical?" with a genuinely confused look on their face. Everybody was into that musical. It was as popular as Cats and Phantom of the Opera the two other pop culture musical phenomenons of the 80s. I also didn't meet one person who was eager to buy a ticket the movie without the songs.

So Uma Thurman played Fantine but didn't get to belt out power ballad classic "I Dreamed a Dream", Claire Danes played the pitiable orphaned Cosette but didn't get that wonderful crosscut romantic triangle "A Heart Full of Love",  Liam Neeson played Valjean but didn't get that 11th hour manly weep-a-thon "Bring Him Home". Etcetera.

Fantine (UMA) Dies From Musical Malnourishment

Word is that Tom Hooper may be directing the first film version of this musical as his follow up to The King's Speech. Honestly, if he pulls this off, we'll pretend that this year's Oscars never happened and stop being angry on behalf of David Fincher.

Les Miz is perfect for big screen. Let's talk why and cast the characters after the jump.

Why is it perfect for the big screen?

  1. It's got memorable characters within a story that's been popular for centuries
  2. It's already a familiar property all over the world and Hollywood loves having half their marketing already done for them.
  3. It's got truly melodic songs even though it's "sung through".
  4. It's got enough historical oomph to justify the "serious epic" treatment, and enough heightened emotional stakes to justify people singing at the top of their lungs for hours.
  5. It's a prestigious property that could easily sweep up awards while also being utterly populist: just check the gazillions of dollars and tons of statuettes its already earned.


Jean Valjean (middle aged) is the manly hero, who breaks parole after two decades in prison (for stealing a loaf of bread). He becomes wealthy under a new identity and adopts an orphan girl Cosette when he realizes that he is indirectly responsible for her mother's poverty (long story). But when his identity is discovered by Inspector Jalvert (middle aged) who believes in the letter of the law and wants Valjean back in prison no matter how noble his spirit may be, he's on the run again. The trick in casting both of these men is that they have to be ideally suited for what is essentially a battle of wills with both of them being essentially sympathetic and seeking redemption. So you'd need two men of roughly the same screen potency and preferrably similar ages.

The young romantic triangle numbers "In My Life" / "A Heart Full of Love"  from the 25th anniversary concert.

Marius (twentysomething) is a student cum revolutionary. Should be handsome, and capable of idealistic dreaminess of both the romantic and the political nature. His voice has to be awesome since he gets great songs. ("Empty Chairs" Gah!). The other biggie is Thrénadier (middle aged or older) who is the unscrupulous greedy landlord who gets the evil comic-relief songs. His wife often joins him and she's basically the same character so cast the husband and wife.) 

Fantine (late 20s to 30something) is only around for the first half but she is the struggling mother turned prostitute who has to give her child up for adoption (to Valjean). She's basically the soul of the musical's downtrodden spirit so it should be an actress in her 30s who is capable of really tugging on the heartstrings and can also sing the hell out a huge passionate solo like "I Dreamed a Dream". Should be beautiful and doomed feeling.

Patti Lupone discussing her "Fantine" role -- funny. Then she sings!

Here's GLEE's version of the "i gave my child up for adoption" drama of I DREAMED A DREAM with Broadway star Idina Menzel and Lea Michele as the biologicals.

Eponine (teen to twenty-something) is the waifish daughter of Thénadier who loves Marius, she should be able to convey romantic martyrdom ("On My Own" is her big famous number) and frailty. Cosette (tween to twenty-something) is Fantine's gorgeous daughter and is romantically involved with Marius. She does not know who her mother is.

Who plays your warring male leads? Your evil landowners, your heartbroken prostitute, the unscrupulous landlords, and the young romantic triangle?

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Reader Comments (64)

Jean Valjean - Hugh Jackman.
Inspector Jalvert - Christoph Waltz? Can he sing?
Marius - You know what...I liked Nick Jonas as him.
Threnadier - Matt Lucas.
Fantine - Oh, gosh. Um. Um. Anne Hathaway? That's straining, perhaps.
Eponine - Lea Michele.
Cosette - Mandy Moore?

