Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Les Misérables features several big names from the stage world, but one star is sure to please longtime fans of the musical. Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Jean Valjean in the West End and Broadway productions, makes a cameo early in the film as the Bishop who allows the former convict to walk away with stolen silver. Watching Wilkinson work with the latest Valjean, Tony winner Hugh Jackman, proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects during filming for Hooper.
"The start of Hugh's journey with the film was a journey with Colm," Hooper told Broadway.com, noting the duo's scene together was among the first filmed. "I love the idea that the man who inspired the new Valjean is the original [stage] Valjean."
Just as the Bishop offers guidance for the down on his luck Valjean, Hooper said Wilkinson served as a great inspiration for Jackman. "Colm had such generosity towards Hugh. I remember Hugh being nervous about how he was going to sing, and Colm said, 'The only way to do it truthfully is to do what you would do. Please don't copy or emulate me.'"
Hooper opted to cast Wilkinson in the role not only for his history with the musical, but also because of his own strong character. “When you cast the Bishop he has to have a wonderful voice, but he also has to have a quality of soul,” the director explained. “Colm has that. He’s a very generous man." Wilkinson’s wisdom not only came from his experience on stage, but also from his vast knowledge of the source material. Hooper described him as a “massive expert on the book.” As a result, Jackman followed suit, carrying the Victor Hugo-penned novel around with him on set and treating it “as his bible.”
Les Misérables hits theaters on December 25. Take a look below at the Valjeans of past and present with Wilkinson and Jackman's takes on the Les Miz anthem "Who Am I?"