My casting director dreams are over.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

Can't say I'm qualified to post any casting because i don't know the musical but I did see the '98 version just last week. I thought Neeson and Rush were amazing although I did get a little restless after the grown up Cosette (Danes) showed up. Just had to post because if anyone hasn't seen this version they should!

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCity_Of_Lights

Jean Valjean: Colin Firth
Inpector Jalvert: William Shimmel
Marius: newcomer or Jamie Bell
Fantine: Catherine Zeta jones (Winona Ryder, maybe she can sing?
Cosette: Melanie Laurent
Eponine: Mia wasikowska
Threnadier: Jim Broadbent

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCristhian

I started watching the 1998 movie assuming it was a musical. I realised it wasn't. I stopped watching. Not that it was bad, but it could've been way better had it used the songs.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

Cristhian -- i'm surprised at your Fantine suggestion but i kinda like it (on account of her voice). But can she do the downtrodden part? She seems so teflon tough. And also love your Threnadier suggstion.

City -- well that's why i explained the roles since not everyone will have seen it.

Jonathon -- Hugh Jackman fer sure.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman
Javert: Colin Firth
Marius: Jonathan Groff
Threnadier: Broadbent would be fantastic
Fantine: Renee Zellweger maybe? Someone at AwardsDaily suggested Keira Knightly but can she sing??
Cosette: Emmy Rossum
Eponine: Wasikowska does have the right look... or Carey Mulligan?

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Aaron -- does Colin Firth sing? you're the second to suggest him. I don't remember his voice in Mamma Mia! am i blocking it out because it was bad or because the movie was?


March 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hugh Jackman is the obvious choice for Jean Valjean...great dramatic chops, and he can carry a tune.
James Marsden is a fantastic singer with a beautiful voice...Gosling briefly sang in Lars and the Real Girl, and he sounded quite good...can they pull off Marius, or are are they too old?
Bryce Dallas Howard sang in The Village and I remember her voice being quite pure, not big and brassy though...she might fit in somewhere...maybe Cossette? Too old?
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Fantine?
What about Celine for Fantine? She's done some acting in Canada...wants to do a Maria Callas biopic....maybe she can cut her teeth on Fantine first?
Lea Michele as Eponine is a no-brainer.
Amanda Seyfiried as Cossette?
Kevin Kline as Javert?

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe

I had some ideas of my own years ago, but as time marches on, I've since come to revise some of those ideas...

Jean Valjean - Russell Crowe
Javert - Ralph Fiennes OR Kevin Kline
Fantine - Kate Winslet
Thenardier - Jack Nicholson (you read that correctly), Geoffrey Rush or...Kevin Kline (i love him)
Marius - Nicholas Hoult
Eponine - i could see Lea Michele...or Emmy Rossum....hm...
Thenardiess - Catherine O'Hara
Enjolras - Dominic Cooper
The Bishop - Jim Broadbent
Cosette - a newcomer, has to be.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

Nathaniel: I thought Colin Firth was fine in Mamma Mia, but now that you mention it that may just be because he was singing next to Pierce Brosnan. hehe.

Also: for Mdme. Thenardier: Helena Bonham Carter!

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

SoSueMe: I think James Marsden fits perfectly has Enjolras.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

Also, I, too, love Cristhian's Fantine and Thenardier suggestions.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

Jim Broadbent should definitely play Thenardier with Julie Walters as the missus.

I find the juxtaposition of the leader/realist Enjolras and the philosopher/dreamer Marius interesting, and, in my view, one of the many flaws of the 1998 film was that the characters of Marius and Enjolras were merged into one. I think Jackson Rathbone should play Enjolras.

Also Ewan McGregor as Javert to Hugh Jackmans Valjean.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMysjkin

Mysjkin -- i don't think i've ever seen Ewan McGregor in a role that buttoned-down in terms of joy. Well, except for maybe Young Adam. and i love your suggestion for Mrs and Mrs Thenardier.

Walter -- Emmy is SO pretty and her voice is spectacular. But has her acting improved? I havent seen her in awhile.

March 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel, watch Shameless pronto. Stat. Asap. Post haste.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

After reading that first post, I can't get Mr. Jackman out of my head for the lead. God, I hope it happens. I wonder if Fasbender can sing.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel T

I'd love to see Kate Winslet in a musical (as Fantine I guess, not knowing much about Les Mis)
She can sing but has never actually done a musical before - although I remember reading somewhere she was considered for Moulin Rouge...

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

I love that Celine Dion suggestion! Kevin Kline would be a slam dunk as Jean Valjean. Jeremy Irons would be my only choice for Javert. Only choice.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

i think it would be more fun to miscast it (you know that's more likely to happen) -

jean valjean - john travolta
javert - tom hanks
fantine - julia roberts
marius - some american idol placegetter
cosette - someone from glee
eponine - someone else from glee
threnadier - michael douglas
mdm thenadier - catherine zeta jones

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman (He MUST get this role, Duh!)
Inpector Jalvert: Christoph Waltz
Marius: Jonathan Groff
Fantine: Marion Cotillard (After seeing her in "Nine", I confident by this choice)
Cosette: Melanie Laurent (Also Cotillard and Laurent are good friends) or maybe an unknown
Eponine: Emmy Rossum, perhaps
Thenardier: Kevin Kline or Geoffrey Rush
Thenardiess: Catherine O'Hara (I love her and like Kline/Rush, she has the comedic timing)
Enjolras: Dominic Cooper
The Bishop: Jim Broadbent

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

What about Marion Cotillard? I do like Marion :D for Fantine that is, the rest, I leave to everyone else, just too excited this movie is finally in the realm of possiblity :D

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

I wonder why people never have offered Zeta Jones another role in a musical. I mean, she nailed as Velma, great dancing, great singing, Hollywood is weird indeed.

But Marion would be a fine choice too for Fantine. ; )

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanilo S.

Michelle Pfeiffer
Toni Collette
Kate Winslet
Gwyneth Paltrow
Marion Cotillard

Scarlett Johansson
Evan Rachel Wood

Patrick Wilson

Geoffrey Rush
Nathan Lane
Alan Cumming
John C.Reilly

Jude Law
Hugh Jackman
Ewan McGregor
John Stamos

Gerard Butler
Jonathan Pryce
Hugh Jackman
Daniel Day Lewis
Johnny Depp
Kevin Kline

Mdme. Thenardier
Bette Midler
Liza Minnelli LOL
Glenn Close
Kathy Bates
Carol Burnett

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCinemanolis

Jean Valjean: Agree 100% on Hugh Jackman
Fantine: Marion Cotillard
Cosette: Dakota Fanning... or is Kirsten Dunst too old for this?
Javert: James Marsters
Marius: Justin Timberlake?
Threnadier: Jim Broadbent and Bette Midler sounds perfect!

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFernando Moss

I think Jackman would be much more suited to the Javert role. He's not gruff enough for Valjean.

Marion Cotillard for Fantine
Lea Michelle for Eponine
Cosette is a tough one - Emmy Rossum perhaps. If Mia Wasawhatever can sing, she'd be perfect
Zachary Levi for Marius
Jonathan Groff for Enjolras - (I'd possibly switch Levi and Groff)

Jim Broadbent or Timothy Spall for Thenardier (though I just looked up at previous comments and saw John C Reilly, now that would be good)
Mdme Thenardier is tough. I see HBC mentioned, she'd be good but I don't dig her voice. Not sure who else.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

Jean Valjean - Hugh Jackman
Inspector Jalvert - Cheyenne Jackson (take that, Hollywood!)
Marius - Michael Bublé
Threnadier - Bill Irwin and/or Christine Ebersole
Fantine - Jane Krakowski
Eponine - Heather Morris
Cosette - Laura Belle Bundy

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I totally didn't pick a Jean Valjean. That one's kind of important.

Russell Crowe has the right look and demeanour but I'm not sure if he can sing well enough. Sure, he has a band, but have you head them? Exactly.

Colin Firth maybe. Daniel Day Lewis? Matthew Morrison (not really).

It's a tough one.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

By the way, there is no 'l' in Javert. It's just Javert.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

Kate Winslet had done a musical years ago. Remember Romance & Cigarettes? No! Oh well...

Yes... I think Winslet is the perfect choice for Fantine.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmir Syarif Siregar

No Lea Salonga for Fantine? I'm ashamed of all of you!

Valjean: Hugh Jackman
Javert: Russell Crowe
Cosette: Amanda Seyfried
Threnadier: Ewan McGregor
Marius: Jonathan Groff
Eponine: Lea Michele

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

par3182 -- haha "some american idol placegetter" i KNOW.

everyone -- the casting suggestions for Fantine are way old. She's a young mother who has to give up her child. I know that Lupone plays her on Broadway but Broadway is much looser for ages since it's not shot in closeup.

Paolo -- i like the Seyfried suggestion. I have struggled and struggled to remember if Cosette has an actual personality but I think she's just The Pretty Girl. ;)

March 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

All I can say is: LEA MICHELE should stay as far away from this as humanly possible!

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

I'm totally unfamiliar with this play, but I'm surprised Anne Hathaway hasn't been mentioned for the role of Fantine. She can sing her ass off and can DEFINITELY tug at your heartstrings.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

the casting suggestions for Fantine are way old. She's a young mother who has to give up her child

if streisand can play the mother of baby june and louise in gypsy then all bets are off

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Valjean - Hugh Jackman
Thenardier - John Barrowman (with the right makeup)
Fantine - Anne Hathaway
Javert - Russell Crowe-type that has the right voice (don't know if the real one has it)

If you get Jackman for Valjean, then that should be enough for the big names. Fill the rest of the cast with people who fit the roles that can actually sing the parts. Don't do like Mamma Mia and pile on with the big names (except for that Swedish guy that I never heard of) who couldn't hold a note with both hands. And, don't fill it with big names who aren't age-appropriate for the roles (Except for Colin Firth, all of the older adults in Mamma Mia were about 20 years too old for their roles).

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJimbo9560

Apparently I need to read more...I just realized that the very first post suggests Hathaway for Fantine, I guess i should take that as a sign that I need to go to sleep. lol

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Marius......Darren Criss.

Nah, I'm just kidding.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

except for that Swedish guy that I never heard of...

You mean Stellan Skarsgard. Actually he's one of the big exports came from Sweden. He's the leading man in "Breaking the Waves" and starring swedish top films like "the Ox". so I don't know why you didn't heard about him.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I knew I could count on you for an article about 'Les Mis', Nathaniel. I hope the casting doesn't go as obvious as a lot of people are suggesting here and finds singing ability in actors we haven't seen do a musical yet. I'll kick myself if I have to sit through Emmy Rossum and Amanda Seyfried sing the 'Les Mis' score. Not because I don't think they are talented, although I don't really think either has a super strong voice, but because it's so obvious. The only obvious casting suggestion I can get behind is Hugh Jackman for Jean Valjean. And whoever suggested Celine Dion...you are either a genius or insane, but I love it either way.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZach

Samuel & Jimbo: Russell Crowe did musical theater in Australia, playing leads and ensemble in Rocky Horror, Grease, and Blood Brothers. I think he purposely sings a different way for his band.

All I know is, Hugh Jackman, for me, has way too smooth a voice for Valjean. Personally, I think he'd make a better Javert, but come on: RALPH FIENNES.

Nathaniel: I know Cotillard and Winslet are 35, but you can't convince me they *look* 35, even in close-up. I thought Cotillard was a 21-year-old starlet when she won her Oscar! Then again, I don't always wear my glasses....

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

I haven't watched the musical since I live inb Greece but I've seen many clips on youtube from its 10th anniversary which was phenomenal and that was enough to make me know that it's my favorite musical.

I'm very happy it finally is close to becoming a movie and Hooper might have what it takes. It's one of the few occasions I don't care to see any of my favorite actors in it. I just want great actors/singers even if I have no idea who they are.

But no one is going to sing Empty Chairs like Michael Ball (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJnjcX8skXk) and it would be hard for anyone to top this(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Jo4FvpN3_g) I Dreamed A Dream.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Actually, we should just cast it, then say who we would like to have dub the role...is Marni Nixon still around?

Off the top of my head....

Jeff Bridges as Valjean
Javier Bardem as Javert
James Franco as Marius
William Shatner as Thenardier

Samantha Morton as Fantine
Zoey Denschal as Cossette
Mila Kunis as Eponine
Wendy Malick As Thenardiers wife

Oh, I guess I just cast a non musical again....don't worry, we'll have the cast of Glee dub it!

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Na Taraja

No I cast myself as Cosette so I can make out with James Franco!

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Na Taraja

Chris -- you didn't cast an *entire* non musical -- Bridges & Deschanel at least have musical chops :)_

March 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

That 25th anniv. bit was kind of awful!

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I agree that Jackman would be better as Javert than Valjean.
I think Valjean is going to be the hardest role to cast. It has to be someone physically broad like Liam Neeson. I agree though that they should get Kevin Kline in this somehow

Does Helen Mirren sing? Maybe she could do Thenardier's wife.

I think Hooper will cast a lot of Brits.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

Gabriel Oak - Mirren can't sing at all. Her words.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

i'm not sure how this will translate, given how long the musical is, but there's already so much story missing from the original novel that the plot is so loosely tied together. good luck getting that behemoth of a book down to movie-going size.

anyhoo, for casting....hooper tends to go heavily british, so i'm relying on that general intention....

valjean - ewan mcgregor (dude's 40 already)
javert - alan cumming (i can see the smirk and intent already)
marius - jonathan groff (good idea)
eponine - lea michele (feels like a studio decision)
thenardier - geoffrey rush (hooper connection)
mme thenardier - helena bonham carter (first came to mind, though julie walters could kill it too)

fantine is the hardest for me to cast, since there are so many different ways to go on her. she could be older, younger, you could cast double her with eponine. but, alas, i'm going for a broadway star in idina menzel. yes, it makes no sense, but whatever.

as for cosette, it almost doesn't matter. the role has no substance. insert waify teen starlet.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrich

Valjean: Hugh Jackman
Javert: Ewan McGregor
Fantine: Toni Collette
Marius: Gavin Creel
Eponine (the most oscar bait role): Anne Hathaway
Cossette: ??
Msnr and Mdm T: Steve Buscemi and Susan Sarandon or Kirstin Chenoweth

Others to include or consider: James Marsden, Patrick Wilson, Cheyenne Jackson, Jonathan Groff

They need to learn from Phantom and get people that can act, not just sing, and learn from Mama Mia that they need to be able to sing as well.

Not to sound xenophobic, but everyone needs the same accent - yes it takes place in France in the 1800s, and they are not singing in French, but it is annoying when they all sound like they came from different parts of the world when they are all to be from the same place.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThunder

"everyone -- the casting suggestions for Fantine are way old. She's a young mother who has to give up her child. "

Exactly. But everybody having older actresses in mind seems to stem from your assumption that Fantine is in her late twenties to thirty-something. And with all respect but a woman in her thirties would not have been considered "young' at the beginning of the 19th century.

I always thought Fantine is in her mid-twenties when she dies. When she got pregnant it was apparently her first time ("he took my childhood in his stride"), the first time she has fallen in love and it would be much more plausible to assume she was in her late teens (16-18) when this happened. So the actress playing Fantine should be someone who could pass for an early twenties girl/ woman, like Anne Hathaway or Kiera Knightley.
And Walter, I somewhat agree with you on Marion Cotillard young looks, but from where I'm sitting Kate Winslet looks her age, if not even a tad bit older.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLara
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